By Ben Myers | NOLA.com | December 15, 2021
Edward Michel, New Orleans’ interim inspector general, was permanently appointed Wednesday to the position to root out corruption, waste and abuse in municipal government. He is the fourth permanent appointment since voters agreed to create the Office of Inspector General in 2006.
Michel assumed the interim job in 2020 after Inspector General Derry Harper resigned when it was discovered that he rarely showed up to work. Michel joined the office in 2019 after a 23-year career with the FBI, most recently as assistant special agent in charge in the bureau’s Houston office.
A New Orleans native who once worked as a police officer in his hometown, Michel was one of three finalists whom the Ethics Review Board interviewed Monday after a national search for Harper’s replacement. The other two were Peter Schleck, a county court operations manager from Maine, and Jeffery Walsh, deputy chief inspector at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s headquarters in Washington.
Members of the ethics board, which oversees the Office of Inspector General, praised Michel for stabilizing the office and increasing its productivity after Harper’s departure.
“Even apart from that, I would consider him by far the best qualified person for this job,” board member Michael Cowan said. “He brings some of the best of both roots and history and appreciation, but also having been out in the broader world and understanding the state of good practice in his field. I take some reassurance from that.”
Also speaking on Michel’s behalf was Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, which Goyeneche said worked closely with the office under previous inspectors general until Harper’s administration quit responding to the commission’s referrals. When Michel took over, Goyeneche said, the relationship “immediately resumed.”
“Some of the [earlier] referrals that we made under the Harper administration were quickly processed and worked, and we saw action with that,” he said.
In his interview on Monday, Michel said that under his leadership the office assisted in securing the federal conviction of City Hall’s assistant chief mechanical inspector in a bribery scheme and uncovered homestead exemption fraud. Michel has also recently overseen reports on the Sewerage and Water Board, the Orleans Parish Communications District and procurement policies. “Pride and ownership is reflective in everything we do now,” Michel said.
Michel’s interim tenure has not been without controversy. Soon after taking over from Harper, Michel fired the lead investigator looking into the Hard Rock Hotel collapse, Kristen Morales, who is now alleging wrongful termination in a federal lawsuit. Critics questioned whether Morales’s firing impeded the Hard Rock investigation, although Michel’s office has since recommended criminal charges against three former building inspectors. A Louisiana state grand jury investigation is underway.
Last month the ethics board heard a formal complaint accusing Michel of abusing his authority by calling the workplace of someone who had criticized him on Twitter. While the allegations disturbed some members, the board ultimately determined Michel did not violate any rules.
Board member Torin Sanders voted against Michel’s appointment Wednesday, the only one of the seven-member board to do so. Presumably referring to the recent complaint by the Twitter critic, Sanders said he had “a concern over something that has been made public that I pray is not a red flag for the future.”