The new Joint Commission on Public Ethics (J-COPE) is supposed to be fully operational by December 12th.
But let’s be real: Two weeks isn’t much time to get organized.
The new commissioners, have to be named soon and they will need all the help they can get. And in that spirit, I offer the following tips:
1. You’ll be in a rush to get going, but first things first. One of the easiest ways you’ll trip up is by failing to disclose everyone’s potential conflicts of interest. Such conflicts are inevitable. In most cases they aren’t a big deal, but before someone (like me) points out the conflicts and they become a news story, do it first along with a plan to address the situation through recusals. The previous ethics agency was riddled with conflicts and it showed, they even had commissioners that were part of lobbying firms.
2. You are the ones who should name the executive director, not the administration. You won’t be doing yourselves or the Governor any favors if you rubber stamp his selection. Your predecessor commissioners made this mistake and they were all tarnished (Teitebaumed) as a result. And take your time it is the single most important decision you will make as commissioners. The executive director will make or break this new agency.
3. In this same vein, you need to make a clean break with the current E.D., Barry Ginsberg. Keeping him on as an acting or advisory staffer would compromise you. Remember his role in Troopergate – as exposed by the Inspector General, and remember his rogue activities over the last several months when the Public Integrity Commission was supposed to have been suspended. The reason the Public Integrity Commission was a complete failure and embarrassment was the people, Barry represents all that was bad before.
4. There are some good people left at the agency who can form the nucleus of a new team. These individuals want nothing more than to restore the reputation of ethics enforcement in New York. But don’t take Ginsberg’s word on who should be hired or retained. Make your own determination based on an individual’s record. Anyone in a policy making position that did not stand up and try to make the old Public Integrity Commission do the right thing should be let go and quickly. You don't need institutional memory from the top staff, they are the ones that will tell you to do it the wrong way because thats the way they have always done it you need a fresh start and the top staff needs to be terminated before they have a chance to shape policy in a new agency.
5. Most importantly, be open about your official deliberations, and do everything you can to adhere to the clearest and highest standards of law. Your predecessors were a complete joke because they did everything in secret and because they made up the rules as they went along. This isn’t just my opinion. Everyone in the ethics community was shocked by the commission’s actions. You can and must operate differently. I'll be sending you requests for opinions and complaints that heve been ignored by the old regime, that will be my test to see if its a new era of ethics enforcement in Albany or just more rhetoric.
6. And finally listen to the non lawyers on the panel, they have a unique perspective that will serve the new commission well it’s called common sense something most lawyers in government have lost a long time ago.