Sunday, February 15, 2009

Obstacles Encountered by Inspector General ...

Some of the material in this article is extracted from stories by the Times-Picayune, Cerasoli resigns and temporary replacement named:

Building the inspector general's office proved far tougher than Cerasoli envisioned. And the challenges that remain -- even the basic work of clearly defining city agencies, budgets and policies -- are more daunting than a successor might suspect. After 17 months, Cerasoli said, the office still needs to double its staff and garner basic tools and access to records.

Still, Cerasoli's experience here has opened a valuable view into the inner workings of a mysterious municipal apparatus.

"On a difficulty scale of one-to-10, it's a 10. I would compare it to governments I've looked at in the developing world," said Cerasoli, who has given lectures about corruption in such Third World countries as Sierra Leone and Swaziland.

In New Orleans, he said, "information technology is in a terrible state. Getting access to information people regularly access in other places is a major problem. Public documents aren't being made public, if they exist at all.

"And I don't think the city government truly understands what the inspector general is supposed to do -- and might provide more resistance as it becomes more clear, " he said.

"Nothing's on the level in New Orleans,” he recalled telling one fellow inspector.

Though Cerasoli had fully expected the challenge of his career in New Orleans, he was in for a few shocks. The Nagin administration at first offered him a $250,000 budget -- a ludicrously low figure, he said. In Massachusetts, he had overseen a budget of $3 million and a staff of 49.

"But every one of those things was a big fight, " Cerasoli said. "And after we got the money, we couldn't spend it, because everything we bought had to go through the city's purchasing process."

Requests ranging from pencils to lease agreements took weeks or even months to snake through the Nagin administration's approval process. Inquiries often produced excuses: "The computers are down,” or "So-and-so is on vacation,” or "We can't find your paperwork."

"There was always that mysterious hand there, that made you wonder if somebody was trying to stop it,” Cerasoli said.

Just figuring out who runs what has proved an immense challenge, with a government splintered into scores of agencies, commissions and quasi-governmental nonprofit groups, some with separate dedicated tax-revenue streams, their own auditors and scant scrutiny.

So far, Cerasoli has put together a list of 140 such city entities, including such curiosities as the Delgado-Albania Plantation Commission. His inspectors found records of a New Orleans Planetarium Commission, created in 1986, but couldn't confirm whether it still exists, or ever did.

"One main goal has just been to simply identify the entity that is the city of New Orleans,” Cerasoli said. "Nobody can give you an organizational chart."

Leonard C. Odom (pictured) has been appointed to serve as interim inspector general, just hours after Cerasoli announced he is resigning. Before coming to New Orleans, Odom served as the assistant in charge of investigations in the Inspector General's Office of Washington, D.C.

He has served as president of the National Association of Inspectors General for the past two years.


jbv's Competitive Edge 


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