Appoint an ethics panel with guts

For years, I have been writing about the need for the public to have faith in the governmental process. Now it looks like we may be on the verge of a major ethics advance and Governor Andrew Cuomo deserves the lion’s share of the credit for seemingly accomplishing something that nobody else could get done. Of course, it was a process. Great newspapers and public radio and the so-called “goo-goo” (good government) groups have been calling for these reforms for years. The United States attorneys have been doing their jobs and indicting legislators in a way that has sent paroxysms of fear throughout the Legislature.

Now for the first time, we are told that there will be a new body overseeing both the executive and legislative branches of government. No more will we see the Legislature hiding behind the fiction that since they are a separate branch of government, they are therefore untouchable. Furthermore, there will be a series of new indictments as if to emphasize the warning, “This had better not be just another cosmetic attempt to cover over the ethical warts of those who are using their power to help themselves and their friends.” To make the point and to calm the public anger, those who go to jail from now on may lose their pensions. Imagine that — right now, if you commit a crime as a public official, you still keep your pension.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his powerful Senate counterpart, Dean Skelos, deserve credit as well. They and their members had the most to lose but these two men will be remembered as the legislators who made it happen. Their conferences want them to get out in front and take the pain and the slings and arrows of the press and the critics. Things had grown so hot that virtually everyone in the system could sense the danger. The feds were once again looking under every rock for crimes and conflicts of interest. The governor threatened to appoint a Moreland Act Commission to investigate major corruption. Surely, that would have sucked in some of the bad actors who were in it up to their necks.

The new reforms include getting legislators — including the attorney-legislators and the so-called “consultants” — to disclose money they receive from outside sources, but we now face the devil as in the old phrase, “… the devil is in the details.” Now we will see who gets appointed to the new group that will oversee the process. In the end, it will come down to the savvy and the guts and the commitment of the men and women who are appointed to oversee the ethics of people who have the power to bite back.

One of the transformational figures in all of this is a man some have forgotten. His name is David Grandeau, former executive director of the state Commission on Lobbying. He was so committed when he ran the old commission that everyone (but the people) wanted him out of his job, and he was unceremoniously dumped as the people in power did away with his organization. But his dismissal from the system may just have been the major catalyst for much of what has come since that time. There was an honest man with a candle trying to do his job and he was axed for doing it. That was supposed to be a signal for everyone to watch themselves, but he has prevailed. They ought to erect a statue of the guy in front of the Legislature and the present governor should put him back in the kind of watchdog role he proved he could handle.

Now Governor Cuomo and the legislative leaders will have to appoint the new corruption hunters. If they put lap dogs on that oversight group we will know that there has been some serious winking and nodding going on. Corruption is as old as mankind. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Maybe this time it will work, at least until someone figures out how to game the system again. Maybe with the feds and the DA’s and the appropriately ambitious governor working together, Tombstone will be cleaned up once more.

Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 6/7/2011

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One Comment on “Appoint an ethics panel with guts”

  1. Harvey in exile in Upstate NY from Rockaway Beach Says:

    Alan, an excellant commentary but falls short in quitee a few significant ways. First I work in a NYS Office that has been described by NYPIRG as the worst example of a dysfunctional State Office as could be. There are few good people in power, irony being the person in charge and his spokesperson. The complexity of the program area caused the need to hire people that reek of cronyism, nepotism, and failure to do exactly what is expected of them by the people of the State of NY. Shelly Silver and the former good for upstate NY Joe Bruno knew about this issue but the latter choose to use the incredible lapses in ethics to get jobs for his cronys, and Shelly choose to ask why the goals were not met to Eliot, and the temporary replacement. Fortunately the Office I’m exiled to is also responsible to the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Special Counsel. Current validated complaints to any existent State Agency including the Chamber will sureley come back and cause swift retaliation to the gooddoer. Thus the good news about ethics violations is that the matters have been reviewed by DOJ and going the way of a Federal Grand Jury. Now why the diversion? Because you and I and the rest of the remaining taxpayers in NYS demand an effective Ethics Compliance translated to corruption deterence in all NYS Agencies. This will nevere exist with the current mindset. Who woulld of thought 🙂 it would be Andrew pushing NY Ethics Reform in a magnificant way after the way he ran Mario’s campaigns and things that happened in HUD? Yet he is sincere. My partial solution is to do what Obama did. Immediately no public sector employee may earn over $99,999. Such a simple solution. Get rid of the opportunitity, and this is literal of becoming rich by playing the game at the expense of the work of the people. The public sector unions should be supported by NY but they can no longer be public finacing of the salaries of certain state-wide public sector union person. It must be ended like the limitation of a maximum salary of $99,999. This is the way to return NYS Government to an ethical environment. Shelly makes much sense and should be listened to, he’s been there quite a long time and despite the secrecy of his clients is actually quite an ethical and effective guy. You are so right when you sat that the pople must have faith in ther public sector workforce and elected officials. You mau not like this but when Sampson and Malcolm Smith were in power and had their hands out to casino developers they should have been referred to a Federal Grand Union for RICCO and dealt with, not ignored now that they are out of power. It is necessary that we demand a performance-based government applied to both the public sector workers and all elected officials to really have an ethical government. I think Andrew’s ambitions for national office will serve the people of New York by his demands for an accountable and ethical state government.

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