Monday, December 12, 2011


Insiders have told the blog that the new commissioners of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) will be announced today. I’m sure some people will want to say that ethics reform has been accomplished, but the reality is that the task has really just begun.

The governor and the legislature have provided a mechanism to change the status quo, to change the perception of a corrupt state and usher in a new era of integrity.

It took leadership to put the pieces in place – and I commend everyone involved, especially the governor. But now the governor has to take a big step back, and JCOPE leadership must emerge.

What kind of leadership exactly?

First, consider what we don’t need or want. We don’t need a Feerick, a Cherkasky, a Teitelbaum or a Ginsberg-type leader. These were all people who acted as though they were appointed by God. They made up the rules as they went along. And their decisions, as this blog pointed out for months, completely undermined ethics enforcement in New York.

What is needed now to give JCOPE a good start is sound judgment. I know that sounds simple, even trite, but it’s the key. So much of being an integrity official involves looking at a situation and asking fundamental questions:

What is the real nature of the situation in question?

For example:

Is there a clear conflict of interest involved?

Is the person enriching himself or herself?

How strong is the evidence?

What do we know for sure, and what do we surmise?

Are we handling the matter in a way that is tailored to the specific facts and circumstances?

This last point is important. Each case should be handled almost in a vacuum. I know that will sound strange to some. They’ll want JCOPE to come out like gangbusters and make cases that send a message to all of Albany. This is a recipe for disaster.

The new commissioners need to resist the temptation to seize on sweeping cases that send messages. The best message they can send is that there is a new ethics panel that will handle each case in an aggressive, but fair way.

Ginsberg and the others never understood that. They were more concerned about their image and their connections to people in power than doing the right thing.

Now is the time for a fresh start, a new approach that focuses on restoring the integrity of ethics enforcement one step at a time.

And that first step must be to tell Barry Ginsberg that he is not a part of JCOPE.

The statute that created JCOPE is silent on the transfer of employees, and I think there is a good reason for that. Upon creation JCOPE has a blank slate and no employees.

There will be a temptation to just transfer everyone to the new agency. I hope the new commissioners resist that temptation.

Sure you could transfer all the non policy makers there is no harm in that and you can always cull the herd after a new executive director is selected.

But if you allow the top policy makers to remain it will take a strong executive and a ton of political dynamite to pry their cold bureaucratic fingers from the controls.

And should you allow Barry Ginsberg to remain for even one second you will have provided those of us that pay attention to this stuff all the proof we need to know the new boss is just the same as the old boss.

And that would not be ethics reform by anyone’s measure.

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