Criminal Justice

Landrieu: Those who quit chief search were throwing bricks, not building bridges

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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About 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 at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and quickly rising through the ranks to be an editor of the newspaper’s watchdog investigative team. He returned to New Orleans in May of 2009. He can be reached at (504) 655-2375.

  • Well damn, Mitch! That was a slick move to privatize the search team. Didn’t quite catch that at the beginning of this whole show. Is your Flood Protection and Coastal Restoration Task Force under the same guise?
    I don’t know any ins and outs here buut, here did the Private Transition Team Inc get this $25 Grand?
    It’s hard for me to pick on the new mayor before he even gets the keys to his office, and we kinda want to like Mitch, but who is already cutting these contracts?

  • Sarah

    Your article falls short in regard to two issues:

    1. Committee members wanted to view the resumes themselves, not make the available to the public.
    (Isn’t that what they are being asked to do? How can they give input if they are not allowed to see resumes?)

    2. The process does not allow for real participation by any community members. Committee members are allowed to view a small pool of candidates after they have gone through a screening process by the IAPC, of which no specifics had been given, and then make suggestions to the Mayor. Committee members were were told this was the process after they agreed to join the committee and contracts were signed without their consent, which is fine, but again, doesn’t allow for their input.

    This all makes a great show of getting the community involved, but is it necessary and is it going to make our streets safer?

  • Hmmm

    Strange words, considering that at least one of the members was forced out rather than resigning. Also strange, considering the very backhanded way in which the dismissal was conveyed–via a leak to the media.

    But even more curious is the “pick up their toys and go home” meme, which has appeared with frequency in the anonymous comments sections of various news websites. Seems Landrieu and his team govern via the internet. Not a good sign.

  • TippyToe

    Not saying the Transition Team has gone about its work flawlessly by any means, but how could the TT possibly be public? There’s no “Transition Fund” in the City’s budget to my knowledge. Was the Nagin Administration going to front Mitch the cash? Worth investigating, but my guess would be the $25,000 came from Mitch’s campaign coffers.

    In my personal opinion, there were some shortcomings in how Mitch and staff set up the task force. That said, I don’t see anything particularly wrong in the way they have moved forward. Not being a human resource whiz and having no prior experience in law enforcement, my opinion carries little weight. Blazing forward nonetheless, I have trouble imagining a diverse task force of 21 quickly and effectively skimming an applicant pool of 75 down to 20. It strikes me as rational that Mitch would want a credentialed, professional, and experienced organization to skim the cream off the large applicant pool. At that point, you seek serious task force input, where the force can help Mitch chose which of the 20 or so top applicants (all of whom persumably are highly qualified) fit best for the job. At the very end of the process, it is Mitch’s decision to make and Mitch’s alone. The City elected Mitch, not a task force, and it is his you-know-what that is on the line.