Time to end the reign of gov’t kleptocrats – By George J. Marlin

The following appears in the December 3-9 issue of the Long Island Business News:

Breach of public trust in New York’s state government has been the state’s only growth industry during the Great Recession. In recent years a score of state officials, both elected and appointed, has been indicted or convicted of taking bribes; committing conspiracy, mail fraud and grand larceny; corrupting bidding processes, misappropriating funds, soliciting illegal campaign funds, embezzling, money laundering and influence peddling.

It appears that many officeholders have forgotten they are public servants, who, by the very nature of their positions, are expected to adhere to the highest ethical standards and must, above all, place the common good above private gain. These pols have ignored Aristotle’s maxim, written in his “Politics” 2,300 years ago, that those chosen to govern must possess the capacity to “have at heart the best interest of the state and of the citizen.”

Fortunately, New York taxpayers have such a person in the state’s Office of Inspector General Judge Joseph Fisch has been fearless in exposing abuse of power. His blockbuster October report on the awarding of the Aqueduct video slot contract to an unqualified consortium and multiple breaches of public trust and law is an extraordinary example of how the tainted motives of many of our highest elected officials corrupt the procurement process.

This month, Fisch released another eye-opening investigative report that details abuses by officials at the Battery Park City Authority.

B.P.C.A., located next to Ground Zero in lower Manhattan’s west side, is a government-owned and managed apartment complex. Created in 1968, the authority was empowered to clear deteriorating and abandoned property and “to plan, coordinate and maintain a balanced community of commercial, residential, retail and park space within its designated 92-acre site.”

The project, which has been a great success, unfortunately was not sold when completed to private developers and managers and returned to New York City’s property tax rolls because it would have meant abolishing highly prized political board appointments and high-paying patronage jobs and perks. Indeed, a founding B.P.C.A. board member’s proposal to do exactly that was rejected by the board chair and senior management feeding at the B.P.C.A. trough.

The I.G.’s report on B.P.C.A., which originated in November 2008 after receiving a complaint which alleged “fraud and corruption,” revealed a blatant abuse of power by senior management and the squandering of the people’s money:

  • The authority spent over $300,000 on annual rent of more than $50,000 to lease an apartment;
  • B.P.C.A. made contributions totaling millions of dollars to charities not related to its mission;
  • It inaccurately reported its contributions in required financial filings;
  • The authority spent more than $45,000 a year for employee parties and gifts;
  • B.P.C.A. routinely catered meetings and paid for business lunches for its executives;
  • The authority improperly compensated the then-chairman by providing a car and driver, which the chairman failed to claim as income on his tax filings;
  • B.P.C.A.’s head of audit and its ethics officer created an inaccurate and inadequate automobile log; and finally
  • The authority’s audit division prepared a misleading and inaccurate audit report of the use of authority vehicles.

Such political arrogance must come to an end. The new governor should demand resignations from all board members and toss out all the holdover political hacks from the Pataki and Paterson eras. He should embrace passage of Fisch’s proposal to trap what he calls “kleptocrats.”

Fisch’s idea is to empower one truly independent investigative office to police all branches of state and local governments. Fisch wants “a watchdog with the authority and power and jurisdiction to look at the whole ball of wax, including the state Legislature.”

If Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo implements such a plan early in his tenure, he would not only be setting the right tone but would be giving real teeth to his “Clean up Albany” campaign.

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