Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu plans a 3:30 p.m. press conference today to discuss his controversial search for a new police chief as well as other matters related to his transition. What would you like The Lens to ask him? Send you thoughts in an e-mail to editor@TheLensNola.org and we’ll do our best to get them answered.
This is his first public appearance since four members of his 21-member police-chief task force quit or were removed over frustrations with a perceived lack of transparency. The first member quit March 29.
At issue is whether the names of all 77 applicants for police chief will be made public, or, as Landrieu has said, just the handful that are forwarded to him for a final decision.
Even all the remaining task force members conducting the search won’t know every applicant. The applications are being accepted and screened by the International Association of Police Chiefs, which was hired by the Landrieu transition team. That organization will cut the pool down to 20 or so semi-finalists, who will be further pared down to the finalists.
Transition New Orleans, as his team is named, has said it doesn’t have to comply with the state’s sunshine laws regarding open meetings or open records, though it will strive to comply with them. The reason they’re exempt?
“Transition New Orleans is a private entity which receives no public funding and is not connected in any way with any governmental agency or political subdivision,” transition spokesman Todd Ragusa said in a recent e-mail.
The Lens has sent the transition team a 1997 court ruling (download the pdf) in which the Louisiana Supreme Court decided that “In general, applicant for public employment in Louisiana has no reason to expect that his or her application will be kept private so as to create right of privacy in application under State Constitution…”
We’ve asked the mayor-elect to explain why this ruling isn’t applicable to his search for a police chief, regardless of whether his transition team is considered a private operation. He hasn’t responded so far.
The Lens has also asked for a copy of the contract that the transition team has with the International Association of Police Chiefs. The team has declined to provide the contract, though it hasn’t explained why.
Three police-chief task force members have stepped down, saying they should have access to all the applicants, not just those screened by the chiefs group. A fourth was removed by task force leaders because she spoke out publicly against the process.
The job notice on police chief group’s Web site does not say the applications will be confidential, though task force leader Norman Francis said that such privacy is “routine” in such searches to protect applicants from retribution at their current jobs.