City Hall’s top watchdog is leaving the post after just 17 months.
His office hasn’t published an investigative report since June.
And now some city councilors are questioning whether Albuquerque’s inspector-general system is flawed and in need of fixing.
The debate surfaced last week with news that Inspector General Neftali Carrasquillo Jr. had submitted his resignation.
In a Journal interview, Carrasquillo said the administration hasn’t referred a case to him for investigation in six months, though it regularly did so before that, according to reports he filed. He said he agreed with councilors who raised questions about the independence of the office.
“In my opinion, I was not allowed to do my job effectively,” Carrasquillo said.
Rob Perry, the top executive under the mayor, says he never stopped Carrasquillo from doing anything.
“He had subpoena authority,” Perry said. “He has more access than we have.”
Carrasquillo wouldn’t speak about the dispute at length, but it appears to center on who is supposed to investigate allegations of misconduct and similar matters — the inspector general or private investigators hired by Mayor Richard Berry’s administration.
“There was agreement last year on who would investigate cases, but that agreement has not been honored,” Carrasquillo said.
Carrasquillo didn’t disclose publicly what the agreement called for.
Perry said there was “never any formal agreement” and that, furthermore, “we can’t stop him” from launching parallel investigations, even if the administration starts its own inquiry. There are good reasons for the city use its own investigators for administrative investigations, Perry said, because the city often needs quick information so that it can take personnel action if warranted.
The city appears to keep a contractor busy with such work. It has paid Robert Caswell Investigations about $300,000 over the last year, according to the city’s transparency website.
The inspector general’s ordinance doesn’t appear to require that the administration refer cases to the IG for investigation, though it does require that the office be notified of “instances” of wrongdoing. The ordinance also says the IG shall evaluate complaints referred to him by “any official, employee” or other person and start an investigation if merited.
Carrasquillo and his office published 14 investigative reports in the last full fiscal year. They include examinations of the city’s Housing Authority, a transit driver who claimed injury on the job and a single-vehicle crash involving the wife of Darren White, then the city’s public safety director.
No investigative reports have been released for the current fiscal year, which started in July, though more could be issued at any point.
Under the current system, the inspector general can be dismissed by a majority of the Accountability in Government Oversight Committee, a five-member body that the council and administration take turns appointing people to.
City councilors are considering an ordinance change intended to strengthen the inspector general’s independence.
Councilor Rey Garduño, the sponsor of the proposed ordinance change, wants the IG to be protected from dismissal unless two-thirds of the council agrees with the committee recommendation to fire him.
“There’s no independence when you have the prospect of three nominees waiting — if that’s their intent — to get rid of an inspector general,” Garduño said in a recent council meeting.
Perry urged councilors not to go too far.
“We think it should be independent within reason,” Perry said.
Requiring a two-thirds council majority, he said, would make the inspector general “probably the most protected person in the city. … From an accountability perspective, we don’t think that’s the right approach.”
Perry cited the example of the city’s top administrative hearing officer — a job in which the director had “complete unaccountability,” he said, and ended up being accused of running a private law practice out of his city office. That person resigned.
Councilor Isaac Benton disagreed with that parallel and said the IG already faces oversight by a public board, the Accountability in Government Oversight Committee. Consequently, he said, adding the City Council to the removal process won’t weaken the IG’s accountability.
Benton added that he’s “concerned that we haven’t been able to keep this position full” and changes might help.
The council voted to schedule Garduño’s proposal for consideration in late January. Garduño and fellow Democrats Benton and Ken Sanchez seemed to favor the proposal during council discussion of the bill.
Republicans Trudy Jones and Dan Lewis expressed reservations.
“There’s no perfect process,” Lewis said. “I’m just not sure this” proposal is an improvement.
Carrasquillo said he decided to speak publicly about his decision to leave after he saw the City Council raise questions about the independence of his office earlier this week. The concerns are accurate, he said.
Carrasquillo said he is taking a job out of state. Before joining the city of Albuquerque, he worked as assistant inspector in charge in the Denver division of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
He makes about $95,000 a year as Albuquerque’s inspector general and supervises two employees. His last day is Friday.
The City Council will pick Carrasquillo’s successor. The IG ordinance calls for the Accountability in Government Oversight Committee to interview applicants and forward three nominees to the council, which selects one.
The inspector general before Carrasquillo spent only eight months on the job, but the office was set up differently then. In that case, Inspector General Janet McHard was dismissed by Carmen Kavelman, the city’s top internal auditor.
A few months later, in December 2010, the city removed the inspector general function from Kavelman’s office and made it a stand-alone department, with only the Accountability in Government Oversight Committee able to dismiss the IG.
Please read the original article written by Dan McKay at the ABQ Journal website.