Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Of Meter Maids and Meter Men

Today’s JCOPE meeting lasted all of 19 minutes before an executive session was called. It would have lasted six minutes were it not for Commissioner Pat Bulgaro’s appeal to his colleagues that they conduct at least some of their business in an open session.
The raised eyebrows from last month’s secret session meant nothing. Editorials questioning the board’s initial actions meant nothing. Advice and counsel offered by former ethics officials meant nothing.* No, this commission was eager to retire to a private session for lunch and for a discussion of . . . well we don’t know it’s a secret.
JCOPE is picking up right where PIC left off in not caring about public perception of its activities, and it’s a very sad thing.
Who is to blame? The new chair may be a very capable prosecutor, but she doesn’t appear to understand her new role where everything should be about openness, transparency, even-handedness and, most importantly, awareness of the message that gets sent by the commission’s actions and by her actions.
Here’s an example that is admittedly both absurd and profound:
Remember my previous blog about the meter maid who ticketed her Westchester County DA vehicle in front of the commission offices for parking at an expired meter. I posited that meter maid as someone who applies the law equally to everyone. I half-seriously suggested she ought to be the next executive director of JCOPE for that very reason.
Well, get this: The chair’s car was parked in the same spot today – right out in front of the main entrance at an expired meter. And you guessed it a meter man came by. But this time, the meter person (an Albany traffic compliance officer) stopped, saw the Westchester DA Official Business placard and walked right by. No ticket. He ignored the violation.
And the apparent message of the day is this: The chair of JCOPE can flout Albany traffic laws because she’s a VIP.
Not only that, JCOPE, itself, gets to do whatever it wants without so much as a nod toward transparency.
It looks like a meter man who knows how to use discretion towards the powerful is a more viable candidate for executive director of JCOPE than the meter maid who treats everyone equally. Keep that thought in mind if you are applying for the executive directors job.
* FOIL law, open meetings laws and the enabling legislation for JCOPE do not, do not, do not require JCOPE to go into executive session. The chair and the commissioners can choose to conduct business in the open. Of course, there’ll come a time when a truly sensitive and/or confidential matter may require a private session, but making secrecy the rule is a major mistake. It speaks only of a secretive, imperial agency that operates in the dark.

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