Update, 3:30 p.m., Oct. 6: The story has been updated with comments from an official with the Office of Independent Police Monitor.

The attorney for the New Orleans Office of Inspector General this week defended a no-bid contract it awarded for a peer evaluation of the Office of Independent Police Monitor. The contract was the subject of a recent story by The Lens, which questioned whether the contract, worth up to $91,000, was properly awarded under city law.

In a meeting with The Lens, Suzanne Wisdom said the contract was executed legally and approved by the City Attorney’s Office. Wisdom also said her office objected to Hutson’s preferred vendor, the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, because Hutson had been consulting with the group about how such a review should be conducted.

Wisdom said the Office of Inspector General did not want Hutson being reviewed through a process she helped to design.

Acting Deputy Police Monitor Ursula Price disputed that characterization.

“We have not been working on developing the peer review program,” she said. “Susan is not a board member of NACOLE, and they’re the ones who have been working on it.”

Price said Hutson’s conversations with NACOLE about the review were limited to its scope and the composition of the review team.

“I would imagine that conversation would have to take place for any peer review, including the IG’s peer review,” she said.
Price added that Hutson’s office was only informed of Wisdom’s objection by The Lens this week.

“Once again the IG has levied a criticism publicly that he has not shared with us directly,” she said. “Had he said that directly to us, we could have clarified that no, we were not involved in the peer review’s development.”

NACOLE President Brian Buchner did not answer a request for comment.

The deal raised questions because its value is well above the $15,000 threshold at which contracts for professional services — specialized work that requires highly trained professionals — must be bid competitively. Moreover, Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux is the city’s watchdog, and his office has repeatedly scrutinized the city’s contracting practices. The contract is with the Police Assessment Resource Center, a nonprofit group that consults with law enforcement agencies on policy development, constitutional policing and civilian oversight.

Quatrevaux and Hutson, whose office is part of the Office of Inspector General, are in the midst of a longtime public feud. Shortly before The Lens published the story, Quatrevaux wrote a letter to the Ethics Review Board, which oversees both offices, recommending that Hutson be fired.

Wisdom said city and state law did not require the use of a competitive request for proposals because the deal was executed through an arrangement called a cooperative-endeavor agreement, making it exempt from the normal process.

She could not identify a specific, written exception in city law or its procurement policies. She did note that cooperative-endeavor agreements are addressed separately from other kinds of contracts in the city’s charter.

But the law’s description of cooperative endeavors is vague — joint ventures for a public purpose. If such an exception exists, and applies even to contracts that meet the city’s definition of a professional service, it could be applied to any number of city contracts as a way of getting around the bidding rules.

Wisdom conceded the point, but added, “I think that’s why they’re vetted by the Law Department.”

Wisdom said she couldn’t remember being asked to justify the use of a CEA by the City Attorney’s Office during the vetting process. She said the lawyer who reviewed the contract, Shay Zeller, apparently found nothing wrong. Wisdom offered several factors that she said the City Attorney’s Office might have taken into consideration, all of which appeared in the cooperative endeavor agreement and in a document Wisdom prepared for the interview.

For instance, PARC offered a discount. President Merrick Bobb’s normal billing rate is $350 per hour and Vice President Matthew Barge’s is $275, Wisdom said. But the group offered them at $250 and $200, respectively. She added that PARC is the best qualified contractor for the job because of its knowledge of the city — in 2007, the City Council hired the group to help draft the ordinance establishing the Office of the Independent Police Monitor. In fact, Wisdom said, PARC is the only organization that was fully qualified for the work.

“She [Zeller] probably just looked at that and said, ‘Yeah, that looks about right.’ ”

Neither the City Attorney’s Office nor the Mayor’s Office responded to requests for comment on this story.

In emails received by The Lens under a public-records request, Hutson has disputed that PARC was the only qualified contractor. Although NACOLE was still developing a peer-review process when the contract was signed, she obtained a letter of commitment from Buchner, its president, saying the organization would be prepared to complete the work before the end of the year.

Price said that part of the problem with this contracting process is due to the charter, which provides for a peer review process only for Quatrevaux’s office —  even naming the Association of Inspectors General as the reviewer.

Price said if a charter amendment is proposed to separate the two offices, an idea that has recently generated increased interest, it should provide similar review language for the Office of the Independent Police Monitor.

”We tried to be proactive and get a peer review on our own, and somehow that proactivity has been used against us,” Price said.

Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado is the editor of The Lens. He previously worked as The Lens' government accountability reporter, covering local politics and criminal justice. Prior to joining The Lens, he worked for...