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No Excuses



Last week was a real bummer for City Councilman Marlin Gusman. Each day seemed to bring more bad news. Gusman's only consolation may have been the knowledge that his old boss, former Mayor Marc Morial, wasn't faring much better. Misery loves company.

The week began with news that the Nagin Administration was exposing widespread corruption in the city's Department of Utilities, which until last Monday was still run by folks put there by Morial. As Morial's chief administrative officer from 1994-2000, Gusman oversaw all departments.

All week long came more news of bribery schemes and malfeasance -- and promises that much more was yet to come. An obvious question hung over Morial and Gusman: why hadn't they done anything about it?

From the get-go, Gusman was on the defensive. He had been sniping at Nagin since the new mayor took office in early May, and reportedly even told a few folks he planned to run for mayor himself next time out. Now came allegations that all sorts of illegal activities occurred right under his nose.

By late last week, Gusman's nose was clearly out of joint.

Nagin added fuel to the fire. Clearly referring to Gusman's tenure as CAO, Nagin told reporters, "It's not leadership. It's not management. It's not anything other than complicity."

When reporters descended upon Gusman, his responses were terse and defensive. He looked angry, befuddled, and a tad ... guilty.

I'm not saying Gusman did anything criminal. But he clearly appears to be guilty of not paying attention. What other excuse can he offer? Is he going to suggest with a straight face that the Utilities Department didn't become corrupt until after he left his CAO post in late 2000?

Both Morial and Gusman said that they referred all reports of abuse to the Office of Municipal Investigation (OMI). But that excuse quickly became inoperative, to borrow a Watergate-era term. We now know that Morial and Gusman had systematically emasculated OMI after the 1998 death of its late director, Peter Munster, who had sought "whistleblower" protection from his bosses. Think about that: the city's chief investigator feared for his job from the mayor and the CAO. Under Morial and Gusman, OMI's staff shrank from seven to two.

To make matters worse, Gusman had routinely "edited" Munster's OMI reports before they were released -- a fact reported at the time by Gambit Weekly.

The OMI stink gets even worse. Morial's 20-member Police Civilian Review Task Force, formed last September, drafted a report that criticized OMI under Morial and Gusman. However, the task force's chairman -- Gusman -- had refused to release the group's report until pressured to do so last week.

What irony! The late Mayor Dutch Morial created OMI to give citizens an independent office to handle complaints against cops. Now Dutch's legacy has been gutted by his own son and one of his proteges -- but an NOPD investigation may yet save it. Nagin promises to rebuild OMI.

Marc Morial, meanwhile, has hired a criminal defense lawyer to negotiate how he will answer investigators' questions. He wants them all in writing.

OK, here's a question for him: how could he have allowed a culture of corruption to flourish right under his nose?

The answer: either he and Gusman were complicit, or they were inept.

Or worse: Maybe they just didn't care -- because they were too busy squeezing city contractors for the really big bucks (presumably in the form of "campaign contributions") while getting their pals placed in favored positions as consultants and "minority investors."

Whatever their responses, there are no excuses for the mess they left.

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