If you want a reason why New York state needs a transparent and independent body for investigating ethical misconduct in state government, you need look no further than the actions this week of the panel that exists to do the job now.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, JCOPE, is supposed to investigate corruption and make recommendations.
But it operates largely in secret and apparently doesn’t feel the need to announce the outcomes of its deliberations in public. So how do New Yorkers know whether ethics issues are properly being investigated and punished? They don’t.
According to the Times-Union, JCOPE this week voted behind closed doors whether to investigate Joseph Percoco, a longtime Cuomo family friend and former aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Percoco was sentenced in September to six years in prison for accepting more than $300,000 in bribes from a Syracuse-area developer and a Maryland company in exchange for favors he performed for them in state government.
The JCOPE vote came at the same time the agency had filed an appeal of a December state Supreme Court ruling forcing JCOPE to take a vote on whether to investigate Percoco. Odd, right?
Couple problems here.
First, the meeting was conducted in secret. Exactly how is the public supposed to know what the board discussed and whether its decision was just and legitimate if the proceedings were closed to the media and citizens?
Second, as of Friday morning, the panel hadn’t announced the outcome of its deliberations. Again, how are we supposed to know if the board is doing its job if it won’t release its findings?
JCOPE was established to ensure that lobbyists, public officials and others are not abusing the system.
Yet it’s not clear from court rulings and the panel’s own charter whether the body even has to release the results of its investigations.
Does that sound like an effective watchdog agency to you?
It’s time for the state to get rid of this farcical ethics panel and support the creation of a New York State Commission on Government Integrity through a constitutional amendment that would be independent of the state Legislature and the governor’s office and operate in a more transparent and effective manner.
The current way of doing things clearly isn’t working. We need change.
If you need proof, ask yourself whether you as a citizen are satisfied with the way the board has handled the Percoco matter so far.