Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sophisticating up the corruption

About eight years ago, the city of New Orleans hired Robert Cerasoli as its first Inspector General.  It was one of the many highlights of the heady post-Katrina Era of Ethics.  Reform-minded crusaders had "corruption" on the run.  People were still reading the headlines about Jim Letten rather than the comments. Ed Blakely was the butt-kicking savior we'd all been waiting for. Other folks were gonna clean up the city by consolidating the assessor's office and privatizing the school board. Bobby Jindal was a Dragonslaying Knight in Shining Armor.  It was pretty funny... or maybe you had to be there.

One punch line that really grabbed me from that time was Cerasoli's observation that corruption in New Orleans was different from other cities in that it was not as "sophisticated."
Cerasoli said he is shocked the city has nothing in place to prevent corruption in awarding city contracts. The inspector general’s role is to prevent and detect corrupt and unethical practices in city government, Cerasoli said.

“It’s real simple. There should never be one person who decides who should get a contract,” Cerasoli said. “Corruption in other cities is so sophisticated (because of their rules) you wouldn’t find briberies. It’s very unusual you’d find someone passing money in an office somewhere.”
I made a lot of fun out of that. In retrospect it probably wasn't fair to Cerasoli to lump him in with the phony reformers who defined his moment.  He wasn't anywhere as bad as the rest of the class.  Even so, he'd be happy to know we did manage to sophisticate up the corruption in New Orleans.
D’Juan Hernandez, a New Orleans attorney and businessman, spent less than a year as head of a struggling local charter school called Milestone Academy.

But he managed at least one significant accomplishment before resigning last month: racking up $13,000 worth of expenses on a school credit card, including $4,000 in payments to Tulane University, which his daughter attends, and $500 for plane tickets to Florida, where his family vacationed.

On the night of the Zulu Ball — his daughter was a maid in Zulu’s court — he racked up a $687 bill at Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club on St. Claude Avenue. Other big-ticket items included a $224 bill at the Smith & Wollensky restaurant in Miami Beach, Florida, and hundreds of dollars on upgrades to first-class flights.

Tessa Jackson, president of the nonprofit board that governs Milestone, says Hernandez obtained an American Express card in the school’s name without getting approval from the board.
Well, ok, so just charging a bunch of personal stuff on the school credit card is probably still the stupid kind of corruption. But it's a charter school so that at least makes it reformed stupid corruption which is sort of in the ballpark.  

But we really have figured out how to do the fancy kind too.  What do you think all these entrepreneurs are here for in the first place?

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