The two finalists vying for a multimillion dollar contract to monitor police department compliance with a federal consent decree will come under scrutiny again at the Superdome Monday at noon as their respective proposals are reviewed by city officials, the U.S. Department of Justice —and the public, which is invited to attend.
Along with positive attributes, both proposals offer critics grounds for initial complaint.
The proposal from Chicago-based Hillard Heintze designates as its community liaison a local pastor associated with unpaid property taxes and blighted properties. The proposal from Washington, D.C.-based Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton has yet to identify its local liaison and has raised eyebrows by naming as references two Department of Justice officials who are on the selection committee.
Hillard Heintze — the choice preferred by the administration of Mayor Mitch Landrieu — is led by Terry Hillard and Arnette Heintze. Hillard is a former superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. Heintze, a Louisiana native, is a retired Secret Service agent. Their bid was for $7 million over four years, the lowest of 12 received.
Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton (or SheppardMullin, as the firm is known in its bid documents) is a law firm with a broad client list that includes police department monitorships in about a dozen cities.
SheppardMullin, which bid $7.9 million, is the contender preferred by the Department of Justice. The company’s proposal identifies attorney Jonathan Aronie as its nominee to serve as lead monitor. Aronie served as a deputy monitor during the Washington, D.C., police department’s consent decree process.
If the city and Justice Department can’t unite behind one firm by April 30, the decision will be made by U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan, who is overseeing the consent decree and the New Orleans Police Department’s balky attempt to build a better trained and managed force, after decades of rampant corruption and brutality complaints.
Hillard Heintze, which emphasizes its extensive work in monitorships and other security and investigative services, has made it through a months-long review process but has yet to face questions in a public forum relating to real estate holdings of the Rev. Charles Southall III, leader of First Emanuel Baptist Church.
Hillard Heintze would make Southall special counsel to the monitor, essentially a community-outreach role.
According to the city assessor’s website, two properties associated with Southall have about $30,000 in unpaid property taxes associated with them:
- According to the assessor, a company called Cornerstone Homes owns 2616 S. Claiborne Avenue, a blighted property that has accrued $16,660.96 in unpaid real estate taxes. State records list First Emanuel Baptist Church as an officer in that company, and the church’s address is listed as the company’s domicile, but the structure is not tax-exempt, and Southall says his non-profit organization retains only a one percent ownership interest in that building. He insisted that the building would be developed as senior housing within a year.
- Cornerstone Homes River Garden owns a multi-unit housing development along Hayne Boulevard that’s in arrears for unpaid taxes from 2010, to the tune of $15,995.88, according to the assessor’s database. Southall said that the property was tax exempt — but that if it wasn’t, he’d pay up. “If we owe it, we’re going to pay it,” he said. “If we don’t, we want the benefit of the nonprofit and want it exempted.” The assessor’s database identifies the property class as “exempt” on the “owner and parcel information” page, but the city’s Department of Treasury says there are $15,856 in delinquent taxes from January 2010; a $139 lien was added to the bill in July of that year.
Southall said complaints about his business practices are emanating from one source in the city: City Council president and member-at-large Stacy Head. Head declined to give The Lens her view on Southall’s selection as community liaison in the Hillard Heintze proposal.
Heintze told The Lens he did not know of any issues relating blighted buildings or unpaid property taxes associated with Southall. “We think he brings value because of his connections in some of the most difficult neighborhoods in New Orleans,” Heintze said. “He’s a very small piece [of our proposal] to help us connect with the community.”
Selection of a monitor for the proposed 492-point consent decree began Sept. 7, when the city issued a request for proposals and distributed it among 55 prospective candidates for the job.
The proposals were due on Oct. 4, and by Oct. 17, the bids that had been submitted were made available for public review. That process yielded seven applicants, Hillard Heintze’s among them.
At the same time, the city was working to get out from under the proposed police department decree, a legal gambit as it sorted through headaches — chiefly financial — associated with a separate federal consent decree negotiated with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office.
The administration of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu has accused the Department of Justice of operating in bad faith by spending two years helping hash out the NOPD decree before immediately pivoting to a decree with Sheriff Marlin Gusman.
Now the city is saying it will adhere to the demands of the New Orleans Police Department consent decree but doesn’t want to sign it.
Landrieu and police chief Ronal Serpas have been walking a fine line, assuring a restive citizenry that it is committed to reforming the department even as it works to disown the public embrace with which it greeted the consent decree at a Gallier Hall signing ceremony last summer.
As it maneuvered to slough off the federal consent decree, the city also moved on Nov. 2 to re-open bidding for the police monitor’s contract. The deadline was moved back two weeks in response to complaints from companies that said they hadn’t had a chance to bid. Those complaints were passed along to the city by the Department of Justice.
The SheppardMullin proposal was in the second batch of five proposals, which brought the total number of bidders to an even dozen.
At meetings over the past month in the Superdome’s Bienville Room, the 12 contenders were boiled down to five, after the city picked two firms as its favorites and the Justice Department picked three.
All of the Justice Department’s choices were companies that submitted bids in the second round: The OIR Group, The Bromwich Group, and SheppardMullin. The city had identified Elite Performance Assessment Consultants as its alternative to Hillard Heintze.
The two finalists were selected last week.
Here’s a thumbnail of some concerns that may be raised at the Monday meeting.
- Of the 12 original consent-decree proposals reviewed by The Lens, Hillard Heintze was the only one initially to resist making its bid available to the public, claiming it was a proprietary document. After The Lens filed a public-records request to review all the proposals, city attorney Anita Curran wrote the company to say that its proposal was subject to public review and that she would be releasing it with the others. In releasing the document, Arnette Heintze told The Lens that the reference to “proprietary” information was routine boilerplate and that he had “absolutely no problem” complying with the law.
- Company co-founder and proposed monitor Terry Hillard was superintendent of police in Chicago during a 2003 anti-war protest that ended with hundreds of arrests — including the arrest of reporters — that are still in litigation. Hillard told The Lens this week that the Iraq war protest had been taken over by a cadre of anarchists who defied police orders and violated terms of their permit by taking the protest to Chicago’s so-called “Miracle Mile,” where no protests are permitted. Hillard dismissed any suggestion that the incident was comparable to the notorious 1968 police riot in Chicago during the Democratic National Convention.
- As superintendent, Hillard was twice deposed in an investigation centered on the infamous Chicago police officer Jon Burge, a Vietnam war veteran who had a long record of torturing crime suspects through the 1980s. Hillard, a Vietnam veteran who came up through the ranks on the Chicago force, was not the chief when Burge was torturing criminals but had to deal with repercussions when he was named superintendent in 1998.
- SheppardMullin did not enter the bidding until the second round, prompting the competition to question whether that gave the Justice Department favorite a special advantage. The advantage would reside in the second-round firm’s ability to review earlier bids and adjust its pricing accordingly. “I did not read the Hillard Heintze proposal before submitting mine,” Aronie told The Lens. He noted that several of his proposed team members had themselves been former police chiefs, and that “our proposal was our own and was founded upon our experiences.”
- The SheppardMullin proposal lists two members of the selection committee as job references, raising questions about whether the fix was in for this company’s selection by the Department of Justice. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Roy Austin Jr. and Joshua Ederhimer, principal deputy director of the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services, are listed as references in the SheppardMullin proposal – and both serve on the selection committee. Typically, applicants for a job don’t use as a reference the very people who are in a position to hire them. Aronie told The Lens that he met Austin only recently, when he was in New Orleans being interviewed.
- The SheppardMullin proposal does not identify a local law firm or organization that the company would bring aboard. Instead, it says that it would identify a local liaison after being selected and in consultation with the city and other stakeholders. Aronie said the final decision would be his alone and wouldn’t be subject to undue influence from City Hall. The company’s proposal identifies two local businesses to help fulfill minority-hiring requirements.
*Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that the Hillard Heintze proposal was for $7.2 million. It’s $7 million, as noted in the current version. (May 2, 2013)