Ethics Panel Survey Launched

ALBANY, NY (TIP): A lawyer who served as counsel to Gov. Mario M. Cuomo is spearheading a review of the effectiveness and potential improvement measures for the ethics commission created by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a report says. “The idea would be to do the survey … and be informed by what people are saying,” Evan Davis said of the study on the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which is less than two years old.

The survey was launched via email earlier this month by the New York City Bar Association’s government ethics committee, along with Common Cause and the League of Women Voters’ New York City branch. The groups sent surveys to leaders of other good government groups as well as members of the Legislature, general counsels to state agencies, lobbyists and academics.

The invitation to participate, signed by Davis, says the report will consider how well the 2011 legislation that created JCOPE “is functioning in practice, whether amendments to the act are required, how well JCOPE is fulfilling its responsibilities and the apparent cause of any shortcomings found (e.g. budget constraints, statutory defects, inadequately trained or experienced staff).” People can respond anonymously. Davis said organizers hope to finish their report by the end of the year.

The survey includes ratings on a scale of 1 to 5 and questions about whether amendments to JCOPE are needed regarding appointment of members, financial disclosure requirements, investigations and enforcement, staffing, adequacy of resources, public outreach and information technology – including the agency’s website, which lists lobbyists and their clients.

It also asks about the watchdog panel’s successes and shortcomings. JCOPE has been in the news after its report on alleged sexual harassment by former Assemblyman Vito Lopez prompted his resignation. But the panel has faced criticism for not engaging on the question of whether Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver should have agreed to confidential taxpayerfunded settlements with two of Lopez’s alleged victims. JCOPE critics note much of its investigative material is exempt from freedom of information laws.

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Eminent attorney Ravi Batra when asked to comment, in his inimitable style said, “It doesn’t take a survey to know Jcope missed it’s mark – Gov. Cuomo’s new anti-corruption Moreland Commission is looking at Jcope. Jcope violated the PIRA law’s effective-date for Source of Funding disclosure and changed the law-set date of June 1, 2012 so that the Report due July 15, 2012 became January 15, 2013 and in so doing cloaked 6 months of law-required disclosure. This is wrong and illegal. Illegal action does not ethics make.”

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