Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How to Fix JCOPE

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics is overly secret, certainly by design and possibly by disposition. At the very least, the Governor and the Legislature need to fix the law.”  Albany Times Union.

The fix is simple, and it doesn’t involve changing the law. The Governor and the Legislature don’t need to do a thing. JCOPE does.

JCOPE, its Chair and Executive Director, especially, need to understand that this isn’t a District Attorney or U.S. Attorney’s Office. It’s a state agency that needs to set the standard for openness – not ignore the concept.

Again, the fix is simple. It only requires a change in the mindset of the people running the agency. Here’s how it can be done:

JCOPE leadership needs to review Section 94 of the Executive Law. This section of the law is often cited as the reason for secrecy, but it also contains the antidote to it. Subsection 9-a(B) states: “…disclosure of confidential communications may occur only as authorized by the commission.”

“As authorized” is the operative phrase. That means the commission may set a different policy – one that is more transparent.  

In this regard, JCOPE should convene a public meeting and vote on a measure that requires the commission to comply with the spirit and letter of FOIL laws -- except on matters related to sensitive investigations.

This would reverse the current presumption that everything should be secret. It would say that everything should be open except confidential investigations.

If this policy was in effect we’d know how JCOPE commissioners voted on the recent decision to hire an executive director and there wouldn’t be the absurd controversy about the commission refusing to divulge its vote.

Come on. We know that the vote wasn’t unanimous. We’d know that at least two commissioners (nominated by the legislature) voted against the selection.

Oops. OMG, I just disclosed a state secret. I just revealed what the commission is trying to hide.

Did the world just end? Did the universe collapse?

No, but Ms. DiFiore is probably fuming. “Damn that Grandeau.”

Fine. Curse me all you want. But do yourself a favor and consider my fix. If you don’t, and if you continue the secretive, arrogant prosecutor routine, you are going to fail.

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