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The OIG is authorized to comment on rules, regulations, policies, and transactions for the purpose of preventing fraud, waste, and abuse in order to promote effective and efficient government. As detailed in the Plaza Tower and Enforcement of the Minimum Property Maintenance Code letter released today, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) examined the Division of Code Enforcement’s efforts to mitigate the safety hazards posed by the condition of the privately-owned property located at 1001 Howard Avenue, commonly known as the Plaza Tower. The OIG did not review the City’s response to blight in general.

The OIG found that the City has not effectively used the power granted to it in the Minimum Property Maintenance Code (Code) to hold the owners of the Plaza Tower accountable for the conditions of the property. Despite the building’s obvious state of disrepair, there were no fines issued by the Division of Code Enforcement and no administrative hearings to address the conditions of the property between 2015 and 2021, when a piece of debris fell and injured a bicyclist. Instead, the City has hesitated to fine the owners of the Plaza Tower, citing the economic value of the property and the effect the fines may have on a potential sale.

The OIG examined trends in the New Orleans Police Department’s (NOPD) staffing levels, as well as the efforts the Department and other stakeholders have undertaken to improve recruitment and retention. The purpose of this review was to determine whether the NOPD’s current initiatives are effectively designed and consistent with best practices for recruitment and retention. The OIG is authorized to comment on rules, regulations, policies, and transactions for the purpose of preventing fraud, waste, and abuse in order to promote effective and efficient government.

The number of NOPD officers has decreased significantly over the last few years, to a level that raises concerns for public safety.
Due to the large number of officers separating from the NOPD, Louisiana’s Municipal Police Employees’ Retirement System (MPERS), the pension plan for police officers across the state, requires the City of New Orleans to pay $50,314.10 per month for up to 15 years, increasing to $214,112.67 per month in July 2024. If the NOPD fails to improve its staffing levels, these fines could cost the City more than $38 million over the next 15 years.

The New Orleans Firefighters’ Pension and Relief Fund (NOFFPF) provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits for local firefighters. The entity had a prior history of poor investment performance, including consistently negative overall returns for several years and the use of alternative investments such as a local golf course, films, and hedge funds. In recent years, the NOFFPF showed signs of improved financial stability and governance. However, after years of poor performance, compounded by conflict between the NOFFPF and the City of New Orleans (City) over benefit obligations, the fund remained significantly underfunded compared to other public pension plans.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the City of New Orleans (City) conducted an inspection of the Department of Public Work’s (DPW) policies and procedures for addressing pothole-related service requests submitted to the NOLA-311 service request system.

In 2016 the City published a pavement analysis which showed 65 percent of the city’s streets were in poor or very poor condition. Since then, the City has made advances that specifically include street repair via RoadworkNola, a joint effort between the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans (S&WB). However, citizens of New Orleans continued to report a significant number of potholes each year. The City encouraged community members to report potholes by calling 3-1-1 or through the NOLA-311 system, operated by the Orleans Parish Communications District (OPCD).

This inspection looked at not only the DPW and OPCD policies surrounding the repair of potholes, but whether the City repaired potholes in a manner that was timely, efficient, and transparent to citizens.

The Office of Inspector General for the City of New Orleans (OIG) conducted an evaluation of the Department of Property Management’s (DPM) Job Order Contracting Policies and Procedures.

Job Order Contracts (JOC) are a multi-layered procurement mechanism in which the City contracts with one or more general contractors to perform small maintenance and repair jobs on city properties.  The individual repair jobs may not exceed the value of $150,000 per job; however, the total of these projects over the course of a year could be more than $1M.  The DPM was the primary City agency responsible for managing the JOC program.  On average, the DPM spent $2.6M per year on projects between 2017 and 2019.  The total cost of the DPM’s JOC projects for the period under review was $7.7M.

The purpose of the OIG’s evaluation was to determine whether City departments were utilizing the JOC process efficiently and effectively, and in accordance with City policies and state law.  Evaluators also determined whether there were adequate internal and external controls in place to safeguard the procurement process.

In October 2016, the S&WB switched from its internally created customer accounts program to a customer service management software provided by Cogsdale Corp. By April 2017, the agency had discovered a large number of billing errors, primarily through numerous customer complaints. Specifically, customers complained bills were several times higher than those previously invoiced, received multiple bills for the same time period, or had not received bills for several months. At the November 2017 S&WB Board of Directors meeting, the Interim Executive Director reported a backlog of approximately 5,800 accounts with open billing investigations.

The OIG discovered the S&WB program management did not use information collected in the dispute process to inform executive management for appropriate operational decisions. Because of problems with S&WB customer data, the OIG was unable to perform much of the planned analysis on billing disputes. Rather, the evaluation focused on the process used by the S&WB to resolve billing disputes and did not seek to determine the underlying cause of billing issues at the S&WB. Further, the evaluation was limited to S&WB customer accounts that filed billing disputes between October 2016 and October 2018, with an emphasis on billing disputes resolved after an administrative hearing.

After review, the OIG concluded the process used to resolve disputes was not systematic and fair, and it did not balance the rights of individual customers to have accurate bills with the rights of citizens to have a financially stable utility.

The Office of Inspector General of the City of New Orleans (OIG) conducted an evaluation of the management and operations of the Traffic Camera Safety Program (TCSP or “program”). The purpose of the evaluation was to determine whether the program was operating in accordance with applicable laws, policies, and best practices, and whether the City provided effective oversight of the program.

The TCSP started in 2007 and used photos and video footage to issue traffic citations for red light and speeding violations, particularly in school zones. The stated purpose of the program was to improve traffic safety.

The City of New Orleans and the Sewerage and Water Board (S&WB;) have embarked on $2.4 billion of FEMA-funded infrastructure reconstruction projects in addition to ongoing road construction projects funded by other revenue sources. Many of these projects involve repairing and/or replacing components of the water supply system that may include pipes (service lines) that carry water from the water main to a residence/property.

In New Orleans an undetermined number of homes have service lines made of lead (Pb). Lead is a dangerous neurotoxin and no level of lead exposure is deemed safe. Lead service lines are the main contributor of lead in water at the tap. The S&WB does not have complete or accurate records of where lead service lines are located, and many older New Orleans homes may be serviced by lead service lines (LSLs).

Overall, evaluators conducting this follow-up found that the City improved its motor vehicle self-insurance program. However, the City did not fully implement all of the OIG’s recommendations; additionally, many recommendations were not addressed until almost four years after the publication of the original 2012 report. Specifically, the City:

  • began the process of hiring an in-house adjuster for automobile claims, which should result in increased efficiency and save the City nearly $100,000 per year;
  • resolved several issues related to contract management when it signed a contract with a new third-party claims administrator in 2012;
  • revised the vehicle use policy, CAO Memo 5(R), three times in 2016 and incorporated components of the State of Louisiana’s Driver Safety Program;
  • required city employees to complete a defensive driver training program prior to operating city vehicles; and
  • used crash data to identify high-risk drivers who had been in multiple crashes while driving city vehicles.

Evaluators reviewed Municipal Court funding between 2008 and 2015 and found that three entities were responsible for funding the Court (City, State, and Court), but the ambiguity of the legal framework failed to delineate clearly each entity’s responsibilities. The resulting financial practices raised numerous concerns regarding the transparency, accuracy, and legality of the Court’s funding structure.

The OIG recommended that the City fully fund Municipal Court operations through a General Fund appropriation, and the Court and the City should improve the transparency of their financial arrangements. In addition, the City should lobby the state legislature to repeal the laws that establish fees to fund Municipal Court.
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