Friday, March 9, 2012

On Timely Filing and Setting Examples

I’m not sure of the exact metaphor to put this phenomenon in perspective. But it involves something which expands a little each day until it becomes so unwieldy that it defies comprehension and control.

Through the years, quasi-governmental entities in New York have proliferated in this way. There are now so many that it is impossible to keep track of them all.

A good reporter from the Syracuse newspaper has written about one attempt at oversight. Michele Breidenbach writes about the state Authorities Budget Office, which sends out notices when agencies and authorities fail to file financial records as required by law.

The office recently identified almost 200 authorities statewide that are delinquent in making required disclosures. See:

The list includes everything from the Central New York Regional Market Authority to the Troy Parking Authority to the Westchester Tobacco Asset Securitization Corporation.

Failure to file required financial documents isn’t necessarily at sign of malfeasance, but I believe there is a correlation between not having your act together to meet disclosure deadlines and not having your act together on finances themselves. I say that as former city manager and long time ethics official.

This correlation exists with individuals as well. As a manager, I always tried to set an example by getting into the office on time and keeping my appointments. It is a sign of coming problems when managers start cancelling meetings or continually rescheduling them at the last minute. What you are saying when you cancel appointments or are chronically late is that the other party is irrelevant. If an issue is important enough to schedule a meeting, then it ought to be kept.

Back to late filers: When I was running the state Lobby Commission, I always gave greater scrutiny to those who were delinquent. The reasoning was that a failure to file on time could be part of a larger problem involving lax financial controls and lax ethics.

But the reality for me then and the ABO now is that there is neither the time nor the resources to check everyone. So, you end up focusing on those entities that give you a reason to investigate them.

Note to authority managers: You really need to get those required filings in on time.

Note to policymakers in Albany: Why don’t we sunset all authorities after five years. If they are really serving a purpose they can be renewed.

Note to JCOPE execs: Set an example.

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