By Lee Zurik & Dannah Sauer | WVUE | August 30, 2022
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – A political analyst says an office that promised transparency and accountability was dishonest in a response to Fox 8.
“It doesn’t make sense. You know, it doesn’t pass the smell test,” said Dillard University public policy professor Dr. Robert Collins.
Back on May 9, Fox 8′s managing editor sent an email to the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, asking if Kyshun Webster was an employee and, if so, what position he was hired to fulfill.
Webster is the embattled former director of the Juvenile Justice Intervention Center, New Orleans’ detention center for young offenders. He resigned from that job in early May, amid questions about his management and job performance.
The day after Fox 8 sent that email, the OPSO’s public information officer responded, “As we speak, Kyshun Webster has not been hired by the Sheriff’s Office.”
However, despite the May 10 email claiming Webster wasn’t an employee, Fox 8 on Tuesday (Aug. 30) received requested public records showing Webster had started submitting invoices to Sheriff Susan Hutson’s office on May 3, the week before Fox 8 asked about his employment status.
“You know, her office has presented documentation that basically confirmed that she wasn’t truthful. Or the people that work for her weren’t truthful when they responded to the public records requests that you made. That’s a problem,” said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission.
Records show Hutson hired Webster as her acting chief of staff. He started the day after he resigned from the Juvenile Justice Intervention Center.
His pay rate for the sheriff’s office was $175 per hour, a rate that would equate to $364,000 per year for a 40-hour work week.
Goyeneche questions how much money the sheriff is spending, at a time when the office is trying to get additional funds to address manpower shortages.
“At a time when the sheriff is advocating for more money for the jail, she is wasting funds, misappropriating or overspending for employees that aren’t really suited to do the job that they were hired to do,” said Goyeneche.
Webster’s OPSO pay rate was more than twice what he made at his prior job. And Goyeneche believes that if he hadn’t resigned from the Juvenile Justice Intervention Center, he would have been fired.
“Well, actually, they had prepared a termination letter. But apparently, it wasn’t officially served because he took family leave. And for the last several weeks, he was being paid by the city because of family leave that he had accrued,” said Goyeneche.
Fox 8 requested information about all workers for the sheriff’s office, including contract workers. The office never sent any contract or agreement it made with Webster.
His invoices also are vague. There are no itemized, billable hours on the documents. Instead, Webster lists bullet points of work he supposedly performed.
The bullet points include descriptions such as “assessed office space for staff” and “researched and solicited quotes for cleaning vendor to treat flooring in sheriff’s suite and 4th floor.”
Webster stopped billing the sheriff on June 7. However, despite his short time with the office, some question why a sheriff and office that promised to be transparent would say Webster was not hired, even though documents prove he was.
In total, Webster was paid nearly $35,000 for about a month of work.
“It’s a serious concern, and especially since this sheriff came in as a reformer,” Collins said. “She was supposed to be a reformer. She was supposed to do things in a cleaner manner than the previous administration. But this is just going back to old-school Louisiana politics, where it’s not based on competence or the ability to do the job.
“It’s just based on who you know, who you’re related to, whose campaign you worked in, whose favor you’re fulfilling. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
In a statement to Fox 8, Hutson admitted Webster had been hired by the office, despite the email saying he hadn’t.
She wrote, “Dr. Webster is a valued partner in the fight for criminal justice reform. He provided his expertise during my transition, and I am very thankful for his help during that time. On May 4, 2022, Dr. Webster became a hired consultant who was embedded within OPSO offices as the transitional ‘Acting Chief of Staff.’
“Dr. Webster’s term with OPSO lasted approximately one month (through June 7, 2022) and we thank him for helping organize our team early on. After an extensive process, I am preparing to announce my permanent Chief of Staff in the coming days.”