Jefferson IG finds community eager for change

How hungry are the residents, officials and business people in Jefferson Parish for change? Newly minted Inspector General David McClintock said he’s been on the job for a little more than a month, and he’s already received a double handful of tips and leads despite not having an office, staff or publicly published number.

That hunger has been somewhat surprising to McClintock as he’s tried to build Jefferson Parish’s first Inspector General’s Office from scratch. McClintock said people in Baltimore respected and appreciated the job he did as inspector general, but they weren’t stopping him on the street thanking him simply for being there. In the roughly five weeks McClintock has been in the parish, countless residents have expressed their support for the changes they believe he’ll make to the way the parish works. The former police officer says it’s been amazing.

“Down here, people are really hungry to have another level of oversight,” said McClintock, who added that people often express their dismay at the corruption that has come to light in the parish. “That has been incredibly encouraging to me. We can’t do this without some help.”

Despite the enthusiasm brimming throughout the parish, McClintock said it’s going to take time to get his office operational and ready to do the job residents expect. McClintock still hasn’t settled on a staff, office or even a permanent phone number.

He said he’s not equipped to handle tips from the public and doesn’t expect his first investigation to begin until around August. In fact, he said, he likely won’t be fully staffed until the end of the year.

McClintock’s current project is finalizing how an official policy on how his office will purchase supplies and other items with its $1.2 million annual budget.

The inspector general’s office would partially piggyback on the policies the parish has in place, but because of the need to maintain independence, there are some kinks to be ironed out.

Once that policy is in place, he can purchase office equipment, computer systems and everything else he needs because the process will be completely transparent.

“I can’t do any of that until I have a procurement policy in place,” said McClintock, who met with the Ethics and Compliance Commission earlier this month to discuss his progress.

“I’m quite sure that, appropriately so, people might have an interest in how we spend our money.”

In the interim, McClintock has been meeting with parish officials and businesses leaders to discuss his vision for the inspector general’s office and correct some of the misconceptions people may have about his work.

Ethics Commission Chairwoman Carroll Suggs said she’s sat in on many of those meetings and has been pleased with the reception McClintock received.

McClintock added that while his office will vigorously and independently conduct investigations, the goal isn’t to target or take down particular politicians.

He is interested in cleaning up how the parish does businesses, and he said officials will never learn about an investigation for the first time after his office leaked it to the media.

“This isn’t a game of ‘gotcha,’” McClintock said. “We don’t engage in investigations of individuals, we engage in investigations of government processes. … The way I operate is that nothing is going to show up on their desks that’s going to surprise them.”

McClintock said that stance may surprise residents who expect his office to bang heads and take names.

While he acknowledged that there will be people who are angry about what his office investigates and discovers, he said it won’t be because of an adversarial stance taken by him.

McClintock reiterated something that he brought up during his interview process: The inspector general must convince politicians to “buy-in” to the changes he’s suggesting to create real change. That means avoiding conflict when it doesn’t serve a greater aim.

“The idea that you can treat people respectfully and get the job done are not mutually exclusive,” McClintock said. “The reality is that many people don’t really fully understand what an inspector general does.”

McClintock expects that his office will eventually have about eight to 10 staff members, including a deputy inspector general.

However, he needs to take a hard look at his budget to determine what salary range fits into the local structure and what employees he can attract with that salary.

McClintock also must navigate the thorny issue of whether he will locate his office on the east bank or West Bank, a land mine he admits he didn’t appreciate until he got into the parish.

McClintock also is looking for a change to the parish’s charter that would allow him to roll over unused funds from his annual budget to create a reserve for large capital purchases. That could include specialized equipment to assist in particular investigations or the hiring of outside experts for certain projects.

“Most of my budget is personnel costs,” he said. “It can’t be that complex based on our budget.”