City Councilwoman at large Helena Moreno recently released a letter promising to veto any selection Mayor LaToya Cantrell makes to fill the NOPD superintendent’s post as she decries a so-called lack of transparency in the process. Councilman J.P. Morrell has called out the selection process as troubling as he complains that the Council has been left out.

As the process of selecting the next leader of NOPD winds down, it has become exceedingly clear that it is only just getting started. 

This is exactly what we said would happen when we urged New Orleans voters to say “no” to the unnecessary charter change that now makes confirmation by the New Orleans City Council a requirement for the mayor’s top executive level appointments, including the police and fire chiefs.

We warned, earlier this year when Moreno and Morrell offered their ordinance, that it was little more than grandstanding and posturing as the two set their sights on higher political aspirations than the council chambers. We said that this would not work . . . that it would result in divisive gridlock. We warned that it had nothing to do with making New Orleans a better city, and instead was tied to whatever political infighting and the unspoken political ambitions.

Our position on the Council crafting an ordinance that puts it in the way of Mayor building an executive team remains the same. In creating an executive level team, the mayor of the City must have the ability to hand pick the team that he or she will work with to implement his or her platform. There must be a relationship built on trust and confidence between the mayor and members of his or her executive team that, quite frankly, would be compromised by appointees having to curry favor with members of the Council in order to solidify their appointments. On the other hand, if the mayor can count on members of the City Council to just go along to get along because they are political cronies, the people are not served in that scenario either. 

Nonetheless, Morrell and Moreno successfully convinced the voters of New Orleans that we needed this charter change. They have spoken, and here we are. 

We just checked our crystal ball, and we don’t see a new permanent NOPD superintendent in New Orleans’ future . . . any time soon.

Get ready for a long ride.  Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

You see, transparency is not the issue with the search for the next chief of NOPD. It’s a search that should have never happened — not the way it’s happened and not why it’s happened.

What Process?

The public is now all worked up, with some echoing cries about being left out and a lack of transparency in the process. We are not suggesting that public should have no say or access to the mayor as he or she deliberates on top appointments. Any mayor that understands and respects the people that elected them will take their input into consideration, whether that is through forming a committee or holding open meetings to share ideas. And a mayor that wants to be successful will do his or her best to pick executive leaders that will yield results. It’s really common sense.

And we don’t have a problem with transparency. We have a problem with the people who want to behave as if this has not been the most public and most transparent police chief search in the history of New Orleans in comparison to every other “search” that has ever taken place.

That is why we are wondering what “process” folks are talking about?  Do they mean the one where the duly elected mayor ultimately chooses the top people for his or her cabinet, especially those individuals whose performance or lack thereof will ultimately rest at the feet of the mayor and define the success or failure of his or her administration.

Until now, the police chief was selected solely by the mayor of the City and required no stamp of approval from the New Orleans City Council. Until now, the city’s top leader – the mayor – searched for candidates, in whatever manner that worked for him or her, and appointed his or her police chief. That was the process. Most folks didn’t know who the mayor was considering until they publicly appointed the person. Y’all know that’s the truth.

It is how Shaun Ferguson was selected. It is how Michael Harrison, Ronal Serpas, Warren Riley, Eddie Compass, Richard Pennington, Arnesta Taylor, Warren Woodfork and everyone else who has sat in that seat were chosen for the job. It was the way Pierre Achille Rivery got the job in 1803.

The mayor appoints his or her chief of police. So can we please stop acting as if the police chief appointment has ever been some open process full of public discourse and input?

Here at The Tribune, we cannot recall anyone batting an eye when former NAACP president Danatus King resigned from then Mayor-elect Mitch Landrieu’s crime task force because of his concerns regarding a lack of transparency in the police chief search. King reportedly resigned because Landrieu refused to release the list of names under consideration to the public. Recall, transparency and public input were the reasons Landrieu assembled the task force in the first place. The truth was he was under no legal obligation to release a single name under consideration, and Landrieu went on to appoint Ronal Serpas in May 2010 without vetting him before the public. There was no public examination of Serpas or his record or resume before his appointment. And few people, if any, echoed King’s concerns about a lack of transparency. Seriously, raise your hand if you saw Ronal Serpas’ resume on a link on the City’s website before he was named superintendent . . . or any other police chief candidate before or after him – until now. Standing inside Gallier Hall, Mitch Landrieu told y’all Ronald Serpas was “the best chief in the country” and that was that. 

So what in the Mandela Effect is going on right now? Today, the mainstream media along with a faction of the New Orleans City Council would have New Orleanians thinking that the superintendent of the police department has historically been selected with a straw poll of the people.

Talk about twisted narratives. 

What Are We Looking For
in a Police Chief Anyway?

The New Orleans Police Department has a superintendent. Though only appointed as an interim, she was selected by and serves as the pleasure of the Mayor, as police chiefs have always been selected in New Orleans.

And we wish Mayor LaToya Cantrell had used her authority, before it was usurped by that bogus charter-changing ordinance, to simply name Michelle Woodfork as Shaun Ferguson’s permanent successor. There was a window of time before the charter change became law. 

In short, it could have been done. Of course, she would have been persecuted for doing so. They would have said she was trying to circumvent the system (one that was not yet legally in place yet). They would have said she was not being transparent. But hell, they are saying that now – right NOW, after the Mayor has contracted with the International Association of Chiefs of Police to conduct a months-long national search that yielded nearly three dozen candidates whittled down to three finalists through a series of tests and interviews, with recommendations from multiple sources before a final nominee is expected to be tapped by the Mayor for Council approval. And it’s still not good enough. Moreno wants to know the process used by the IACP. Morrell wants more “transparency”. This one wants a committee. That one wants a committee.

And that’s fine. But what NOPD needs is a leader. Instead, we are mired in more distractions, diversions, politicking, grandstanding and, well, utter bull crap. That’s why the Mayor should have made a power move with a permanent appointment of Woodfork. 

No doubt, Cantrell would have come under fire had she named Woodfork her permanent choice back in December. Yes, it would have been perceived as a flagrant “dis” of the Council and its charter change. But she’s come under fire for less. 

And at least, we would have a permanent police chief now; and Moreno, Morrell and the rest of the City Council could focus on serving the people of New Orleans instead of trying to control the Mayor. 

The reality is that Chief Woodfork has been doing a good job given all of the circumstances and issues the department, the city and its people face.

In a press conference earlier this month during which she shared a six-month progress report, Woodfork touted a reduction in murders and non-fatal shootings. By July 1, 2022 there were 148 murders in New Orleans, compared to 120 murders for the same period this year, marking a 19 percent reduction. Meanwhile, non-fatal shootings also decreased from 303 in the first six months of 2022 to 248 for the first six months of this year.

Woodfork also announced a 42 percent decrease in carjackings along with a 21 percent in decrease in armed robberies for the same period while touting increases gun confiscations and firearm arrests. There were 225 gun arrests during the first six months of 2022 compared to 473 in the first six months of this year.

“Crime reduction remains one of my goals as well as that of the men and women of NOPD,” Woodfork said. “Collectively everybody has been doing the work. “The men and women of the New Orleans Police Department are committed to performing the duties needed to protect and serve the people of New Orleans.”

Although, her department’s assessment of its progress on the federal consent decree differs greatly from that of the U.S. Justice Department, Woodfork even voiced her commitment to working toward full compliance.

An she also thanked the Mayor’s Office, City Council and Civil Service Commission for their work in implementing a recruitment package, which she says that along with NOPD marketing has resulted in the hiring of 45 new recruits so far this year.

“That is a substantial and measurable improvement to last year,” Woodfork said, adding that there were only 28 new recruits hired the entirely of 2022.

She right, we are seeing incremental progress. It’s real and it’s measurable. She is doing the job! And if Moreno and Morrell and everyone else would just start doing theirs . . . the jobs they were actually elected to do . . . such passing ordinances that actually improve the quality of life for New Orleanians, maybe we will see some more measurable and positive change.

Quite frankly, we never bought into the so-called need for a national search when we know there are talented, experienced and dedicated officers here in New Orleans capable of leading the department,

If you ask us, Moreno’s threat to veto could be the hand the Mayor fans with. If the New Orleans City Council refuses to confirm the Mayor’s appointment, she should simply submit Interim Supt. Woodfork’s name as the interim chief every 120 days from now until her term ends about two and a half years from now. Then the next mayor and city council gets to deal with this mess.

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