Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Institutionalizing Reform

New Orleans needs to Institutionalize reforms to prevent a relapse. Simply electing good people to a bad system is not enough. It might actually appear that the system is working.

Mexico has an Institutional Revolutionary Party originally formed to preserve and extend the ideals of the Mexican Revolution. It hasn't worked out that well. Eventually the party became fat, happy, arrogant and corrupt. Eventually they lost.

The NOPD is much in the news. The Chief is under fire and he may have pulled off an amazing feat of public relations. He may actually be less popular than the Mayor.

C. Ray Nagin and Chief Riley

People are looking back on Chief Pennington as some kind of golden age. Under Pennington, one-third of the corrupt or under-performing NOPD was replaced, firing people who can't pass truly independent investigations of complaints, random integrity checks, and professional standards.

But before firing everybody "who can't pass truly independent investigations of complaints, random integrity checks, and professional standards" You have to have a chain of command committed to those standards and the ability to conduct truly independent investigations of complaints, credible integrity checks and well communicated professional standards.

It seems to me you can't fire the entire police force all at once unless the Governor is willing to mobilize the National Guard for several years until a new force can be built. Maybe Obama could invade New Orleans and start over like Bush did in Iraq. Short of that you are necessarily going to rebuild the force with some of the same people. Progressive improvement and attrition will eventually replace all of the current officers. Pennington made a lot of improvements, had his successors built on that instead of dismantling what he did we would be much better off today. The long term key is a long term effort.

Mitch has started a national search for a new ploice chief as the first step. We need to Institutionalize these reforms so that the next Ray Nagin can't undo them. Every Police Chief needs to be selected with the same kind of process we routinely use for Superintendent of Schools, Aviation Director and Inspector General. It's too important to be left to the Mayor's crony. There is much more to do but it is an imperative first step to permanently solve the problem long term. The NOPD made a lot of progress under Pennington, but he didn't finish the job and quickly reverted as soon as he left town.

One way to help stop the reversion would be more effective power sharing between the City Council and the Mayor. As we have watched Nagin push the limits of Mayoral power and arrogance there was no effective counter weigh in city government. Often the Council was literally powerless to do anything. Pushing the decision out in the public (like the Inspector General selection for example) would insure at least some public scrutiny and a public record. While University Presidents may not be the ideal group, the prescribed process forces it to be more public. Adding some of this to the Charter would help. There is always danger that some faction will gain enough control to subvert the process.

I worry very much that Mitch will do a good job as Mayor but won't make the structural changes needed to prevent a recurrence of the problems we face.

I am concerned that he won't embrace radical change, but not because he wants to use the existing power. I just don't think he is an innovator. I think he will be competent but not bold.
I'm not sure Mitch was running for power as much as validation or personal and family legacy.

However if he is concerned about his legacy then he might want embrace historic change, like his father did by embracing integration.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Who wants to take on the enormous task of trying to fix the most racially polarized and corrupt police department in the country while their hands are being tied by the Civil service system? We should hire an "interim" Chief of Police from the Israel Defense Force.
Mr. Mayor will have to make "hard to accept" reforms right away to be effective. I just don`t see a career politician doing this.The campaign never ends!