ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – With a federal nursing home investigation and sexual harassment claims continuing to come in against Governor Cuomo, the state’s political climate is in crisis. But many New York are wondering, “how did we get here?”
“Here is really a crisis in New York in the political establishment, and they have to take steps to not only resolve the particulars of this individual crisis, but also the obvious failures that contributed to the problem that exists now,” Blair Horner, Executive Director of NYPIRG, said.
Blair Horner has worked for NYPIRG —New York Public Interest Research Group in Albany—since 1984. He said the single biggest issue facing New York is the lack of independent oversight in New York State Government to stop issues in their tracks.
Technically, that independent oversight should already exist in JCOPE—New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics.
“Their responsibility is to deal with potential violations of the Public Officer Law, which is the law that governs ethics for public office,” Horner said. “Everyone is calling for independent investigations of the Governor, and yet, the state’s ethics watchdog [JCOPE], no one thought was the appropriate body.”
NEWS 10 ABC reached out to JCOPE and they declined to comment on their involvement in the allegations facing the Governor or their job as a whole in government.
“We really can’t comment on any current or possible investigations,” Walter McClure, Director of External Affairs, said.
The JCOPE website has no available statements for the public on the recent nursing home data or the sexual harassment allegations against Governor Cuomo. However, the homepage of their website states that what they do “promotes transparency by making required disclosures by those under its jurisdiction available to the public.”
Additionally, Horner said there are “no teeth” or no adequate penalties for wrongdoings within the government structure. He used the recent nursing home data case as an example.
A judge ruled that the Governor withheld nursing home data that should have been disclosed under the Freedom of Information law. Yet the only penalty? The taxpayers of New York will be paying for the legal fees for the Empire Center that filed the lawsuit.
“People behave differently when they know they are being watched,” Horner said.
“And so here’s a clear case. There are ethical standards in the law. There are penalties that clearly are inadequate and there’s an absence of an independent oversight. So, those are lessons that lawmakers should take to heart and act on over the next few weeks.”