Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Insider Y

We’ve received another tip from a capitol insider. Call him Insider Y. This individual did not want to be quoted verbatim, but does want to relay a fascinating development, which, if true, has the potential of shaking up the moribund world of ethics enforcement in New York.

According to Insider Y, Governor Cuomo intends to name Jeremy Creelan as head of the new Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). Creelan, for those who don’t know, was the head of the Brennan Center when it issued its famous report on the New York State Legislature in 2004.

That report concluded that the legislative process in Albany discourages rank-and-file lawmakers from full participation in the governmental process and “deprives citizens of full representation.”

The report drew the ire of legislative leaders, most notably Speaker Silver, who said Creelan badly misunderstood and misrepresented the process. According to Silver, the party conferences are indeed democratic.

The Brennan Center issued a follow up report in 2009, which said that that the state legislature was “still broken” and “dysfunctional.”

Since January, Creelan has served as a senior aide to Governor Cuomo. He played a key role in developing the ethics reform legislation of 2011, which eliminated scandal-ridden Commission on Public Integrity and replaced it with JCOPE, which is still in formation four months later.

Insider Y said that the Governor is now urging legislative leaders to embrace Creelan’s appointment as a way of “inoculating” themselves against the charge that the new commission, over which they have considerable influence, lacks teeth.

The governor’s people are said to be assuring legislative leaders that Creelan will be a fair executive director of the commission.

What are we to make of all this?

I’ve had some fairly recent interaction with Creelan. He strikes me as a smart and capable individual. He’s proud of his background as a litigator, and proud of the reports he wrote indicting the system in Albany. I don’t believe he has changed his views toward the legislature. At the same time, I don’t think he will go out of his way to target lawmakers. In fact, I think he’ll strike the right balance.

An open question, though, is his ability to bring critical scrutiny to the Cuomo administration. Will he have the chops to take on his former boss if called upon to do so? Will he investigate Cuomo associates in and out the government?

Creelan’s appointment continues a trend by the governor of naming former close aides and advisors to key ethics positions. Unlike others for whom this is a major problem, I’m actually agnostic on the matter. My belief is that some people can do it, and others can’t, and you never really know until you see someone in action.

Still another concern is Creelan’s managerial skills. He’ll be inheriting an agency with major internal problems, not the least of which is morale. As we’ve written recently, the commission must break from the “gotcha game” approach that has trivialized ethics enforcement. In fact, Creelan’s first tasks will be restoring credibility to the agency, reorganizing the staff structure and recruiting new staff.

We’ll all be watching closely and I must admit it will be fun to see if one of the “good government” crowd can do more than just preach about ethics.

Our thanks to Insider Y for his tip.

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