Thursday, December 15, 2011

JCOPE: Day3 – Ms. DiFiore’s Challenge

I’ve sat back and watched for the last three days as JCOPE officials have struggled with a series of awkward issues.

It began with a less than enthusiastic reception for the announcement of the appointees. Then, the continuing involvement of Barry Ginsberg became an issue. And now the new chair is being scrutinized for her status as an elected official and as head of an organization that lobbies.

This was not a textbook rollout.

Let’s analyze each issue.

The Governor has admitted difficulty in getting people to serve on the commission. I guess that’s why it took so long to name the panel. But you know what? I don’t believe in conventional wisdom. I don’t believe in resumes and perceived reputations. What I believe in is actions.

And in this regard, one appointee who has stepped right up already is Ravi Batra. This is a guy whom some people questioned, but he’s showing himself to be independent and engaged from the start, and that’s really encouraging.
Batra spoke out yesterday about the urgent need to remove Barry Ginsberg from what is now an occupy JCOPE movement, and he couldn’t have been more right.

This commission, for obvious reasons from recent history, needs to follow the letter of the law and not fudge things. It cannot simply say that the old executive director will continue to serve until a new executive director is designated. Barry Ginsberg has no authority to act. None. He should be gone. It’s as simple as that.

The issues with the new chair are less clear cut.

When asked about a potential conflict of serving as both elected official and JCOPE Chair and specifically about her campaign accounts, Ms. DiFiore said: “That’s a good question… Honestly, I haven’t thought about that yet."
While, I admire her honesty, I would have hoped that everyone involved would have thought through this issue before she was appointed.

Serving as chair means she’s truly under a microscope. She is obligated to do a number of things, such as disclosing all donations she has received from lobbyists or their clients, as well as disclosing any and all connections to entities regulated by JCOPE.

In addition, she needs, asap, to sort out potential conflicts in serving as the president of the District Attorneys Association. If the association meets the registration requirements as a lobbying entity (and it sure appears that way) it must register and disclose immediately.

Ms. DiFiore must state that she will not engage in activity that would require her being listed as an additional lobbyist for the association.

I think she should go a step further and order an investigation of the association’s past activity and registration status and then recuse herself from any further discussion or action related to that investigation.

Ms. DiFiore is now the face of ethics law enforcement in New York. Everyone needs to understand that, especially her. She has stated that she will “familiarize herself with the commission’s code of conduct and recusal rules and follow them to the letter.”

Again, that’s good, but…

What exactly are the commission’s code of conduct and recusal rules?

I actually FOIL-ed for the code and the rules a while back and the old COPI – in a move that was hypocritical at best and most likely corrupt -- refused to disclose them. (Does it even exist?)

Think about that one. COPI would not tell anyone what its own policies were with regard to compliance, and yet COPI stood in judgment of others on compliance.

Some people say I’m too harsh in my assessment of COPI. Really?

The point, in the end, is that I hope Ms. DiFiore really wants to set a new course and have the commission succeed where predecessor organizations failed so miserably, but to achieve that she needs to do things differently than COPI. No more secret meetings and undisclosed conflicts. Think of FOIL as a floor not a ceiling. And follow the rules no matter how petty you may think they are, they matter.

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