Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why Difiore left the executive session

Its been reported that Janet Difiore left the J-JOKE executive session for approximately 1 hour.

The apocalypse has used its network of insiders to get the exclusive news of why she left the room.

Did she leave to move her car so as to avoid a ticket?  Nope she got another one.

Did she leave to provide a detailed explanation of her nannygate issue? Nope not a peep.

She left because she recused herself from the Senator Libous discussion and potential vote to commence a substantial basis investigation.  She employed one of the partners from the law firm at the center of the allegations.

Allegations made by a political rival . . IRONIC huh.

More importantly J-JOKE spent an hour discussing the Libous investigation.  That sounds like more than a routine bureaucratic 15 day letter.

Stay tuned.

AWESOME aka Milgrams last stand


That’s the only word that truly describes the three ring circus that passes for J-JOKE nowadays.

They had a meeting today, I attended and for a guy like me it was in a word awesome.

Camera crews crawling all over the sidewalk outside the JOKE’s Albany office.

Ravi Batra rolls up in a chauffeur driven Mercedes-Benz – Awesome

John Milgram tells me he won’t provide the FDS forms unless I provide him individual names.  OK John then provide me a list of employees.  Milgram says I have to make a document request.  I tell Milgram he is a JOKE. - Awesome

The new chief economist can’t decide to turn left or right to enter the conference room, I guess she was calculating the economic effect of her decision. – Awesome

Biben enters the room followed by her minions including the commissioners, a new counsel that looks young enough to need Difiore’s nanny and at least 8 J-JOKE staffers.  (Here’s a J-JOKE How many NYC staffers earning over $100k does it take for Biben to hold a meeting in Albany?).  After everyone is in the room Milgram throws the camera people out. – Awesome

I now can use the new tips and complaint section of the website to make a complaint that Milgram violated section 74 of the Public Officers Law by using his official position to benefit another.  In this case Difiore who clearly did not want cameras in the room (I don’t blame her have you seen some of the pictures the media is using – see below). – Awesome

Biben goes on the record to state that the New York City office is now open.  This establishes that during February, March and April it wasn’t which begs the question if there was no New York City office and Biben et al were not in Albany where were they working or were they working? – Awesome

Biben then states that the source of funding rules go into effect tomorrow but no forms or instructions have been prepared.  They won’t be prepared until the rules and regulations mandated by the statute are formulated. (should have been done by June 1).  But everyone should be prepared to file the source of funding information for some unspecified time frame in the future.  Are you serious?  Forget everything else that statement alone is grounds for Biben’s resignation or termination.  That’s no J-JOKE that’s a travesty. – Awesome
The chair adjourns the meeting and informs Milgram that he can open the door. Good boy John now go pay her parking ticket.

Tips Complaints and a Chief Economist

J-JOKE has a new section on their website for tips and complaints.

No kidding. Check it out at the increasingly dubiously named website:

That should solve the lack of investigators willing to work for the JOKE (rumor has it a top FBI staffer turned Ellen down flat – that’s one smart FBI staffer).

Well, the apocalypse has some tips and complaints of their own.

Why does New York’s integrity agency need a chief economist?  And yes they have one, just look at the business card below.  Why have former IG personnel been hired at six-figure salaries in New York City, while line personnel who do the real work in Albany have been let go? This is sound management? This is the way to address the growing backlog?

And by the way if Miss Kitty is the chief economist where are the rest of the economists?  Reminds me of that old 60’s sitcom F Troop, lots of Chiefs and no Indians, does anyone remember the Fahkowees (oops Hakowees)?

To the extent the chief economist is in charge of the lobby department, here’s a tip - there is a difference between registrations and bimonthly reports.  It’s not guns and butter.

Why won’t John Milgram provide the financial disclosure reports I requested?  Maybe I should file a complaint on the commission’s web site.

Here’s a tip John, I’m going to get them eventually and you have no idea what I am looking for so you can’t prepare for the real complaint I’m going to make if I find it.

Some of you may have noticed the Biben alert at the top of the page.  As a public service I will try to find out the location of Ellen Biben every work day and report it to my readers.  But you can help, if you know where Ellen is drop me a line and I’ll pass it along.   Why am I doing this?  I noticed a huge uptick in employee travel expenses once Ms. Biben was hired, it’s tough to live in New York and work in Albany, something has to give.

And in case the readers haven’t figured it out yet I think I gave J-JOKE and its leadership enough time to prove themselves . . .  your trial period is over.  

How many times can I say it it’s not the law that needs tweaking, it’s not the JCOPE  structure that needs tweaking it’s the leadership and all of Ellen’s NYC IG friends now making six figure salaries at the JOKE that need tweaking.

It started with secret meetings, it moved on to commissioners making donations at meetings and the chairwomen refusing to pay the parking meter and now we have chief economists,  the source of funding law going into effect without rules or regulations, an executive director with a political tin ear and questionable management skills, a chairwomen under investigation for a nanny problem, leaks from the commission and Senator Libous still swinging from John Milgram’s non confirmation confirmation tree. 

That’s a lot of tweaking for 5 months. 

It almost makes me wish Barry Ginsberg was still running things.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

J-JOKE violates their own rules regarding meetings

With much self congratulations and mutual backslapping J-JOKE passed meeting rules last meeting.

Under those rules J-JOKE is supposed to post notice of their meetings 72 hours prior to the meeting.

Now I'm no chief economist but 72 hours before May 31, 2012 at 10:30 am should have been Monday May 28, 2012 by 10:30 am.  The notice did not go up until Tuesday morning May 29, 2012.  And yes I know Monday was a holiday but if I knew last week that there was a meeting scheduled for Thursday so did Milgram.  Come on John don't pass rules if you don't intend to live by them.

The JOKE strikes again

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Parking meters are a gateway ethical violation

I hate to say: I told you so, but I TOLD YOU SO!

I told you Janet DiFiore had a problem.

The first example of it was her insistence on parking in front of the J-JOKE building. She couldn’t be bothered with putting coins in the parking meter.

When I flagged this, some people said: “Aw, come on. It’s not a big deal. Why are you picking on her?”

Those people (and DiFiore herself) missed the point: If you’re the top ethics enforcement officer in the state, you need to set an example and obey all the laws.

But even after her scofflaw status was revealed, DiFiore continued to park in the same spot without feeding the meter. She kept on doing it, even though there is a public parking lot right across the street.

This said something about her – not only does she have an air of entitlement, she’s defiant, too.

Now comes a story in the New York Post that she has a major nanny problem. It’s the same syndrome -- entitlement and defiance – all over again.

Who in public life, in this day and age, has a nanny problem? Isn’t it well established that you have to play by the rules because someone is going to check? If you’re not going to do it because it’s the right thing – do it out of self-preservation.

But DiFiore’s nanny problem is special. She didn’t just forgot to file proper employment forms – that’s the sin of omission that tripped up prominent people in the past. She actually appears to have engineered a scam. According to the Post, she is alleged to have prevailed upon county officials to pay welfare to her nanny. This is at the same time the nanny is working in her house.

Is that ethical? Is that legal?

We’re not talking about some trailer park broad here (with all due respect to trailer park residents and broads). We’re talking about the woman who serves as both Westchester County DA and chair of the J-JOKE.

We’re not talking mistake in judgment here. This isn’t: “Oops, I forgot to put a quarter in the parking meter.”

This speaks to a person’s character and suitability for a position of trust and authority.

This is a reflection on ethics enforcement and law enforcement.

I wonder if she disclosed the liability on her financial disclosure report?  I don’t know because J-JOKE has not released those reports to me although I FOILed them on May 16th.  I wonder if this is a coincidence?

I also wonder how the State Police that did her background check missed this.  Or did they?  Can you imagine a nannygate and a troopergate in one scandal?

This is when we find out whether the powers that be in this state care whether JCOPE is J-JOKE or not.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

New name for the blog "APOCALYPSE"

An Apocalypse (Greek: “lifting of the veil” or “revelation”) is a disclosure of something hidden from the majority of mankind in an era dominated by falsehood and misconception, i.e. the veil to be lifted." — Wikipedia

For the Mayans the Apocalypse is scheduled for December 21, 2012.

 J-JOKE has scheduled their own Apocalypse for May 31, 2012.

What happens on May 31, 2012?  I think the J-Joke veil is lifted and they have to hold a meeting to vote again on the Libous investigation.  Now of course it will be held in secret, but they will have to announce the meeting date.

Why do I think that is the magic date for J-JOKE?

Unlike the Mayan alarmists my calculations are not based on pseudoscience but rather on simple math.

Mayor Ryan has stated he made a complaint to J-JOKE on April 16, 2012.  That starts the 45 day clock to vote for a substantial basis investigation ticking.  And the alarm or bomb goes off on May 31, 2012.

If I'm right there will be a meeting on or before May 31, 2012.

Or it could be that I'm not smart enough to connect the dots and I'm relying on leaked information that there already is a meeting scheduled for May 31, 2012.

Either way an apocalypse can be a good thing. . . for some and bad for others.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Following Mom’s Advice

Following Mom’s Advice

Growing up, my mother would say: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

As regular readers know, that bit of advice never really took hold in me. In fact, I have a compulsion, if not an obsession, with saying what I believe ought to be said – especially about those in power.

But something that happened last week made me regret this tendency of mine and remember my mother’s words.

What happened? Well, innocent people were harmed because of what I wrote on the blog.

I don’t want to make matters worse by explaining the whole exchange in detail (and further exposing the pettiness and venality of the main person involved.)

So I’ll take my mom's advice and stick to policy instead of personality.

Effective June 1, 2012, the single greatest change in New York’s disclosure laws in a generation goes into effect. Lobbyists and clients will now be required to disclose the source of funding for their lobby efforts.

This is a big deal. Now I could debate the pros and cons of this change: On the one hand, it will shine sunlight on a dark and smoky industry. On the other, it could have a chilling effect on free speech etc. etc.

What I’m really interested in, though, is not the big issue controversy, but the simple matter of implementation. The law requires J-JOKE (kudos to Lovett) to establish rules and regulations regarding the who, the when and the how for the lobbying community.

Unfortunately, J-JOKE hasn’t done that yet. The law takes effect in under a week and no rules or regulations exist.

Not good. Confusion is likely to occur. Again, not good.

What am I talking about? Well, here are a few things to consider: Will J-JOKE require disclosure retroactively? If so, many donors who made donations based on an expectation of privacy will be outed.

What exactly is “a source of funding”?  Does it mean companies will have to disclose their revenue streams and customer identities?

How will the provision of waivers be applied? Does J-JOKE get to provide waivers on a case by case subjective basis?

As you can see there are some real issues here, and J-JOKE officials apparently get that because they’ve decided to hold a public hearing on the matter. But the hearing comes after the rules takes effect – meaning everyone is, in effect, flying blind. This is bassackwards. This is …

Oops. Sorry, Mom.

Now I’ve got a solution for my clients that want to protect the identity of their sources of funding and still obey the law but what about everyone else?   They’ve got to wait until J-JOKE issues those rules and regulations . . . sometime in the future.  And since they decided to hold public hearings after the implementation date the J-JOKE is on all of us.

My unsolicited advice to J-JOKE?  It’s time to grow up, act responsibly and notify the public that the disclosure requirements will only be applied prospectively AFTER the rules and regulations are implemented.  It really isn’t that tough a job. 

LOBBY ALERT- Did you get a lori?

The ripple effect of firing lobby staffers to free up funds for the ladies that lunch is starting.

The blog has received multiple tips that lobby clients are receiving phone calls from J-Joke staffer "Lori" who appears to be coercing clients to file 2010 client semi annual reports by threatining "hearings" if the client doesn't "get the report in" and agree to a $2000 settlement.

Who is "Lori" and why are these types of phone calls being made?

Lori is Lori Donadio.  She is a clerk in the investigations unit (to the extent there is one) and if you need to speak with her she is available 3, 4, 5 or 6 times a day on Broadway with the rest of the J-Joke staffers taking their smoking breaks. 

Why is she making the calls?  Because the lobby filing unit is down to 3 supervisors, one of whom was just transferred into the unit last summer.   What happened to the rest of the old Lobby Commission program unit?   Fired last wednesday.

End result? a soon to be huge backlog and a slew of mistakes being made by people without experience trying to do jobs they were not trained for (crosstraining).

For example one of the clients who received a Lori was not the client of a registered lobbyist during the relevant reporting period and therefore did not have to file.  Oops.

Another got a warning letter  that gave them 15 days to get the report in but then 10 days later got a "substantial basis investigation" letter . Oops must be that the crosstraining hasn't gotten to the chapter on the new math.

And speaking of new math the recently enacted guidelines capped late fees at $1000 yet Lori is peddling $2000 settlements or hearings.

It's bound to get worse.  Alert your clients to be on the lookout for a lori and be sure they are actually late with the filing before you do agree to a settlement.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fuzzy Balls

The Constantine Syndrome: I’m an Expert Because I Say So or the J-Joke’s on me

I’ve got a blog and I could write about whatever I want. I could offer business relationship advice. I could handicap the horses. I could give movie reviews.

I could do all that, but I don’t. Why? Because I believe a person should comment only on the things they know something about.   And as people that know me will tell you when it comes to business relationships I’m old school you dance with the one that brung ya.  When it comes to handicapping horses I don’t bet on anything ridden by a human and my taste in movies is eclectic at best.  So I blog about what I know.

In this regard, I was a former ethics enforcer for more than a decade. I wasn’t perfect, but I think I did a decent job. And today, as I write my blog, it’s with the benefit of that experience and it is about matters on which I feel I am qualified to opine. I write about ethics, lobbying, and related public policy matters including communications, which is part of my consulting business.  

Why this disclaimer? Because I’m trying to figure out why the Times Union thinks Lloyd Constantine is qualified to comment on political strategy.

Constantine is in the Times Union again this weekend, this time advancing a theory on “the Cuomo family’s signature moment” in politics. He draws a parallel between the Cuomo-O’Rourke race 20 years ago and the current governor’s redistricting agreement with the state legislature. The connection, according to Constantine, is that the Cuomo’s make unholy deals with Republicans. This is their “family signature.”

This got me to thinking: Is Constantine an authority on this? Was he involved in some way with either Cuomo? Does he have some special first-hand knowledge of what he’s talking about? Did he talk to other people who might have knowledge and include their accurate quotes in his article?

As far as I can tell, the answer to all of these questions is a resounding no. It’s just Lloyd saying what he thinks, and pretending to be an expert.  (And remember I’ve already blogged that Lloyd is a pompous ass – and being a pompous ass is something I am an expert on).

But I don’t think he’s much of an expert at all. In fact, I don’t think he knows what he’s talking about.

Constantine bills himself as a “Manhattan lawyer,” which is code for lawyers who think they are better lawyers than everyone else. But all you have to do is Google his name to read horror stories about his legal judgment. He messed up a prominent rape trial in New York City recently, insisting as a juror that the victim wasn’t credible because she couldn’t remember some meaningless fact.  He also decided he was an expert on whether he had a conflict serving on that jury and whether he should have disclosed his conflict.

He bills himself as a top political advisor to Eliot Spitzer, and touts a book he wrote on Spitzer’s decline. Set aside the fact that Spitzer and everyone close to him has disavowed Constantine. Set aside whether being a “top advisor” for Spitzer on political strategy is a contradiction in terms. Focus instead on what Constantine’s actually wrote in his book about Spitzer’s downfall. It boils down to this: Eliot stopped playing tennis with me. He had no release for his “tension.” And that’s why he turned to hookers.

Yeah, right. The fuzzy balls theory. This is what passes as political commentary in Constantine’s book and in the Times Union, and its pure baloney.

Some people walk the walk others only talk the talk.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Page 2

Quote of the week: It’s a toss up between Jimmy Olson and Mr. Magoo oops I mean John Milgrim and Ravi Batra.

Milgrim gets nominated for his repudiation of Jim Odato’s big story that JCOPE had launched a probe of Tom Libous. Milgrim claimed Odato got it wrong. The exact quote was: “Information published in today's Times Union newspaper is inaccurate and misleading."

OK, OK, but what information in the Odato story was wrong? Was it a preliminary review as opposed to an investigation? Was there a vote to commence the “review” or not? Was it all inspired by a political rival’s letter or something else? Milgrim doesn’t say. He just insists that the story was wrong. He refers to JCOPE’s supposed cone of silence.

My thought here is that JCOPE is getting rather tangled up in its secrecy and tripping over itself. But wait, we’re only getting started…

Ravi gets nominated for this gem: "What is clear is that JCOPE needs confidentiality to be able to freely and honestly deliberate in private so as to function as an independent and impartial ethics watchdog, capable of living up to its promise and to deter public corruption. . . Otherwise, let's shut down JCOPE; for public ethics are too important to be a farce or JCOPE to be a political tool."

Note to Ravi: It’s already a farce when a member of JCOPE goes public to complain about the need to be secret. Second note to Ravi: Usually you go public to complain about the need to go public – not the other way around.

An honorable mention for (farcical) quote of the week goes to all the public figures who confirmed Odato’s story after the fact by denouncing the leaking of confidential information.

Now for the inside gossip, which is always interesting and fun:

And for the record, let me state again that this unverified information comes not from JCOPE, but people talking everywhere about JCOPE. I advance it to stimulate public dialogue:

Word is that someone on the second floor “green lighted” the probe against Senator L. Word is that Ellen B. checked with that individual before sending out the letter.  Does anyone remember the 1970’s and “deep throat”

If so, this is rather problematic. It would be worse than Herb Teitelbaum and Robert Hermann. Let’s hope it’s not true.

Word is that there was indeed a vote on the Libous matter. Word is that it came up short of the required votes needed to commence a probe. However, word is that a Republican commissioner later told Ellen that he would switch his vote if it was needed.

If true, this is really weird. Could it really be possible that Ellen proceeded against the wishes of the commission? Which GOP commissioner caved, and why?

Word is that the Senate Republicans are none too pleased about how this whole matter was handled. Their comment might have been: “If Carl Paladino files a sworn complaint against Cuomo, would JCOPE issue a 15-day letter and tell the press about it?” They may hold hearings and do their own probe of JCOPE and its policies wouldn’t that make for interesting drama.  Ravi’s wish may come true.

Hmm. Methinks this controversy is only just beginning.

Switching gears now: Word is that JCOPE has hired multiple members of the IG’s office to work in NYC. Word is that JCOPE has also hired a “chief economist.”

I’m confused. Isn’t Albany the HQ? And what is an economist going to do?

Lastly, word is that the whole JCOPE gang is getting ornery as can be, especially Ellen and Marvin Jacobs, who people regard as exceedingly pompous.

Guys and gals, get used to it. This is what life in Albany is all about. The secret is not taking yourselves to seriously. I certainly don’t.

As always learn to laugh at yourselves this stuff just isn’t that important in the long run, in the short run it could ruin your careers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

When Ravi exhales

A chill wind is blowing over JCOPE.

One of its members, Ravi Batra, is calling for an investigation of . .  JCOPE.

It looks like at least one person learned from the Herb Teitelbaum troopergate fiasco.  When the music stops you can bet Ravi will have a seat waiting for him in his chauffer driven Maybach.

I love this guy.  I blog that everyone should relax on Libous and 1 hour later Mr. Magoo is calling for an investigation.

And just who should investigate to find the leak?

And how will they do it?

Here's a road map:

Who knew that Libous got a letter?

Who did they tell?

Who did they tell?

Who did they tell?

Eventually you get to Jim Odato, eventually.

By the time you get there I bet you have over 1000 people to interview.

Hell I blogged about it a month ago, and yes I heard the rumours Monday.

So Ravi if you want to investigate JCOPE, start with me I'd love to tell you what I know about this stuff.

You want to stop leaks? drain the pool.  No secrets no secrets to leak.  It worked for the old lobby commission.

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.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dave Grandeau, Starring as The Jerk

There was a brilliant American movie that came out in the late 70s. I rank it right up there with Rashomon as a profound statement on the nature of reality or The Seventh Seal as a meditation on the meaning of life. Some might even argue it had more appeal than Sixteen Candles.  It was called The Jerk.

The hero of the movie, an idiot played by Steve Martin, invents an eye glass extension called the Opti-Grab that allows people to put on and take of their glasses with ease. His invention becomes a rage and he makes millions of dollars, only to be bankrupted as the invention turns everybody cross-eyed.

I’m beginning to feel like the character in that movie. In this regard, I have an invention. No, it isn’t a thing. It’s an idea. It’s a concept -- a way of approaching ethics enforcement. And it’s pretty simple:

I say that ethics enforcers need to be independent, that they ought not to be too close to the people they are supposed to regulate.

I say that ethics enforcers should hold themselves to a higher standard than anyone else – that is, obey all laws (including parking laws) and avoid any conflicts of appearance.

I say that ethics enforcement bodies ought to focus first on core responsibilities and not delve into areas where their jurisdiction is questionable at best.

I say that when your commissioners vote that you don’t have jurisdiction over legislative actions before your agency was created you ought to listen.

I say that the perception of being controlled by your appointing authority is becoming reality.

I say that ethics enforcement isn’t a secret process in which a special chosen few mete out justice in the form of infallible writs, but a highly subjective endeavor that can only be rationalized through a deliberative public process.

I say that you don’t hold hearings about an ethics law that’s already gone into effect unless you state that you will not enforce that law until after the hearings conclude and regulations are published.

I say that ethics enforcers ought to get off their well-attired and arrogant asses and actually do something after being in office for months other than complain that they are too busy and don’t have enough funding.  You can start by actually speaking to your staff individually as you promised you would.

And I say top ethics enforcers during the creation of an agency ought to put in a 40-hour work week at the office – not a make believe office in a different city, but the headquarters where they should be motivating and supervising the staff.

These apparently radical notions have made some people lose their sense of humor and become positively cross-eyed. They are angry at me and calling me, yes, dear old lovable me, a jerk!

I suppose it had to come to this, right? And I’ve been called worse, but you only get two free passes when it comes to calling me names, after that . . .

Oh well, just like the character in the movie, I think I’m about to find both my “special purpose” and my rhythm.

Stay tuned.  It might be time to shoot some oil cans.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lessons For JCOPE in the Kindlon Matter

I’m thinking that this Kindlon mess might be a teaching moment for JCOPE. Yeah, it’s a minor local controversy, but it does raise broader issues.

Let me start with the reason I first took note of the matter. It was when Lee Kindlon claimed he was being “swiftboated” by a county review of the time he spent working for the public defenders’ office. As I wrote in previous posts, I think Kindlon was wrong to claim this review was some kind of political dirty trick. It wasn’t his opponent conducting the review, but his former employer.

On this point I am unwavering, and this is a lesson for JCOPE: Never allow someone to politicize an ethics probe. Nip it in the bud or the whole atmosphere gets poisoned.

Now in order to nip it in the bud, you have to make sure that the ethics prober himself or herself really isn’t being political. And on this score let me say something definitive. I don’t give a damn about either man in the race. This isn’t to say either man is good or bad. It’s just to say that I set aside personal considerations when analyzing a matter. To me, this is the essence of being fair.

This is an important lesson for JCOPE: Forget who you are probing. Whether it’s the governor or the janitor treat them the same. (The Meter Maid approach) PIC never got this. Teitelbaum, Feerick, Ginsberg and Cherkasy had all kinds of side relationships with people touched by their probes – people in power – and it affected their judgment and actions.

The next important lesson for JCOPE is not to pretend that you are infallible. In a previous post, I was quick to amend what I had written when a key question was raised. I wasn’t embarrassed by that. Hell, I did it all the time when I was running the Lobbying Commission. Whenever a legitimate question is raised or when new information becomes available, you respond accordingly. PIC would never do that. They would ignore information that conflicted with their intended outcome.

Now a quick digression to focus on the facts in the Kindlon matter. In a previous post, I responded to a statement by the Kindlon camp  that Mr. Kindlon’s position as an alternate defender was a part time job. After hearing from multiple sources (whom I’m sure are Soares supporters) that it was a full time job I decided to research the matter myself.  It took 5 minutes. Contained at page 89 of the Albany County Budget (available online) is the following description  In 2009, the Division of the Alternate Public Defender completed a transition plan in which all attorney positions were converted from part-time to full-time County employees.” 

So, strictly speaking, the Kindlon supporters are wrong in their pushback against me. But -- practicing what I preach about fairness -- I’m inclined to cut them some slack based upon a re-evaluation of the overall situation.

Here’s what I think was going on: Kindlon was hired as a part time employee. Kindlon was juggling this job and another. This isn’t unusual for young attorneys who are trying to establish themselves. I assume that he tried to do right by both sets of clients. In this regard, he does not strike me as the kind of person who would be dishonest. In 2009 the job title was changed from part time to full time and Mr. Kindlon continued to work in the same manner he did prior to the change.

I assume that the county will tell us soon that while his time sheets may contain a few inaccuracies, he wasn’t bilking the system. And if this is the case, I don’t think there is a big ethical problem for him.

That said, the defense of his actions, was deceptive.

Here again, I find myself criticizing him, and cutting him some slack. I think he’s probably a very decent person, but I don’t think he’s ready for the political game, not yet. I actually told this to the Kindlon supporter who called me. (It was a nice conversation. The individual that called is colorful, intense and opinionated. I have some of those same failings myself, and I found myself really liking the man.  Although I am sure after this blog they will think me unfair unless they take a hard look at themselves.)

Now back to JCOPE: I still think that part-time lawyering and consulting gigs by government entities ought to be reviewed by JCOPE. The recent news about lawyers who work 20 or 30 hours in the state legislature for large salaries may be the tip of the iceberg. The Daily News did some good reporting on this last week and somebody at JCOPE could use it to start a review.  And remember integrity starts in your own office.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Spin Cycle

Well I should have known to keep the blog out of local politics.

After being contacted by the Kindlon camp and told that Kindlon the younger had a part-time county job, thereby necessitating my last blog to set the record straight, I've now been contacted by what I must assume are those from the Soares camp telling me that all the lawyers in the conflict defender's office became full time employees in 2009.

It's not a difficult question to research and I'm going to do it myself.  If he was a part-time employee my setting the record straight blog will be my last word.

If Mr. Kindlon was a full time county employee I'm going to have to post yet another blog addressing the integrity issue.

And after that I'm going to write a blog reminding myself how dirty politics really is.

Setting the record straight

The blog prides itself on being accurate and if not accurate at least being careful enough to avoid looking foolish.

Unfortunately in our latest entry regarding the Lee Kindlon story we may have relied too heavily on the Times Union’s reporting and ended up being both.

Here’s what we wrote:

“The problem – based on what I’ve read in the TU – is that Kindlon was working full time in a private law firm while he was supposedly working full time on county-assigned cases.”

Members of the Kindlon camp have contacted us (and I give them credit for having the stones to make the call and discuss this issue like professionals) to set the record straight.  Here’s part of what they have to say:

“The Times Union articles, now two of them, are fiendishly inaccurate. Here are some true facts:

Lee Kindlon was a part time conflict defender. He has never been a full time conflict defender.”

If indeed this is true then the blog entry is based on a false premise and our apologies to all concerned.

Now it’s up to the Times Union to get an answer to the only question that matters to the blog was Lee Kindlon a full time or part time county employee?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

On Swift Boats and Time Sheets

I don’t usually delve into local politics, but there’s an interesting little drama being played out in the Albany DA’s race.

The challenger in the race, Lee Kindlon, is facing what amounts to an ethics probe. County officials are trying to determine whether he filed false time sheets while serving as an alternate public defender.

The problem – based on what I’ve read in the TU – is that Kindlon was working full time in a private law firm while he was supposedly working full time on county-assigned cases.

From an ethics review standpoint, this shouldn’t be a complicated case. The basic questions are:

Are the time sheets accurate?

Was he working on his private legal practice when his time sheets indicate that he was working for the county?

Are full time county employees allowed to have an outside practice of law?

Was he treated like every other attorney in the alternate defender's office?

A report in today’s TU pits Kindlon against the Albany County Sheriff, with Kindlon saying that he was at the county jail many more times than the sign-in sheets would indicate, and the sheriff saying no one gets in without being signed in.

My presumption is that Kindlon was remiss at times in following proper procedures, but probably didn’t bilk the county in an egregious way. Kindlon doesn’t strike me as that kind of individual.

That said, desperation in a political race will make people do ill-advised things – like claim that the county’s probe of his time sheets is politically-motivated.

In this regard, Kindlon is now on the attack, claiming that he is being “swiftboated” by the campaign of his opponent, the incumbent DA David Soares.

For the record, I’m agnostic on Mr. Soares. He’s done some good things (like helping get rid of Herb Teitelbaum) and there are some matters where I’ve disagreed with him (like not doing more to clean up Albany political corruption.)

What I really don’t like and what disturbs me most, however, is when ethics probes, even simple ones like the review of Kindlon’s time sheets, get politicized. And the person doing that now is Kindlon himself.

I get what he’s doing – the best defense is a good offense, but this is ridiculous.

Kindlon needs to cooperate fully with the county officials conducting the review. If he made a mistake on the time sheets, he should say so and be done with the matter – not carry on about political conspiracies.

Kindlon says this is a matter of “honor” for him, but the honorable thing to have done is to work full time in a full time job.

And by the way, I’m sure Mr. Kindlon is not the only public official in Albany whose time sheets ought to be reviewed. The easiest way to avoid a time sheet scandal is for full time employees to have just one full time job, and to work full time at that job.  I’ve got to wonder if Mr. Kindlon were to become DA would he still maintain his law practice? And if not what is the difference between the way he would treat the DA job and the way he treated his full time job at the alternate defenders office?  I just convinced myself that Mr. Kindlon has a serious ethics issue to come to grips with, not with his timesheets but with his own sense of honor.