Government & Politics

Inspector General awards no-bid contract to evaluate Independent Police Monitor

A recent no-bid contract is a new source of tension between New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux and the Office of the Independent Police Monitor, emails obtained by The Lens show.

The contract was awarded in July to the Police Assessment Resource Center to conduct an external review of the Independent Police Monitor. It is worth $75,000 plus $8,000 to $16,000 in reimbursable expenses. Though city law usually requires a competitive bidding process for contracts of that size, Quatrevaux did not solicit bids before giving the work to the nonprofit organization.  Nor did he consult Independent Police Monitor Susan Hutson, according to Hutson’s emails, obtained through a public records request.

Quatrevaux said the selected company is the only one qualified for the job, so a bid process was unnecessary. Hutson disputes that, saying in her emails that she was in talks with another group to perform the review. He later added that it was executed through a type of contract that doesn’t require a competitive process.

The disagreement over the contract comes in the midst of a years-long public feud between Hutson and Quatrevaux  over the two office’s oversight responsibilities and the Police Monitor’s budget. Hutson has even suggested a “legal separation” of the two offices, a move that would require amending the city’s charter. And on Friday, The Advocate reported that Quatrevaux was recommending to the Ethics Review Board, which oversees both offices, that Hutson be fired.

On June 30, Quatrevaux sent Hutson a letter informing her of the upcoming review — including a site visit and interviews, then tentatively scheduled for the end of July — and his selection of the Police Assessment Resource Center for the contract.

The Police Assessment Resource Center is  a leading voice in law enforcement oversight. The group authored a set of national guidelines for police monitors, working with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Its director is Merrick Bobb, who as counsel for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors provided oversight of the Sheriff’s Office from 1993 until last year. Bobb also serves as the lead monitor overseeing the federal consent decree for the Seattle Police Department. And he and the Police Assessment Resource Center helped draft the legislation creating the New Orleans Independent Police Monitor.

In spite of the organization’s credentials, Hutson was opposed to its selection for the review.

“I was surprised and disappointed by your letter because there was no notice to us nor any consultation at all with our office about the selection of the right evaluator, the scope of the audit, or the timing of the audit,” Hutson responded on July 1.

She also objected to the short notice for the staff interviews. However, in an email to The Lens, Quatrevaux said the group had twice postponed that work at Hutson’s request, first to mid-August, then to October.

The city’s charter requires a competitive selection process for professional service contracts — specialized jobs performed by highly trained workers — over $15,000. The Police Monitor review is above that price threshold and appears to meet the definition of a professional service agreement.

Quatrevaux, whose office is tasked with monitoring the city for waste, fraud and abuse, has frequently focused on contracting. In fact, just weeks after finalizing the PARC with Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s signature, Quatrevaux issued a report criticizing the city for failing to follow part of its professional services procurement policy.

Still, Quatrevaux said the PARC contract didn’t require a competitive selection process.

“There are no other national organizations that review police monitor operations,” Quatrevaux wrote in an email to The Lens.

In a second email, Quatrevaux added that because because the deal with PARC was executed through a cooperative endeavor agreement, instruments used for joint ventures for the public good, rather than a standard contract, a public request for proposals was not required.

The Lens was unable to verify whether city law provides a cooperative endeavor agreement exemption, even when contractors meet competitive selection criteria.

Loyola University law professor Dane Ciolino, who was recently selected as counsel for the Ethics Review Board, declined to comment. Celeste Coco-Ewing, president of the watchdog group the Bureau of Governmental Research, said The Lens should direct its questions to the city. And officials from the city’s Procurement Office and the Mayor’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

As recently as last year, though, Quatrevaux issued a critical report on the city’s no-bid ankle monitoring contract with the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, saying the city “should ensure that it pays a competitive price for its program.” That contract was also executed through a cooperative endeavor agreement.

Hutson made it clear in her emails that she did not believe PARC was the only qualified contractor for the job.

Hutson said in the emails that she had another organization in mind, the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement. That’s a group made up of public agencies responsible for police oversight, which she  said is closer to a peer organization than PARC, a contractor for local governments.

“I spoke with NACOLE, but its president said they are developing that capacity but could not conduct such reviews now,” Quatrevaux wrote to The Lens.

But in an email, Hutson wrote that she had been working since last year to secure NACOLE for the review — also apparently without a competitive selection process — and she had a preliminary letter of commitment from its president, Brian Buchner.

The apparent disparity between what Quatrevaux believed and what Hutson believed came from a timing issue.

“Technically, both are correct,” Buchner wrote in an email to The Lens. He said he spoke to Quatrevaux on July 7, one week before he signed the commitment letter.

Quatrevaux was also concerned by what he described as NACOLE’s lack of experience.

“I know that he told me that neither he personally nor NACOLE as an organization had ever conducted an external review,” Quatrevaux wrote in an email in response to a question about his conversation with Buchner.

Buchner, though, disputed that part of Quatrevaux’s description of the conversation, saying that while NACOLE was still developing its capacity to conduct peer reviews, it was not true that he had never personally conducted one.

“In fact, I have done numerous reviews, including while working at the Police Assessment Resource Center for Merrick more than 10 years ago,” Buchner wrote in an email to The Lens. He added that many NACOLE members also had experience conducting reviews of law enforcement and other governmental organizations.*

Buchner said he told Quatrevaux that NACOLE would not be able to conduct the review “on that day, or even within a week or two of my conversation with him.”

“However, we had been in negotiations with Ms. Hutson to conduct a peer review since late 2014 and we were close to finalizing the scope of work when I spoke with the IG,” Buchner wrote.  “Accordingly, NACOLE would have been well positioned to complete a review by the end of 2015.”

Buchner said that he and Quatrevaux discussed the possibility of his group conducting future peer reviews of Hutson’s office.

Hutson declined, through Acting Deputy Monitor Ursula Price, to comment for this story.

*Clarification: NACOLE President Brian Buchner contacted The Lens after publication to dispute Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux’s description of their July 7 conversation. This story has been updated with additional quotes from Buchner.

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