Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Pause. Take a Deep Breath. Now Exhale and Relax.

Everybody is getting worked up on this Libous matter. They are jumping to conclusions based upon a lack of understanding of the process involved.

Yes, there appears to be a preliminary review underway, but I doubt that a final decision has been made on whether to commence an investigation.

This is as it should be. This is the way the system is supposed to work.

Start at the beginning. Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan filed a sworn complaint against Mr. Libous.

When this happens, JCOPE is obliged to follow a certain process.

JCOPE should read the sworn complaint.

What happens next is key.  JCOPE should review the complaint and decide whether additional action is necessary and appropriate.

If, for example, the sworn complaint includes credible evidence of wrongdoing on a matter that JCOPE has jurisdiction over, then JCOPE might take the next step.

If the sworn complaint contains no evidence or the jurisdiction is questionable in some respect, then JCOPE is likely to conclude the matter without a formal inquiry.

Again, this is how it should be.

If all Ryan is doing is trying to make trouble for a political rival, then JCOPE, wisely, will probably take a pass.

But if there’s new information – something other than what appears in some news articles, then JCOPE would take it to the next level and consider whether it actually has the authority to investigate.  If they believe they have jurisdiction they must present to the full commission all their evidence and a subpoena plan and they have to do so within 45 days of the complaint.  Then comes the vote of the commissioners. 

As I’ve written before, I don’t believe it has such jurisdiction.

The ultimate point is that ethics enforcement action must be carefully conceived. Ethics bodies can’t go launching probes with political overtones where they have no jurisdiction. That would be folly.

To the extent JCOPE staff may have made a mistake in sending Senator Libous a letter probing his involvement in a matter that occurred 5 years ago I say every new agency has to get their feet under them.  My advice admit the letter was sent in error, close your probe and start spending more time in Albany so you can keep an eye on what's going on.

Hopefully JCOPE is going to follow the book on this matter. If it does, I’ll be the first to commend them. If not, I’ll be the first and most aggressive in criticizing them.  Jerk that I am.

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