11/22/2000

Councilman's driver was officer under investigation

(NEW ORLEANS) -- When the Orleans Parish Civil Sheriff's Office began providing security for City Hall in 1995, uniformed deputies inherited the long-standing tradition of chauffeuring and protecting council members. Initially, Sheriff Paul Valteau provided drivers from his pool of employees.

In recent years, however, council members have turned the system around. They've hand-picked their drivers, then sent them over to Valteau to get hired as deputies. Because of Valteau's chronic shortage of employees, the arrangement was considered win-win, despite the aura of patronage.

But a recent hire has raised some questions.

In May, Councilman Troy Carter needed a new driver and chose Paul Landry, a former police lieutenant who resigned from the force in 1997 while being investigated for alleged payroll fraud, civil service records show. A 20-year veteran with a solid reputation, Landry saw his police career unravel when the Public Integrity Division launched a two-month investigation based on information that he was collecting pay for chunks of time spent away from the job, according to high-ranking police sources.

When the scandal broke in early 1996, Landry was demoted from lieutenant to sergeant and reassigned to a desk job pending the final outcome of the investigation, civil service records show. After a lengthy review, authorities decided against criminal charges, but the Police Department's disciplinary review board was considering firing Landry when he abruptly resigned, the sources said.

Up to that point, Landry had fought his demotion through a civil service appeal in which he alleged racial discrimination. In his appeal, Landry wrote that he "was alleged to have violated state law and was not afforded due process." Landry argued that as a black officer, he was treated differently than white officers who had been subjects of similar criminal investigations. Landry dropped the appeal after his resignation.

The former officer was hired as a civil sheriff's deputy May 1, records show. Carter said he suggested that Landry, 49, apply for the job so he could use him as a driver and administrative assistant. In a recent interview, he defended his decision.

"Had there been a conviction or had his exit been a termination, it certainly would have played differently with our decision," Carter said. "I did due diligence when he came on and understood that he retired in good standing. There were some questions relative to when he was a commander in the 1st District, but there was no final conclusion."

More than a driver

Carter said Landry does much more than drive his city-issued car, serving more as an aide-de-camp. He said Landry's experience as an officer made him uniquely qualified for the position.

"The way it was presented to me was that if we had a need and they (Sheriff's Office) had an opening, we could provide someone who fit the qualifications," Carter said. "Now, if the allegations are true, I certainly don't condone that sort of activity. What's wrong is wrong. But as a driver and as an administrative assistant, his performance has been exemplary."

Valteau said he was not aware of Landry's police record and, furthermore, that neither such details nor any review of an applicant's civil service record is a part of the routine background check to become a deputy. Valteau said the job requires a psychological examination, a criminal background investigation and a high school diploma.

"Councilman Carter asked us if we had any openings in that department. He said he had someone he wanted to send over. When we saw he had the requisite credentials, we hired him," Valteau said.

Sheriff welcomes applicants

As for council members hand-selecting their "enforcement specialists," as they're called, Valteau said he welcomes recommendations from any city official. He said about 30 deputies are assigned to various City Hall security details and there are almost always job openings because of the low pay. The salary for a deputy starts at $18,000 a year, though those assigned to the council can make significantly more because of overtime.

But not all council members have opted to pick their own drivers. Aside from Carter, only council members Scott Shea and Eddie Sapir suggested candidates who were subsequently hired by Valteau. The two council members who took office in October, Marlin Gusman and Cynthia Willard-Lewis, do not currently use drivers. Oliver Thomas uses an equipment operator assigned from the Police Department. And Jim Singleton said he has always accepted drivers from Valteau's pool of deputies.

"I thought the standard policy was to call the sheriff and they send over a couple of new people and you pick one," Singleton said. "It does seem a little unusual (to pick a driver from outside the Sheriff's Office), but that's between the Sheriff's Office, the council members and the CAO (the city's chief administrative officer). I just follow the rules that were set out when they started sending drivers over here."

Gusman said he will likely use the same procedure if he decides to use a driver. "If I do need help, I'd probably avail myself of the pool concept. But I don't decry the others for whatever arrangements they have. I can see the convenience and efficiency of it," Gusman said.

Shea, however, said that when he joined the council in May, he was told that picking a candidate for security duties and sending him to be considered as a deputy was standard procedure.

"The sheriff told me he is always looking for capable people who can pass his qualifications," Shea said. "It's my understanding that the sheriff is short of employees. It's not like I'm saying, 'Here, hire this guy and make a position for him.' "

Valteau spokeswoman Lea Young said the friendly arrangement with the council does not compromise Valteau's ability to call the shots within his department. She said the council drivers are subject to transfer if needed, and some have asked for other assignments after burning out because of the long hours. Generally, though, a council member's choice is honored as long as everybody's happy.

"They are rotated and changed on occasion. But, of course, we try to fit a driver with a council member. The sheriff tries to please the council as much as possible," Young said.

(iSyndicate; The Times-Picayune; Nov. 11, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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