Ethics Reform in New Orleans: Progress and Problems Ten Years Post-Katrina
Author: David A. Marcello
Ten years ago, Hurricane Katrina was the catalyst that precipitated historic changes in New Orleans city government, and in the storm’s aftermath, unprecedented ethics reforms strengthened the systems safeguarding of public integrity. New Orleans city government has not instinctively installed watchdogs to oversee its own activities, but Katrina unleashed a tsunami of reform. The press, public, and prosecutors collectively fueled post-Katrina ethics reform through civic sector engagement.
Overwhelming public and political support empowered three new ethics entities:
• The Office of Inspector General (OIG) uses audits and investigations to fight fraud, waste, abuse, and corruption.
• The Office of Independent Police Monitor (OIPM) monitors the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) to identify problems, analyze data, and suggest solutions.
• The Ethics Review Board (ERB) is responsible for enforcing the city’s ethics code and also safeguards the independence of local ethics entities by periodically conducting a national search and hiring a new inspector general.
The OIG and OIPM function only through oversight; they can highlight poor performance and recommend improvements but cannot implement changes. Of the three local ethics entities, only the ERB enjoys the power to punish misconduct.
The environmental catastrophe that provoked ethics reform wrote a unique chapter in New Orleans’ history, but the city’s experiences with these three new ethics entities during the post- Katrina decade (2005–2015) were not unique; they offer valuable lessons for other municipalities. For example, the OIG-OIPM relationship demonstrated that structural design flaws at the outset may surface later as operational problems; and the ERB illustrated that even well designed systems can be poorly implemented.
This Article adopts an operational metric, subjecting each of the three local ethics entities to this test: “How did they perform in practice?” The next two sections deal briefly with OIG and OIPM performance; the Article then delves deeply into the ERB’s troubling track record during 2010–2015. The concluding section makes recommendations for improvement among all three ethics entities.