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Homeland Security Chief to Retire

NEW ORLEANS -- Retired Marine Col. Terry Ebbert, who as Mayor Ray Nagin's homeland security chief oversaw the City Hall response to Hurricane Katrina, announced Tuesday that he will retire at the end of June.

Ebbert, 65, said he has "some family, personal and professional goals that remain unfulfilled," including returning to Vietnam, where he served as a Marine officer, spending more time with family and ramping up his running pace to a seven-minute mile.

A vocal post-Katrina critic of glitches in the federal disaster response, Ebbert said he also intends to continue lobbying for better equipment, training and command-and-control capability for local governments facing catastrophe.

"I've got a good platform to speak from," Ebbert said.

Appointed by Nagin as director of the Office of Homeland Security in early 2003, Ebbert, a former director of the nonprofit New Orleans Police Foundation, has been responsible for overseeing the city's police, fire and emergencymedical departments and the Office of Emergency Preparedness.

Though well known locally before the flood, he assumed a heightened profile during Katrina's aftermath as the public face of the city's evacuation and repopulation plans, frequently appearing in his trademark suspenders and black-banded ivory homburg hat.

Since Katrina, Ebbert has helped secure the commitment that National Guard troops will patrol New Orleans before a hurricane to stave off looters, obtained additional mental health resources for the city and gotten federal money for a coordinated radio system for firstresponders across the region.

"Where we're going to miss Terry is on the federal level," Jefferson Parish emergency response chief Deano Bonano said. "Because of his military career, he was able to get us face time in Washington and keep putting the New Orleans area in front of D.C. officials who make decisions."

With Ebbert's departure coming in the first month of the 2008 hurricane season, it is unclear who will take over his job. Ebbert said he has not been priming a successor because Nagin has not named one. A mayoral spokeswoman said Tuesday she did not know when the mayor would make a decision.

Ebbert, who recently missed seven weeks of work while undergoing treatments for prostate cancer, said he has confidence in the four department directors under his charge.

"You rate commanders on how well your organization performs when you're not there, and they have performed well in the last two months," Ebbert said.

Ebbert, whose salary this year is $139,893, is the latest in a series of officials to leave the mayor's inner circle, including directors of economic development, housing and safety and permits. Nagin's executive counsel, Becca O'Brien, quit her post May 30, and Intergovernmental Affairs Director Kenya Smith announced Monday that his last day will be June 20.

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