Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The New “I for Integrity”

Today marks the beginning of a new phase for the “I for Integrity” blog. For some time, I’ve been toying with notion of broadening its subject matter. A number of people encouraged me to do this, but I was a little hesitant. The reason is simple. When I was involved in ethics law enforcement, I always sought to avoid commenting in ways that might be construed as partisan. That served me well for a long time. People may have disagreed with me, but at least they didn’t think I was being “political.”
I don’t want to do anything now to jeopardize that standing, but I do want to speak more generally about matters of ethics, accountability and state policy. I think it will make the blog more interesting.

I also want to do something else. I want to work in tips and suggestions that often come to me from people in government and from ordinary citizens. People tell me things because they think I’m independent and not afraid to ruffle a few feathers. I appreciate their faith in me and I don’t want to disappoint them.

To help me with the expanded blog, I’ve recruited some friends and former associates to participate in a kind of informal advisory board. They’ll help me with the subject matter, and also with my tone, which I know can be a little edgy at times.

I’m very excited about our new effort. The goal is to be a kind of plain-spoken “conscience of Albany.” No, I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers, but I do want to weigh in constructively and say things that need to be said.

I hope you enjoy the blog.

“Delay of Game”

Our new governor has done many things right, but his handling of ethics law enforcement is an open question.
Think of the Governor as the quarterback on a football team who has called a new play. He abolished the old state ethics panel and established a new one. This is a good move that was announced with a lot of fanfare. It was called the “Clean Up Albany Act” and the New York Post proclaimed that “Crooked pols are running for the exits.”

The problem isn’t the play itself, but its execution, or rather the lack of execution. It’s been nearly four months since the new panel was announced and it hasn’t been constituted yet. In the meantime, the predecessor Public Integrity Commission has gone out of business. And so, as I write this, there is no ethics law enforcement in New York. That’s right – there’s no one to investigate a violation, no one to follow up on a tip regarding potential wrongdoing.
Supposedly, the governor and his people are busy trying to find the right appointees to the panel – but there’s been no word on how the process is proceeding and that’s a concern in its own right.

Given the storm clouds that surrounded the Public Integrity Commission, doesn’t it stand to reason that there should be more openness and transparency regarding appointments to the new panel? For the new panel to do its job properly, we need people of real integrity and independence. And in this regard, the best thing the governor could do is appoint people with whom he has no prior relationship and no connection. He should do so right away and set an example for the legislative leaders who also have appointments to the panel.
I really hope the governor avoids the typical politician’s mistake of appointing people who are friends and associates. That may work in the short term, but, later, when judgments are made on controversial cases, there’ll be an appearance of a conflict. That is inevitable.
The issues I’ve raised here can certainly be resolved, but the governor needs to focus on the matter and get it done. He needs to do it now. It’s simply outrageous that the State of New York has no working ethics panel.

Back to the sports metaphor: I’m not prepared to say that the governor has fumbled the ball on ethics, but he and the legislative leaders should be called for delay of game.

Tell the Truth, Tell it All, Tell it Now

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has come under fire in recent days for the way he handled the departure of his deputy mayor for operations, Stephen Goldsmith.
When Goldsmith resigned last month, the Bloomberg administration (and Bloomberg himself) said he was leaving to pursue other professional opportunities. But the real reason involved a domestic altercation with his wife.
Much has been made of the misleading comments at the time of the resignation, but, to my mind, the real problem came two days earlier. That’s when Goldsmith was arrested and held for 24 hours. This development should have been disclosed immediately by the administration. It is certainly news when the mayor’s top aide has been jailed.
Instead, Bloomberg and his people apparently tried to “manage the media,” a strategy that almost always backfires. It was sure to backfire given the nature of the incident, which is reminiscent of the situation involving Governor Paterson’s top aide David Johnson in 2009.
Domestic abuse is a scourge with devastating effects on the adults involved and their children. Our society still struggles to address this problem, and looks to its elected officials to make sure that law enforcement agencies and social service providers are doing all they can to recognize it and prevent it. In his role as one of the mayor’s top aides, Goldsmith oversaw the city’s police department, which plays an enormous role in the city’s response to domestic violence.
For all these reasons and more, the mayor should have recognized the need for full and timely disclosure of the arrest. Had that occurred, the Goldsmith’s subsequent resignation would have resolved the matter without the need for further comment by the mayor. But because that didn’t happen, the mayor’s adversaries can now (with cause) draw out the process of investigation and fault finding.
The way to avoid these dramas is to follow the dictum: “Tell the truth, tell it all, and tell it now.”

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