Thursday, November 5, 2009

Staff Dysfunction at the New Orleans Office of Inspector General

Featured below is an excerpt from the recent Louisiana Justice Institute report A Vote of No Confidence: The Case for Re-Organization of the New Orleans Ethics Review Board and Office of Inspector General. We continue to highlight sections of this report in this space because we believe that the debate over the future direction of these institutions is important to New Orleans' future. You can download the complete report at

Below, we discuss staff dysfunction and questionable hiring and firing practices at the Office of Inspector General.

The New Orleans Office of Inspector General (OIG) has seen a revolving door of personnel. Since January 2009, 10 of 23 employees have either been fired or have quit. Most of the terminations occurred in the aftermath of controversial events within the OIG, often involving the terminated individuals. Furthermore, all but two OIG employees are classified as civil servants and, therefore, the rules governing their hiring and termination must follow the civil service commission regulations, which carry mandates for hiring selections and due process prior to termination.

There have been several grievances filed by former employees in the OIG, alleging disturbing conflicts with senior management. In his departure letter to the OIG, Daniel Benbow stated,

“The apparent lack of organization and proper tools are extremely detrimental to staff recruitment and retention. While management may muddle around under the present conditions, any staff worth keeping will not. This office has passed the point of no return on excuses, finger-pointing, and other means of procrastination several months ago. It’s time everyone either step up to the plate or get out of the game.”

In response to Benbow’s letter, then Inspector General Robert Cerasoli stated,

“It is my understanding that [Benbow]’s title is Deputy of Audit and Review. I wasn’t aware that [Leonard Odom, Neely Moody], or I were reporting to him. He should concern himself with the functions of the Audit side…I find this e-mail highly offensive…I stepped up to the plate on Sept. 5, 2007 and have been there for one year now. I will not be getting out of the game. I would suggest if [Benbow] wants to, now is a good time."

Another example of the lack of cohesiveness in the OIG is the abrupt ousting of Leonard Odom. In an effort to quickly seat Edouard Quatreveaux as the new Inspector General, Odom’s termination occurred after a series of incriminating reports about the Office of Inspector General were published under Odom’s leadership. In an interview with a reporter of the Times Picayune regarding the abrupt departure of Interim Inspector General Leonard Odom, ERB Chairman Wildes stated, “I wanted to avoid any last minute hires or expenditures.”

Most disturbing has been the October 2009 terminations of two Auditors. These Auditors were fired from the OIG after having produced the report Assessment of the Transition of the New Orleans Office of Inspector General from Inspector General Robert Cerasoli to Interim Inspector General Leonard Odom on January 30, 2009, that was critical of Cerasoli’s management.

In July 2009, Susan Brown and Laura East were directed to prepare a performance review of the OIG to determine the position of the office from its inception through the time of Cerasoli’s departure, and in preparation for the new Inspector General. While working on this performance review, according to East and Brown, they were placed in an office separate from the regular office, given separate keys to this office, and instructed to keep the door locked at all times, for security purposes.

East and Brown uncovered information that they believed had possible implications of waste, abuse, and mismanagement, and took these observations to Interim Inspector General Odom, who directed them to document their findings and, pursuant to City Code Article XIII, Section 2-1120(11)(o), and report it to the appropriate legal authorities, in this case the State Ethics Review Board and the State Inspector General.

On August 28, 2009 the State Inspector General directed Brown and East to meet with the State Legislative Auditor, who informed them that the OIG was being placed under investigation and/or audit.

East and Brown were scheduled to meet with the State Legislative Auditor beginning September 9, 2009, but were denied access. Later, they discovered their offices had been broken into, and documents removed. The report of break-in was made to Chief of Investigations Hugh Fox, who disclosed that the office of the OIG Personnel Manager Sam Stoute had also been vandalized and locked drawers containing confidential records compromised.

The OIG Assessment of the Transition report was particularly critical of Dave Westerling, the Supervisory Forensic Engineer hired from Massachusetts by Cerasoli. It was Westerling who was named Interim Inspector General after Quatrevaux temporarily left office after only one week on the job – and one meeting with the State Legislative Auditor – and Westerling who fired East and Brown.

On September 22, 2009, East and Brown attended an approved forensic accounting conference in Orlando, Florida. However, on September 23, 2009, after Interim Inspector General Westerling received notice from the State Legislative Auditor that East and Brown must be made available for interview immediately upon return from this conference, Westerling sent notice by certified mail and overnight mail – that very same evening – of their termination from employment.

Westerling stated the reason the auditors were fired was because “they failed to show up for work and efforts to reach the two employees about their absences were unsuccessful.” Public records show that Westerling’s statement is false. Leave requests show that both employees had requested time off for a work-related conference related to their functions at the OIG.

Two days after Westerling fired East and Brown, on September 25, 2009, Hugh Fox, the OIG Chief of Investigations charged with investigating possible criminal activity within the OIG, voluntarily separated himself from the Office of Inspector General – effective immediately.

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