Rochester, New York – Democrats in the Monroe County Legislature voted against a measure to create an Office of Public Integrity in the Agenda/Charter Committee. The legislation establishes the office and allows the County Executive to appoint the director as a department head, but does not offer much detail on the functioning of the office, lacks a funding source, and fails to provide the director any guarantees of autonomy.
Seeing the legislation in its current form as only renaming and consolidating existing ethics and transparency-related functions of the county government – functions which failed to prevent any of the LDC or county employee-related scandals of the past decade – Legislators Justin Wilcox (D-Brighton, Henrietta) and Mark Muoio, (D-Rochester), the Democratic members of the committee, voted “no.”
“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,” Legislator Wilcox said. “You can’t expect someone to honestly investigate the person who signs their paycheck and can fire them at will.”
The Association of Inspectors General is a national organization that issues guidelines, offers model legislation, and uses best practices to help governments set up offices of public integrity. In line with their recommendations, the Democratic Caucus has introduced legislation in the past to create such an office with more independence and offered to help the County Executive to improve this legislation. Their suggestions include a set term of appointment for the director, modeled on the process used to select the County’s Public Defender, restrictions on his or her involvement in partisan politics, and additional powers for the office, such as issuing subpoenas and requiring compliance with investigations as a condition of employment for all county workers and contractors.
“We think this is a critical issue and needs to be done right to ensure an office that will actually have an impact on ethics and transparency in this county,” stated Legislator Muoio. “We will continue to work with our colleagues in the Administration and the Legislature to help fulfill Ms. Dinolfo’s promise to deliver the most transparent and ethical government in the nation.”
Democratic caucus members continue to press for a dialogue with the Executive’s Office and majority legislators on improving the bill before passage.