Dennis Persica: Upside and downside of new Jeff post

The news that Jefferson Parish has chosen an inspector general to root out corruption (I guess I should add the obligatory disclaimer, “if it exists”) brings a number of old clich├ęs to mind. The phrase “like shooting fish in a barrel” quickly jumps to the tip of the tongue. “Target-rich environment” also seems apt here.

The recent criminal probe of Parish President Aaron Broussard and his cohorts is just the latest example of corruption in Jefferson. Before Broussard (and others), there was the Wrinkled Robe investigation of judges at the parish courthouse. Before that: the “pumps-in-the-weeds” scandal of the late 1970s, the parish’s reputation as a place for illegal gambling, and much, much more.

In the past, we’ve seen scandals taint judges, sheriffs and district attorneys; in other words, all the people you would expect to be enforcing laws, not breaking them.

Jefferson’s incoming Inspector General David McClintock, with an expected annual salary of $150,000, will be the second-highest paid parish employee. And, no, Parish President John Young is not the highest.

McClintock’s pay level puts parish residents in a bind: For that kind of money, they might hope that he’ll uncover some big-time corruption. However, if he uncovers more corruption, that news would be about as welcome, say, as hearing that your house burned down but your fire alarm system worked flawlessly during the blaze.

McClintock comes to Jefferson Parish from Baltimore, where he’s held a similar post since 2010. I think most people probably share the view that the perceived trustworthiness of the person hired for this kind of job increases in direct proportion to his distance from Louisiana before accepting it. That is, he’s not from here, and we see that as good.

We like to think of ourselves as having elevated corruption to an art form in Louisiana. If an inspector general who has shown success in another jurisdiction falls flat here, then that only goes to show how good our pols have gotten at hiding their misdeeds. If the IG succeeds, then maybe our corruption is just run of the mill.

Not all cases of corruption will be as epic as the pumps-in-the-weeds brouhaha, in which Jefferson Parish paid far more than was necessary for two pumps for the Hero Pumping Station on the West Bank back in the 1970s. But not only had the parish overpaid for the pumps, using an “emergency” procedure that let it bypass the normal bid process, it never even bothered to install them. They were later found rusting in the weeds near the station.

Now there was a outcome that seemed like it had been crafted by a master storyteller: a tale of big-dollar misdeeds in which the miscreants eventually are undone by the simple discovery of the very pumps in question — rusting in the weeds!

Unfortunately, corruption usually proceeds along more-mundane plot lines, not so rich with irony. It can be much more subtle and harder to detect, so McClintock will have his work cut out for him.

On the positive side, however, McClintock recently told The Advocate that he plans to make much use of tips from the public, which means he’ll have thousands of eyes across the parish on the lookout for him. Fortunately, Jefferson Parish residents are still riled up by the most recent of the parish’s many scandals, the Broussard case. So McClintock has the people on his side for now, and that’s a powerful ally.

Dennis Persica is a New Orleans-area journalist. In his weekly column he shares his thoughts and observations about people, places and issues in the New Orleans area. Persica’s email address is dpersica@gmail.com.