Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Adventures of David Grandeau

Casey Seiler has it pegged. It’s the Adventures of David Grandeau – a goofy, madcap series with some truly memorable characters.

There’s Janet DiFiore, erstwhile head of the state’s new ethics panel who is trying to make Kathy Black look good.

There’s the JCOPE commissioners, all well-intentioned and accomplished people who, with few exceptions, are Dorothys who don’t yet realize they aren’t in Kansas anymore.

And there’s me – Don Quixote of ethics -- sitting in the back of the room as JCOPE began its third public meeting. All of a sudden, Ms. Black, oops, Ms. DiFiore, insisted that I and the other 4 people present identify ourselves for the record.

Why she insisted upon this, I do not know. But I wasn’t going to let it pass. As reported by Mr. Seiler, I just had to note the pure irony of such a secretive body requiring disclosure of those watching its proceedings.

Think about this. Who asks people at a public meeting to “disclose their identities?”

And what about all the people watching online? 

If you want people addressing the commission to identify themselves that’s fair and appropriate.  But we are not allowed to ask the commission questions anymore.  The “guests” are truly spectators.

On top of this bizarre episode, there was another revelation from the day. It turns out that Ms. Black, oops, Ms. DiFiore has received yet another parking ticket in Albany.

OK, it’s just a parking ticket. I get that. But it’s every meeting. What? She’s too good to obey the parking laws in the City of Albany?

What message does this send? Is it: The law is the law and everyone must comply? Nah. It’s more like: “I’m the Westchester District Attorney, and I, don’t have to follow the rules when I’m with the yokels up in Aww-bany.”

Are we filming some new reality TV series here? Is that what this is?

And I get that as a high profile public official my antics won’t sit well with Ms. DiFiore, but before Janet sends anyone to deliver a message to me remember I got along just fine with the last Chairwomen.  Mitra understood the value of dialogue and working towards a common goal. As for the chairpeople before Mitra, well we didn't get along and they resigned.

Mark Twain’s definition of insanity?

JCOPE’s chairwomen Janet Difiore continuing to park at an expired parking meter and thinking her POLICE card on the dashboard will prevent Albany’s meter maids from giving her a ticket.
This behavior is also a glimpse into the mind of an arrogant public official that is comfortable using her official position to obtain a benefit the rest of us common folks don’t get.
This is the third JCOPE meeting in a row with her royal highness parking her official Westchester county vehicle outside the JCOPE office at an expired meter. She knows it’s wrong because as soon as the car was ticketed her bodyguard (I’m sorry security detail) went into the meeting room to whisper in her ear that it happened again and then went and moved the car.
I hate to say it but Ms. Difiore needs an intervention or a resignation. YOU ARE EMBARRASING THE GOVERNOR. If you can’t regulate your own ethical behavior how can you sit in judgment of others? Caesar’s wife shouldn’t get parking tickets.
Is it too late to bring Mitra Hormozi back as chair? I didn’t always agree with her (there is a lifetime ban opinion that needs revisiting) but she never embarrassed herself or the governor and she did get rid of most of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

Monday, January 30, 2012


JCOPE: Joint Commission on Preposterous Edicts

JCOPE stumbled out of the gate over open meetings and FOIL issues, and now, in my opinion, falls flat with its first official decisions.
Those decisions were issued this week in the form of enforcement actions that are now available for review on its website. If you are interested in making an assessment of the new panel’s commitment to sound legal reasoning and fairness, read the decisions involving Ben Masaitis and Robin Korherr.
Masaitis was the former budget director of the New York Theater Institute who was accused of “knowingly and intentionally accepting and processing cash reimbursements with back-dated memoranda” for himself and his supervisor at a time when his agency was under investigation by the State Inspector General.
The commission found no violation in this case – not even a section 74 (h.) That’s the famous “you created an appearance problem if nothing else” violation. “H” carries no sanction except an implied “shame on you.”
Good for the JCOPE commissioners. I’m not surprised at the outcome. Here is what I said on the blog in March 2011 after watching the hearing “A complete waste of state resources that failed to prove a trivial violation of the public officers’ law that the PIC staff was unable to competently present to a wholly owned hearing officer. One has to wonder if they could devote resources to this case why not go after Teitelbaum, Ginsberg and Feerick for what they did in leaking information in the troopergate investigation and in failing to cooperate with the IG?” Credit goes to JCOPE for at least recognizing the failure of PIC to prove its case.
What grabbed my attention in this decision was a bizarre reference to Troopergate: “It is well established that the Commission need not show that a State officer or employee provided an unwarranted privilege to another to prove a violation (of state law.) It is enough for the Commission to show that a State officer used or attempted to use his official position in such a way that he or she or any other person received an unwarranted privilege.” They then cite the Dopp/Troopergate case as an example.
So according to the staff member at the Commission that drafted the decision, the release of public records on use of state aircraft by elected officials was problematic, but not the backdating of reimbursement checks during a malfeasance probe. Hmmm. I thought in the Patterson Yankee ticket case that backdating a check was a big no no. More likely it’s just one last cheap shot by the former PIC staff at Darren Dopp, that’s a vindictive bunch of PIC staffers now writing JCOPE decisions and policy. I told JCOPE to get rid of those PIC lawyers and top staff before they hurt somebody (more on that in the déjà vu piece below) but I guess actions speak louder than words.
The second decision involved a former Office of Homeland Security employee who, while still employed in her state position, looked for similar job with the federal government. In making its decision to fine Ms. Korherr, the Commission cited a previous opinion that states that state employees “may not solicit a post-government opportunity” until 30 days after separating from government service.
Full disclosure here: I represented Ms. Korherr pro bono after her hearing on procedural matters because she was and is a person truly dedicated to trying to do the right thing in a difficult situation. I made a number of procedural arguments in this matter that the decision failed to address, but the argument I really wanted to make was one of sheer hypocrisy.
At a time when she was being investigated, the commission’s executive director was actively looking for other employment opportunities within the current administration. His new gig was actually announced before he left his old one. And it’s my understanding that the current acting executive director might be doing the same thing now.
These two decisions do not bode well for JCOPE. Again, what we’re all looking for is sound reasoning, good judgment, and a logical approach that inspires confidence. But so far, it’s just not there, although if you take out the Dopp reference in the Theater case it would have been a solid piece of work, so maybe there is hope yet if the commissioners can get a grip on what staff is doing when they are left alone to make decisions.
On that point:

Its déjà vu all over again

Insider X has tipped me that JCOPE will be rehiring one of the lawyers that former chairwomen now just a commissioner Mitra Hormozi fired in September.
At the last JCOPE meeting the commissioners decided to give acting executive director Terri Schillaci (why doesn’t she use her title on letters she sends and why does her voice mail still announce her as a special counsel?) the authority to hire lawyers and investigators to reduce the backlog caused by the previous gang that couldn’t shoot straight. So who does Terri turn to? According to Insider X its one of those lawyers that caused the backlog. And if Insider X is correct in the identity of this rehire I know this person well and the ability to clear a backlog is not one of this person’s strength.
So let’s review:
1. The COPI left a backlog
2. Mitra fired the lawyers responsible in large part for that backlog
3. Terri is going to hire back at least one of those lawyers to clear the backlog s/he caused
What’s wrong with this picture?
I can only think of two possible reasons for this hire both of which are problematic.
Either the returning lawyer is a friend of Terri’s and she is willing to risk upsetting Commissioner Mitra
The returning employee must have used some political connection to get rehired. Perhaps a large donation to someone’s campaign.
Either way it spells potential trouble for a career bureaucrat who has made a career of hiding in the organizational chart shadows. I’ve said it before, Ms. Schillaci, your instincts are sound it’s time to find other employment. But remember to follow the rules under the Public Officers Law for seeking new employment while employed by the State. I’ve heard JCOPE is a stickler for those rules unless your name is Barry or Herb.
By the way when you leave your post during an emergency to take a stroll with Herb Teitelbaum you are certainly in the running to work for Costa Cruise lines as a cruise captain. It’s every person for themselves once Terri runs the ship onto the rocks.

Friday, January 27, 2012


Herb and Terri strolling down Broadway. Even Nero stayed while Rome burned

Inquiring minds want to know why Herb Teitelbaum was at JCOPE today?
Was he interviewing for the executive director’s job?
Was he interviewing for a temporary counsels job?
Was he practicing before his old agency, that is, representing a client?
Was he developing a new niche practice of leaking information to the targets of an investigation?
Or was he offering advice to JCOPE and, specifically, the acting executive director Terri Shilacci, on how to thoroughly embarrass the agency and undermine ethics enforcement in New York?
In case anyone has forgotten: See the following, which made New York a national laughing stock:
On the subject of the acting executive director Terri Shilacci why did she abandon her post during an emergency to go for a stroll with Herb?
Or maybe Herb needed to use the state car to go deer hunting again.
So many questions so few answers.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Four words a politician never wants to hear

“You are under investigation” and/or “the report is out.”
On that note there’s an interesting subtext to the Republican presidential primary. It involves a report written by the House Ethics Committee in 1997. This is the famous report that sharply criticized then Speaker Newt Gingrich. He was fined $300,000 for a series of transgressions, marking the first time a Speaker had ever been reprimanded in such a manner.
What is happening now is that Gingrich’s rivals are calling for disclosure of all the information surrounding the production of that ethics report, including full interview transcripts and all documentary evidence. The implication is that there’s more there -- that maybe Gingrich’s conduct 15 years ago might have merited more than a critical report and a fine.
This brings me back to 1999 when the old Lobby Commission was investigating Phillip Morris Co. for possible lobbying violations in New York. An intrepid attorney general by the name of Eliot Spitzer was questioning our review and punishment of the tobacco company.
My response? I put every scrap of paper associated with the investigation including our internal notes and discussions on a CD-ROM and provided it to the Governor’s office and the legislature and released it publically. This took people by surprise. It’s not something that’s usually done. In fact, as a rule, prosecutors only release the information that supports their interpretation of the facts and the law. Or they release the testimony and evidence relied upon at trial. The public rarely gets to see the information that might be subject to a different interpretation or the internal strife that accompanies many an ethics investigation. I don’t know about you but I would love to have seen Teitelbaum’s notes on troopergate and his phone logs and anything else that would show how Darren Dopp got thrown under that bus and by whom.
But my attitude then and now was: “Here’s the whole case file. If you, Mr. AG, or anybody else can tell me what we missed or why we’re wrong, have at it.”
Interestingly, nobody ever raised a substantive issue with my handling of the case after the release of the case file. Spitzer’s threat to pillory me in the press never materialized.
Now there are some in the legal community who will maintain that such disclosure is not a good idea. They’ll insist that it could somehow undermine confidence in the investigatory process or that it might somehow be unfair to people who are investigated.
To both claims, I say: “BS.” What really undermines confidence in an investigatory process is a panel that operates in secrecy and fails to explain its actions and decisions. That was why COPI under Teitelbaum, Ginsberg, Feerick and Cherkasky was such a disaster. (Unfortunately, I see JCOPE under Ms. DiFiore, a sitting DA, heading down the same path. Some commissioners are otherwise inclined, but they may not be able to carry the day.)
As for disclosure of investigatory material and its effect on those who are investigated – that’s more interesting. I think there’d be instances where it would cut both ways. There’d be situations where people would review the evidence and say: “There’s nothing here at all. It’s much ado about nothing.” That would clearly be in the interest of an individual who was investigated.
And there’d be times when people would review the case file and say: “Wow, he (or she) really got away with it.” Could this make a person uncomfortable? You bet.
My answer to that would be to remind everyone of the deterrent role of the investigatory process. If disclosure of your conduct would cause embarrassment to you, maybe you should reconsider the conduct, eh?
Either way, I say: “Let the facts speak for themselves.” It’s the only real way that an ethics panel should work – by being completely open and transparent.
Once you pick and choose what is made public it is natural and understandable for the public to be cynical and believe there is more to the story. And that provides fodder for those that want to use ethics as a club.
Bad things happen to good people in dark places.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Of Parties and Punch Bowls

I have a friend who is close to the Cuomo camp. He tells me that while administration officials consider me to be “a sharp guy,” they are also wary of me.
My friend said: “They are afraid that if they invited you to the party, you’d piss in the punch bowl.”
For the record, I have never relieved myself in such a manner.
In fact when invited to a party I usually enjoy a flavorful draught of punch myself.
Now that this misconception is cleared up, I’d like to address the sentiment that underlies this colorful metaphor.
I do so in a constructive spirit. I want to say again – for the benefit of young Mr. Vlasto and others-- that I really want the Cuomo administration to succeed. In fact the party they’re throwing has been one to be proud of so far every bit as good as Mardi Gras.
However the party could come to a screeching halt if the guests think the punch is watered down or even worse that it’s just plain bad. Enough of the cheap symbolism. The punch is ethics and integrity, the bowl is the new Joint Commission on Public Ethics. I get that the powers that be have a desire to control things. Yes, control is important. It’s how you get things done. But it’s both an illusion and a delusion to think you can control everything.
Nowhere is this truer than with ethics enforcement. In this regard, I know that ethical transgressions are occurring in state government right now. I think they might even be happening behind those closed doors at JCOPE.
But the tendency of the legislature and the administration is to pretend otherwise. “No, not us. Not on our watch.”
What matters most is not that transgressions occur, but how they are dealt with when they do occur.
What the people in charge of the punch need to understand is that rigorous scrutiny and constructive criticism should be encouraged.
It’s on this point that I again make the point that good government groups are an appalling disappointment. They’ve been engaged and flattered by top Cuomo aides and the goo-goos have abandoned their responsibilities. They are supposed to be institutional skeptics. They are supposed to question everything. Instead, they are nothing but cheerleaders.
As for JCOPE, the group that is in charge of the punchbowl, they have floundered and substituted a weak batch of cool-aid cooked up behind closed doors for the flavorful punch we need and expected. What is worse is that they allowed Barry Ginsberg to give them the recipe for this weak cool-aid and now there are turds floating in the punchbowl.
But it isn’t too late to save the party. Dump the cool-aid, wash out the bowl and start a new batch of punch. If the punch is good I say laissez les bons temps rouler, if it’s weak cool-aid with turds floating on top the reader’s of this blog will know it quick enough.
And don’t worry about me; I won’t be pissing in the punch bowl. I’m just a food critic; it’s an essential component of good government.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Want Ads

Applications have closed for the new executive director position at JCOPE. I hope the meter maid applied, although I think the requirement that all applicants be attorneys was specifically written to eliminate her. I guess she will just have to keep practicing her brand of integrity by continuing to ticket the chair’s car at commission meetings (based on my last interaction with the serious looking gentleman driving the chair’s official Westchester county vehicle I am sure he will never put a quarter in the meter).
In the spirit of lending a helping hand here are some simple rules to follow in selecting employees for JCOPE especially the lawyers, DO NOT HIRE ANYONE:
1. If they are presently collecting a government pension. Double dipping looks bad and given the governor’s position on the subject when he was AG could prove embarrassing.
2. If they were fired by Mitra already. She fired them for a reason and hiring them back to reduce a backlog that they created would be a career killer (Terri just find a new position a la Barry and don’t look back).
3. For the executive director slot who presently works for the commission. They don’t have the skill set and have already done enough to prove that the new group is the same as the old group. Other than 5 or six existing employees the same holds true for any position at JCOPE.
4. With obvious ties to any commissioner. If you can connect them within two degrees to a commissioner the fix was in. I exclude Ravi Batra from this as everyone is connected to Ravi in one way or another.
5. The same holds true for the appointing authorities. At least make Blair Horner spend 15 minutes on Google before he finds the connection and tells Russ Haven who can then have his head explode as he tries to figure out who he is going to upset with the information Blair gives him.
6. Whose spouse or family member is a lobbyist (registered or otherwise, like Ginsberg’s wife).
7. Who lives south of 51st street in Manhattan (the track record of self proclaimed smart NY lawyers is horrible, read Joe Fisch’s report)
8. Anyone named Barry or Herb, nuff said.
Hope that helps. Although I am sure the selection was made long before the advertisements were placed, with any luck the pedigree of the next executive director will at least pass the sniff test.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

recycle of my September 8, 2011 blog Its more timely now

Ensuring the Integrity of Gaming in NY
The redoubtable James Featherstonhaugh made a presentation to a Senate committee recently and pleaded the case for “enhanced” gaming at the state’s existing racinos. His main point was that it makes no sense for New York to prohibit table games and other forms of gaming that are currently legal in neighboring states and Canada. He said New York is losing more than $5 billion a year as New Yorkers travel to those other venues to gamble.

It’s hard to argue with his reasoning, especially given the sorry state of New York’s economy, and yet…

We need to keep in mind the dubious history of this industry. It’s a sector that has been linked at times with organized crime. It’s a sector associated with various social ills. And it is a sector that has had far more than its share of scandals involving elected officials.

Thanks to very tight regulation and aggressive oversight bodies, some states, such as Nevada, have controlled these problems, but ethical breaches still occur. That’s why New York needs to think carefully about how it can better monitor its gaming industry.

Here’s an idea for New York policymakers to consider:

Why not create an entity in New York that would be an analog of the famed Nevada Gaming Commission? This body’s mission would be to ensure the integrity of gaming in New York. This responsibility is now split among various state agencies and oversight bodies without a single, bright-line set of rules for gaming interests to follow.

Establishing such a panel wouldn’t be difficult. You could draft someone from the State Police, the Comptroller’s Office, AG’s office and Racing and Wagering Board to staff it. You would then charge the panel with conducting a periodic reviews of the entities involved in gambling activities in New York.

Heeding the lessons that should have been learned by recent history in New York, we should ensure that the members of this review panel aren’t the friends and associates of prominent politicians, that they follow accepted oversight practices, and, most important, that they conduct themselves in the open.

I haven’t talked to Feathers about this, but I would think that he and his industry colleagues would welcome the concept, reasoning that anything that levels the playing field for honest business operators is a good thing. In fact, they probably ought to get together and pitch in the resources to adequately fund the panel.

Now some might say: Is this really needed? In answering that question, I would point to the glaring example of Aqueduct, where we are still awaiting the fallout from federal investigations of the whole AEG mess.

For these reasons and more, I think a rigorous oversight panel could help make casino gaming a better bet in New York.

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.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Typical Tuesday at the Capitol

Yesterday was a typical day at the State Capitol for this time of year.
There were multiple news conferences on fracking. There were 500 education advocates demonstrating in the stairways. Gaming company representatives were making the rounds on the second and third floors. And, there was a contentious LATFOR meeting.
These four matters – fracking, education funding, casino gaming and redistricting – are this year’s hot button issues. Forces on all sides are engaging in lobbying these issues, and they are doing so aggressively.
Here’s what I’d being doing right now if I was still the ED at the old Lobbying Commission: I’d be reviewing everyone’s lobby registration related to these issues. Well I wouldn’t be doing it personally (unless I had a hunch or the parties involved were too hot to touch) but staff would be. I would want to make sure that if an organization was engaged in lobbying that it was properly registered and abiding by all relevant disclosure requirements.
Some might think that proactively checking everyone’s status is some kind of gotcha game. Yes and no.
The truth is that if I found a party hadn’t bothered to properly register because they were too lazy, arrogant or downright corrupt; I really enjoyed commencing a full blown investigation, which usually found other related violations. I still feel that way but now I only do it for clients not for altruistic motives.
But if I found that the “Church Ladies Coalition to Save the Magnolia Trees in Pleasant Park” wasn’t properly registered because they didn’t know the law, the commission would typically give them an opportunity (and sometimes actually helped) rectify the problem.
This kind of calibration hasn’t always been applied by ethics officials in New York. We’ve had extremes of hyper-technical interpretation of rules and too many examples of a look-the-other-way approach.
What will it be with JCOPE? Even though there’s no executive director at the commission yet, it’s imperative that the existing staff proactively review lobbying activities.
Take fracking: There’s a high stakes competition underway between environmental groups and gas companies. Everyone is busy building coalitions of people to influence officials. They are all doing news conferences. In fact, there were five dueling news conferences on fracking on Tuesday.
In a competitive situation like this, someone will skirt the rules. You can bet on it.
JCOPE needs to get in the game on this issue and others. It needs to be aggressively checking up on people who are involved. It needs to be smart about how it reacts. Unfortunately it has stumbled out of the gate. The acting executive director is overwhelmed with a backlog of cases and unable to focus on building a new agency let alone start stabilizing the existing one. It’s gotten so bad that she is personally sending out audit letters rather than delegating to the audit staff. Why? I can’t tell you it’s a mystery. Whoever was in charge of making decisions regarding administrative issues during the transition has not just stumbled but has fallen and cannot get up. The new website domain for JCOPE is experiencing compatibility issues and a filing deadline is fast approaching. Why they didn’t wait until after the filing deadline is a mystery. No employees have been hired by JCOPE, the existing workforce is in limbo awaiting their fate, not a great way to build employee morale in an agency that has been rocked by past blunders. Anyone that has received a letter from JCOPE should notice that the signatory has no title, that’s because no one is being allowed to use titles, why? I can’t tell you it’s a mystery.
So while there is real work that needs to occur JCOPE is distracted. But there is a meeting wednesday at 10:30 am maybe some questions can start being answered. One thing I know for sure is that JCOPE, like PIC before them, is diligent about getting that catered lunch. Deb Novak ordered it before she ever got around to sending out a public notice for the meeting, after all in times like these you have to get your priorities straight.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ambitious Plans Require Ambitious Oversight

A banner proclaiming integrity hung behind the podium. The Governor mentioned ethics prominently at the beginning of his remarks yesterday. He noted passage of the Public Integrity Reform Act as one of the big achievements from last year.
And it was. The creation of JCOPE, new disclosure requirements on outside income for lawmakers and expanded reporting by those engaged in lobby campaigns are all positive developments.
Yes, the Governor and lawmakers can and should congratulate themselves, but the game isn’t over; it’s just begun. There’s so much more to do.
As I noted in my last post, I believe that all of our key regulatory and enforcement officials should get together to talk about ways to improve ethics enforcement in New York. They need to think about how their jurisdictions overlap and how they might cooperate and make the most of limited resources.
That’s one idea for 2012. Here’s another: The Governor, wisely, focused on building in his remarks. He outlined a series of development plans -- a new convention center, new economic development grants, energy transmission upgrades and more.
Statewide, we’re talking mega bucks. (More than $1 billion for Buffalo alone.)
Whenever I hear of major building programs, I naturally think about fraud, abuse and waste. That’s inevitable.
Think federal TARP money. Hundreds of billions of dollars were dumped without close monitoring.
Also, think about those NYC projects the Governor is talking about. Take the Javits Center and Aqueduct.
With regard to Javits, the state created an authority to govern its operation to help avoid organized crime involvement. But even with that authority, a state investigation in 1995 determined that jobs at Javits were under the control of organized crime. So maybe the Mob isn’t what it once was, but it still exists and the state needs to do something to ensure proper oversight of redevelopment, wouldn’t you agree?
This is also true with the Aqueduct project. This is a multi-billion casino/convention center complex that will one day be quite a landmark. What is the state going to do to ensure that questionable people aren’t involved and that the project is not derailed by ethical lapses? A while back, I suggested the possibility of creating an entity similar to the Nevada Gaming Commission. Given the expansion of gaming in New York, shouldn’t we at least talk about the idea?
Ambitious plans require ambitious oversight, and a failure to plan for that oversight can be a fatal flaw.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

State of the State: Ethics

What is the state of compliance with ethical rules and regulations in New York?
The only honest answer to that question is that nobody really knows. How could we? JCOPE was just formed. It has no executive director or staff. It’s barely operational. And what it has done it has done in secret with gag orders imposed on the “independent” commissioners. In fact, there really hasn’t been a functioning ethics panel in New York since last spring.
Soooo. Does anybody think that ethical transgressions simply stopped in the second half of 2011?
The steady pace of federal indictments of New York elected officials ought to dispel that notion pretty quickly. And here’s something to ponder: The Feds are very, very selective. For every case they make, they’ll probably take a pass on three or four other cases.
And what happens to those other cases? Well, in an ideal world they would be handled by state authorities – by JCOPE, the state IG, the state AG, Comptroller, and by local DAs.
Alas, I think things are falling through the cracks. I just don’t think there is robust enforcement of ethics laws in New York.
I’m not trying to be a crank here. I’m not criticizing anyone. I’m simply saying this:
Maybe it’s time for all of the officials in New York who have a stake in ethics enforcement to get together for a discussion. What is being done right? What is being done wrong? What is left undone? How can they all – by working together – improve ethics enforcement in the New Year?
An ethics summit. This has never happened before in New York. But maybe it’s an idea whose time has come.