Tuesday, April 17, 2012

All Ethics is Local

There are times when you watch the news and really scratch your head. For example, last night, I watched Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan go off on Binghamton Sen. Tom Libous. Ryan claims that Libous acted unethically in helping his son get a job.

This is strange to me on many levels:

First, why are Ryan’s comments regarded by the media as “newsworthy?” Second, what actually qualifies him to comment? And, third, what is the core public policy concern here?

Liz B tried to answer the first question at the beginning of her YNN show. She said, in effect, that Libous has been around a long time and has never really been touched by any hint of scandal – “until now.” I guess the hint, the mere suggestion of impropriety is news.

Ryan tried to answer the second question by noting that before he was a mayor, he was a trial attorney. And this is supposedly relevant because the allegations against Libous surfaced in a criminal trial of another individual in a Westchester County court. I don’t see the connection.

In fact, there’s no connection to Ryan or the City of Binghamton, except that it involves Libous, who is Ryan’s local political rival. Democrat Ryan insists that no one in Binghamton believes Republican Libous when he says nothing wrong happened and that this is much ado about nothing.

Ryan feels compelled to address the matter because “the people need to know that their elected officials have integrity.” He says it is imperative that JCOPE intervene to reassure the people of Binghamton that their senator is on the up and up.

It’s on this point that I’m ready to pull out my hair. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: JCOPE has no authority in the matter!

In this regard, the JCOPE statute is clear. The commission’s authority to investigate lawmakers is prospective, not retrospective. The conduct in question happened several years ago, long before JCOPE was formed. So, JCOPE has no jurisdiction. Period.

The Ryan complaint does indeed highlight a real policy concern. It’s just that it has nothing to do with Libous. The concern is the continuing awkward and indecisive performance of JCOPE.

The official comment from the JCOPE spokesman was: “We don’t comment on current or pending investigations” This is an absolutely meaningless comment. It’s nonsense.

What JCOPE should have said is: “We, of course, consider all matters brought to our attention, but our resources and jurisdiction are limited.” It could have then gone on to explain what I did above.

That would have been the honest and accurate thing to say. It would also have better served the public interest than letting a matter fester. That happens to be unfair to both accuser and accused.

Instead, we are going to continue to get JCOPE watching the media and putting its finger in the political air to figure out what it should do. JCOPE personnel just don’t get it. I continue to want to be supportive, but it’s getting harder and harder to do so.

Now see below for another take on the matter.

My Stream of Consciousness on Basketball and Ethics

Hey, look at this article. It says that the head basketball coach at the University of Albany (a state employee) forgot to file a required financial disclosure form.

Hmm. I could make something out of this. I’m a University of Vermont grad. It’s a great school and I’m great for having attended it.

U/Albany is U/Vermont’s rival on the basketball court. (I hate Great Danes. Who would name a team after a dog?)

I could really mess with the U/Albany if I just wrote to JCOPE and demanded a full investigation of the coach.

Hey, the people of Albany need to know whether their coach is on the up and up. This is a serious matter indeed!

Now I just need the JCOPE spokesman to issue a statement that holds open the prospect of an ongoing ethics probe. And then I’ll go to the media and get them to focus on my complaint.

This is great. Go UVM!

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