Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu reiterated Wednesday the position that his transition team is a private effort not subject to state sunshine laws and that the public has no right to see the names of all 75 applicants for police chief.

Commenting on the four members of his 21- search team who quit in frustration over the secrecy, Landrieu said, “People in this town have learned how to throw bricks rather than build bridges. And that’s not a good way to do business.”

“I was a little bit disappointed that those individuals decided to pick up their balls and go home,” he said. “We have 17 members of the task force that completely are in tune with what we’re doing. We believe that we are doing it the right way.”

He said he talked about the flaws of the city during the campaign and he used this situation as a case study.

“Part of the dysfunction of New Orleans is people being unwilling to come to common ground and to decide that if they don’t get everything they want, to walk away,” he said. “That’s not a way to get to a good answer, and we have to re-discipline ourselves in this city.”

The first to leave was local NAACP President Danatus King, who stepped down March 29. Over the past weekend two others quit: Gina Womack, co-director of Friends and Families of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children; and Norris Henderson, executive director of Voice Of The Ex-offender, known as VOTE. Baty Landis, a founder of the anti-crime group Silence Is Violence, was removed by the task force leaders after posting complaints about the secrecy on her Web site.

Landrieu was firm in his stand to keep the names confidential as a way to protect those now in other jobs who may face political problems back home if their application became known. He said if the candidates weren’t promised this secrecy, many might not have applied. The names of the few finalists will be made public.

“It’s my job to balance the public’s right to know and need to know with the need for us to find the best police chief,” he said.

Still, the job posting online didn’t promise any confidentiality.

The applications are being accepted and screened by the International Association of Police Chiefs, which said was hired by the transition team for $25,000. That organization will cut the pool down to 20 or so semi-finalists. The task force will pare down that list to three or four finalists who will be recommended to Landrieu; he will make the final decision.

Landrieu, who is an attorney, said Transition New Orleans’ status as a private business means it doesn’t have to comply with a 1997 Louisiana Supreme Court ruling that says applications for any public job in the state are open records. When asked how a private entity could offer someone a public job, he drew distinction.

He said he was talking about reviewing applications, not offering a job, which might not happen until his May 3 inauguration, when he has the authority to do so.

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Steve Beatty

Steve Beatty is the publisher and chief executive officer of The Lens. He worked as an editor for The Times-Picayune for 15 years, leaving New Orleans just before Katrina to take a position as an editor...