Zurik: Councilmember’s use of security detail included personal errands

Use of city resources to run personal errands borders on misuse of authority, Tulane Law Professor says
Updated: Feb. 23, 2021 at 10:00 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The use of a city-owned vehicle is supposed to be for city services. But FOX 8 has found that a New Orleans city council member has been using her city-issued vehicle and provided security detail to run personal errands.

District E Councilmember Cyndi Nguyen admitted to FOX 8’s Lee Zurik that she used her detail to pick up her children from school while she was at events. A source said the driver was also used to run other personal errands for the councilmember.

”At a minimum Lee it’s unseemly,” Tulane Law Professor Joel Friedman said. “It’s as they say, a bad look for a sheriff to be going and getting my groceries or taking my kid to school or to a soccer game. That’s totally inappropriate.”

The agreement between the city council and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office for the security details is for councilmembers to select from a pool of deputies. But Nguyen is one of two councilmembers that picked from outside that pool. Sheriff Marlin Gusman sent those two employees a letter informing them that since they are not commissioned they can only act as a driver and not in a security role.

“If my critics are critical about me using city resources when I’m out there working and swinging by to pick up my kids for school, then I will definitely evaluate that,” Nguyen said. “I don’t intend to abuse the system.“

Nguyen said she started using her driver to run personal errands after she learned it had been done by other councilmembers.

Records show Councilmember Nguyen did use the sheriff’s pool until 2020. A source tells FOX 8 that when she used the pool, she asked to have her deputy changed after the deputy pushed back on running personal trips for the councilmember.

“If this is a policy council decides that we can’t use it, I’m okay with it,” Nguyen said. “And I’ll be very candid, it was something that was shared with me that other councilmembers did. So I don’t abuse it.”

Tulane Law Professor Joel Friedman said he doesn’t think any law enforcement agency would ever look into the practice, but he said that doesn’t mean it’s proper practice.

“It is technically an abuse of your authority and a misuse of public funded services,” Friedman said.

Friedman says the issue is more the message it sends to taxpayers.

“What’s special about the city council? It’s almost a question of entitlement,” he said. “They believe, well I should have a free car, why because I’m a city council person. I should have police protection, why, because I’m a city council person.

Friedman said the council needs to write out a clear policy that addresses the use of take-home vehicles and the security details And make sure they are only used for duties that benefit taxpayers.

“Using these state resources for purely private purposes having nothing to do with the reason you have the protection in the first place is an abuse of your authority, a breach of your fiduciary responsibility to the public at large,” Friedman said. “It’s just a bad look and they shouldn’t be doing it and they should come out right now and say sorry not gonna do it anymore.”

We are told the council is looking at the issue of vehicle use but at this time it does not include details on use of security details.

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