We support the growing chorus of voices calling for a complete overhaul of ethics oversight in New York, and we urge the Legislature to approve amending to the state constitution to make it happen.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, established in 2011 to investigate ethical misconduct, has never been able to achieve the results New Yorkers deserve — and it could never be fully trusted to do so anyway, because its members are all political appointees. The agency’s commissioners are appointed by the Assembly, Senate and the governor, and each of the three executive directors the agency has had so far have had close ties with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The agency's current director recently announced that he would be stepping down this month, and a number of reform groups this week urged JCOPE to hold an independent search for a replacement that will be "independent in both reality and appearance." The next executive director, the groups argue, should have no close connections with government or lobbying and not be chosen from among current members of JCOPE or the Legislative Ethics Commission.
Reinvent Albany, Citizens Union, the New York City Bar Association and other groups surveyed other states and reported last month that New York's public accountability is “among the very weakest in the nation." They have called on Cuomo and legislative leaders to create an independently appointed commission to replace JCOPE and the Legislative Ethics Commission though a constitutional amendment.
Amending the constitution can't be done overnight, and that's one good reason to start the process as quickly as possible. JCOPE has been operating ineffectually for more than eight years. It's past due time for a public integrity agency in New York that operates with independence and transparency.
In the meantime, we see an open and independent executive director search as a good short-term step. The long-term solution is a totally revamped ethics oversight system.
The Citizen editorial board includes interim publisher Thomas Salvo, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.