EDITORIAL: State needs independent ethics commission. This isn’t it.

The state Capitol Building in Albany.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

The state Capitol Building in Albany.

Maybe the governor and state legislative leaders need to take a break.

They should only come back when they’re actually serious about addressing corruption and unethical conduct in state government.

The plan they’re reportedly mulling to replace the ineffective and subordinate state ethics board, JCOPE, demonstrates that they’re not there yet.

Having an independent and effective state ethics board is important to New Yorkers because it will help identify, discourage and punish unethical behavior that allows government officials to abuse their power at our expense. Without one, they get away with it.

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Some recent violations of public trust have included officials using their influence to reward campaign contributors, business associates, friends and family members with jobs, taxpayer money, favorable legislation, legal work and lucrative government contracts on multi-million-dollar public works projects.

The proposal, according to the Times Union, modifies the makeup of the ethics board somewhat.

But because top state officials would still have significant power over who serves on the board, the organization would still be largely beholden to the politicians whose conduct it’s designed to oversee.

Under the new plan (as of Wednesday night), three of the 11 commission members would be appointed by the governor, two by the Senate majority leader, and two by the Assembly speaker — all members of the Democratic majority that controls state government.

That’s seven of 11 votes right there.

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In addition, one member each would be appointed by the Assembly minority leader and Senate minority leader, giving Republicans only two votes. The remaining two seats would be filled by the attorney general and comptroller – currently both Democrats.

That makeup alone should demonstrate how uncommitted they are to true reform.

On the positive side, the new plan would have law school deans vet members, open up the commission to the state Freedom of Information Law, take some appointment power away from the governor and require investigations to pass by a simple majority.

But even with those changes, it’s still only a slightly better board than the one it’s replacing.

Some good government groups like the New York Public Interest Group and Reinvent Albany are calling for real independence.

One alternative plan would include legislative and state leaders appointing a seven-person selection committee, which then would appoint the five-member ethics commission members from a list of applicants chosen by ranked choice voting. Whatever works to make it independent.

If state officials are serious about fighting corruption, they’ll ditch their flawed plan and come back with one that might actually accomplish that goal.

More Opinion – The Daily Gazette

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Categories: Editorial, Opinion

One Comment

How about the husband of the governor getting financial gain from giving 800 million to the Buffalo Bills with our tax dollars? After all he is part of Delaware North Concessions that have the Buffalo Bills concessions. William J. Hochul Jr., Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary. Something smells and its not burnt hotdogs.

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