ZURIK: Questions surround hiring, pay and invoices of Sheriff Hutson’s communications director

Published: Aug. 31, 2022 at 11:03 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - For months, the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office refused to disclose to Fox 8 how much it is paying its Director of Communications.

On Tuesday (Aug. 31), Fox 8 received documents that show Timothy David Ray could be the highest-paid communications director for any public entity in the state.

Handwritten invoices show he’ll likely be paid $175,000 this year. Getting those public documents was a struggle.

Fox 8 first asked Sheriff Susan Hutson for all payments to employees and outside contractors. However, the documents the sheriff’s office provided did not include payments to Ray.

Fox 8 sent another request, this time specifically asking for Ray’s pay. The sheriff’s office sent the records, but has not explained why his salary was left off the first set of documents.

The invoices show that Hutson pays Ray bi-weekly. But what’s missing from the documents has one political analyst concerned: The invoices are handwritten and lack detail about specific hours Ray worked.

“I mean, you at least have to have the professionalism to type your invoice, especially since there are so many word processing programs that’ll do it for you,” said Dillard University public policy professor Dr. Robert Collins.

Ray’s explanations of his job duties performed include “Managing the OPSO’s brand” and “Overseeing the design and production of print materials and publications.”

As Chief Communications Officer, Ray is responsible for getting information to the media and public. However, since Hutson was sworn in May 2, Fox 8 has had trouble getting answers from Ray and the sheriff’s office.

In the nearly five months since Hutson took over, the jail has had a homicide, a suicide, several stabbings, and a group of inmates taking over a section of the jail for three days. Fox 8 did not receive emails or press releases from the office about those incidents that were sent to other New Orleans news outlets.

Fox 8 did start receiving communications from the Sheriff’s Office last week.

Ray has no prior experience as a communications officer.

He previously served as interim clerk of First City Court. He was the subject of several Fox 8 investigations surrounding questionable checks he wrote in his final days in office.

Those investigations into the possible misspending of public funds led to sanctions for Ray.

In March 2022, the state Supreme Court found he acted with a dishonest or selfish motive and suspended his law license for a year.

While Ray is unable to practice law, he found a job with Hutson’s campaign and then the sheriff’s office. It also appears he’s selling real estate on the side.

Metropolitan Crime Commission president Rafael Goyeneche said he believes Sheriff Hutson has made some questionable hires.

“There are a number of other employees that were hired by her, put in positions of authority, that had no background in corrections. They have ties to other political figures, they have ties to her campaign, but they don’t have any law enforcement or corrections backgrounds,” Goyeneche said.

Ray’s mother, Deborah Chapman, served as Hutson’s campaign manager when she was running for sheriff. She also joined the office after Hutson won, and now makes $155,000 per year.

“It sounds like the sheriff is just making up these pay rates, or someone’s making them up in the sheriff’s office,” Collins said. “These don’t sound like standard pay rates that exist in other places in government service.”

Ray is set to make more this year than the communications director for the City of New Orleans made last year.

Beau Tidwell, the City’s former communications director, made about $124,000 in 2021.

Goyeneche also questions Hutson’s spending decisions, at a time the sheriff’s office is asking for more money.

“So, at a time when the sheriff is going to the city, saying she needs millions of dollars to pay her deputies more money, needs millions of dollars to upgrade the jail, and she’s making fiscal decisions like this,” Goyeneche said. “To pay people the salaries that she’s paying them, it’s going to make it very difficult for her to be successful in receiving the funding that she’s requesting for the people of her office.

“And again, I think that she owes an explanation to the public as to why these decisions were made, why these sums of money were paid to these people.”

The revelations about Ray’s pay come just a day after Fox 8′s report about former sheriff’s office employee Kyshun Webster.

He was hired to work as the Acting Chief of Staff for the sheriff’s office transition team for about a month. He charged $175 per hour, and earned about $35,000 for just a few weeks of work.

Webster is also the embattled former director of New Orleans’ Juvenile Justice Intervention Center. He resigned from that post just days before he started working for the sheriff, amid questions about his management and job performance.

According to Collins, the hirings raise questions about a sheriff who campaigned on accountability and transparency, now making questionable decisions about hires and pay rates for some of her top employees.

“She has not fulfilled her campaign promise to be more transparent and she also has not fulfilled her campaign promises to reform the office and to, you know, institute standard best practices in law enforcement,” Collins said. “We just seem to say we just see the same political foolishness that we see in this town all the time -- hiring your friends, hiring your campaign workers, hiring your campaign supporters -- instead of actually having a legitimate, ethical hiring process where you hire law enforcement professionals who are trained in law enforcement and administration, and who have long careers in law enforcement administration.

“She could have done national searches for all these positions. And I’m sure you could have gotten highly competent, highly qualified, highly educated, highly experienced law enforcement professionals from all over the country that would have applied for those positions. But, no. Instead she seems to be hiring her friends that worked in her campaign.

“That’s not how you run a law enforcement agency. Well, really, it’s not how you run any government agency. But it’s certainly not how you run a law enforcement agency where you have people running around with guns.”

Fox 8 reached out to the sheriff’s office for a comment about Ray’s hiring.

Hutson released a statement that reads: “Mr. Ray is a key member of my Executive Team who is performing the role that three separate contractors performed under the prior sheriff. He is on call 24/7 and by his service as a contractor, we save taxpayers money.”

However, a former employee of Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s administration tells FOX 8 that the three PR contractors that worked for the office were paid a combined total of $66,000 per year for media work, $109,000 less than Timothy David Ray is on track to make this year.

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