- Associated Press
Sunday, November 22, 2020

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A government ethics panel in New Orleans is looking for ways to provide better oversight over a city government watchdog post following the ouster of the last man to hold the job.

The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reports that Inspector General Derry Harper resigned under pressure last month. His departure came amid complaints about low productivity and absenteeism.

Ethics Review Board Chair Michael Cowan told the City Council on Tuesday that the board now is faced with balancing greater oversight of the watchdog office with the need for it to remain independent of political influence.

“Nothing like this has happened before, and clearly we need to look at what kind of line of sight the Ethics Review Board has to the operations of the office without interfering with their operations,” Cowan said. “We’re considering all possibilities.”

The Inspector General’s Office in New Orleans was created in 2006 amid numerous reforms that followed sluggish state, local and federal responses to Hurricane Katrina the year before. It was created with strict limitations on the authority of elected officials and boards to meddle with its internal operations.

In an October resignation letter, Harper said he was resigning to spend more time with his family. He has publicly defended his tenure as inspector general.

Asked about his departure in October, Harper told the newspaper and WWL-TV that he left the office “rather than enter into a process that was unclear.”

He also said his grief over the loss of two of his sons to cardiac failures over the past eight years and stress of the job affected his health.

Cowan said the board began investigating Harper in May, after two staffers came to the board with allegations of Harper’s absenteeism. They said they had not come forward sooner because they feared for their jobs, Cowan said.

Cowan suggested strengthening local whistleblower rules to prevent a similar situation, although he did not specify what that would entail.

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