Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Enviro Justice

There’s a scene in Lonesome Dove (one of my favorite books and a great TV series) in which a really villainous villain comes upon a couple of farmers plowing a field. His blood boils and he says: “I hate sodbusters!”

I had a somewhat similar sentiment the other day when I read a story about Ward Stone. The target of my ill-will was a group of enviros who insist that Stone’s extraordinary misuse of state resources over an extended period ought to be ignored because of his many contributions to “the cause.”

The enviros said this and more in a letter to Attorney General Schneiderman. They said that allegations against Stone were “slanderous.”

The problem is that we’re not talking about “allegations,” we’re talking about facts. The Inspector General at the time, one Ellen Biben, investigated the matter thoroughly and determined that Stone, in effect, stole tens of thousands of dollars from the state. No, he didn’t take actual cash. He used state resources for personal purposes, which, under the law, is exactly the same thing as stealing.

Never mind that IG report, the enviros say. We don’t care if he misappropriated state resources, they say. He did great work, they say. He is our hero, they say.

Well, that’s terrific. If the enviros feel so strongly about Mr. Stone, they can take up a collection to help him pay back the money he owes the state.

But the money must be paid back!

Unfortunately, the Attorney General has bowed to the enviros, instead of fulfilling his obligation. Shame on him.

But there still is one hope for taxpayers – JCOPE and Ellen Biben.

Mr. Stone was a state employee and his misconduct is clearly within the jurisdiction of JCOPE to address – unwarranted privileges; personal use of state resources, etc. These are clear violations of public officers’ law.  Unlike the recent allegations against Senator Libous and The Committee to Save NY where John Milgrim has done a disservice to all involved with his “we don’t comment on investigations” bs, in the Stone case JCOPE actually does have jurisdiction.

And this raises an interesting question. Ellen Biben was the inspector general who compiled the report against Mr. Stone. She thought Stone’s conduct was egregious just a few months ago. Could she have changed her mind now?

JCOPE must act. Not doing so sends a message that Biben is tough enough to tattle but not tough enough to spank.

And if Biben is tough enough to complete the Stone matter she ought to be honest enough to investigate who leaked the IG report to the Times Union a day before it was released publicly and a day before Biben started at JCOPE.  She might not like the case but you can’t do one without the other and maintain a reputation for being a fair ethics enforcer.

Ellen is going to be a busy young lady.

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