Friday, January 29, 2016

County, city having parallel talks about integrity offices

Posted By on Fri, Jan 29, 2016 at 11:36 AM

As the Monroe County Legislature considers a proposal to establish a county Office of Public Integrity, the City of Rochester's Office of Public Integrity may see some changes.

Here's the deal: the Association of Inspectors General maintains a book of standards for inspector general and public integrity offices, and it accredits offices, through a peer review, based on those standards. The association also provides training for the people who run and staff those offices. The city's Office of Public Integrity director, Tim Weir, recently attended training, but was told he wouldn't be able to in the future since the city's office is not organized in a manner consistent with the standards.

And this is important for the county, too, since the public integrity office proposed by County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo would be organized much like the city's. Dinolfo would appoint the office's director, just as the mayor appoints the director of the city OPI. And the county office's director would serve at the executive's pleasure, as is currently the case in the city.

Weir spoke to City Council during a work session last night, laying out changes that, he said, would give the office more functional independence and enhance its perception as independent. He also provided council members with draft legislation — developed with corporation counsel Brian Curran — to implement the changes, which are all based on the Association of Inspectors General standards. The proposed changes include:
  • Establishing a fixed term for the office's director, and allowing removal by the mayor only for cause;
  • Providing the office with the authority to issue administrative subpoenas, which would give it the ability to legally demand records from third parties. Right now, the only way the office can get those records is by asking, Weir said;
  • Elaborating on the authority, powers, and jurisdiction of the office. Weir said that this step is important because it provides clarity for both the office and for the people it is investigating;
  • Changing the office's name to the Office of Inspector General.
City Council members asked Weir about the reason for appointing the director to a fixed term, the scope of the office's authority to investigate, and the office's audit functions; it routinely performs audits of city departments and programs to assess performance and evaluate their finances.

During a County Legislature committee meeting earlier this week, Democratic legislators suggested that the county's public integrity office should incorporate some of these provisions as well, primarily the subpoena power and the fixed term for the office director.

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