Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dems say proposed integrity office lacks independence

Posted By on Tue, Jan 26, 2016 at 10:41 AM

County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo's proposal to establish a county Office of Public Integrity will proceed to the full County Legislature for a vote, despite the opposition of at least some Democrats who question the ability of the proposed office to be independent. 

A Legislature committee passed the legislation last night. The two Democratic members — Mark Muoio and Justin Wilcox — voted against it. Under the proposal, the office would would be able to review the finances and operations of all county departments, and would also have the authority to review all county contracts, county communications director Bill Napier told the legislators. That oversight would extend to contracts between the county and its affiliated local development corporations, but not the LDC's operations.

Muoio and Wilcox briefly questioned Dinolfo administration representatives about the proposal, largely focusing on the ability of the county exec to fire the office's director and whether the administration considered giving the director subpoena power.

The office's director would be appointed by the county exec and confirmed by the Legislature. Muoio asked if the executive could fire the director, and Napier said yes.

Napier said that the administration considered giving the director subpoena power — basically the ability to compel testimony from people — and that the county's Law Department is looking into it. But the state laws that allow for the creation of public integrity offices, he said, do not appear to give the directors that power.

In a press release sent out after the meeting, Muoio and Wilcox said that they voted against the legislation because it doesn't go far enough.

"While the aim of the legislation is laudable, its current form only gives 'public integrity' lip service, primarily because the office would not have independence, as recommended by the Association of Inspectors General," Wilcox said in a press release sent out by Democrats after the vote. "You can't expect someone to honestly investigate the person who signs their paycheck and can fire them at will."

The full Legislature will most likely hold a public hearing on the proposal at its March 8 meeting, and vote on it that same night. 

In other business last night, the committee referred Republican Legislator Tony Micciche's proposal to establish a county-wide zombie property registry to the administration. The legislation apparently raises a whole host of questions that need to be answered. 

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