In an interview broadcast last week on WWL-TV, former Mayor Marc Morial expressed surprise upon hearing that former Office of Municipal Investigation (OMI) director Peter Munster asked for whistleblower's protection before his death in a New Mexico car crash on July 10, 1998.
"You are telling me something I'm hearing for the first time," Morial told WWL-TV's Angela Hill.
Morial also seemed doubtful about reports that OMI was beleaguered during that time in his administration. "It is strange to me that if there was a raging controversy about OMI, why wasn't it in the newspaper, why wasn't it the subject of budget hearings?" he asked.
Actually, the controversy was in at least two newspapers -- and so was the news that Munster asked for whistleblower's protection. In Gambit Weekly's July 28, 1998, issue, we confirmed that Munster asked for protection, which is extended to employees fearing job reprisal for alleging wrongdoing. The specific reason for Munster's worry? "Because Mayor Marc Morial's right-hand man -- Chief Administrative Officer Marlin Gusman -- and an 'intermediary' in the CAO's office both threatened to oust him," Gambit Weekly reported in the article titled "Whistle-Blower."
Three days earlier, in its July 25, 1998, issue, The Times-Picayune had also reported that Munster asked for whistleblower protection: "Weeks after his office issued a critical report about possible ethics violations in the New Orleans Police Department, the city's top government watchdog asked for protection under the Civil Service Department's whistle-blower rules. Peter Munster ... apparently sought the protection because he feared retaliation related to his office's investigation of the two top NOPD officers." The Times-Picayune's story, "City Watchdog Feared for Job After Cop Report," appeared on the first page of the paper's metro section.
Both papers reported that neither Gusman nor Morial would provide comment for their stories; Gambit said that Morial was out of town. Last week, Morial did not return a call seeking further comment about his remarks on WWL-TV. Contacted last week, former Munster attorney Mary Howell expressed "surprise" that Morial would be unaware that Munster filed for whistleblower protection, given the media reports that appeared following Munster's death.
Munster had worked on OMI reports investigating two controversial issues of the day: the accuracy of NOPD crime statistics and the alleged misuse of cell phones by then-Police Chief Richard Pennington and Assistant Superintendent Ronal Serpas. In its 1998 article, Gambit Weekly cited unnamed sources as saying that Munster complained that Gusman pressured him to "water down" his findings. "I think that's a logical assumption to make based on the pressures that were put on [Munster]," Metropolitan Crime Commission president Rafael Goyeneche told us at the time. "He ... sensed the administration's displeasure with anything that would cast a negative pall on the department. ... [H]e had basically broken file with the administration by coming out with those reports. The administration didn't want those reports to be released publicly."
In an interview last week with Gambit Weekly, Gusman stressed that he never took action against Munster. Gusman also said he became aware of Munster's request for whistleblower protection when news reports surfaced shortly after Munster's death. Gusman, who served as Morial's CAO from 1994 to 2000, acknowledges he had concerns about Munster's work, saying that some of the former OMI chief's memos were "horrible ... full of mistakes and errors."
Gusman also said he was concerned at the time over press reports about the OMI probes. "I said, 'Peter, we're having leaks, man. We started an investigation and before we know, we have all these press people around.' So I said, 'We're going to keep our reports confidential until they're done and then we're going to release them with counsel from the city attorney.'"
Last week, Gusman, now a New Orleans councilman, released a report by the Police Civilian Review Task Force that sharply criticized OMI. Gusman acknowledges he had delayed the report, citing concerns that a report by Morial appointees might "sound like we're trying to get in the new mayor's way."