After a two year investigation, hearing from twenty five witnesses and receiving 5,000 pages of evidence, a Special Grand Jury report in Suffolk County, New York concluded that a small but powerful group of Suffolk County Officials intentionally corrupted and undermined the county Ethics Commission.

Some of the amazing findings of the Grand Jury include:

– One Ethics Commissioner agreed to serve on the Ethics Commission on the condition of his willingness to reveal confidential affairs of the Commission to county officials.

– Another Ethics Commissioner who had an ongoing business relationship with the wife of a county official and personal ties to both, failed to recuse himself from voting favorably on an ethics opinion relating specifically to the official and his wife.

– An Ethics Official (staff member), received a significant financial benefit from the County Executive’s Office because he was improperly treated as a management employee with respect to his time and accrual records.

– An Ethics attorney who represented the Ethics Commission assisted in the abuse of the Commission by personally preparing complaints on behalf of applicants to the Commission that the Ethics attorney represented. The purpose of filing these complaints which languished for years was to hold them over the head of the targets for political purposes. The Ethics attorney additionally revealed confidential information about the Ethics Commission’s work to officials from the County Executive’s Office.

– The Ethics Commission was used as a political sword, to attack enemies of county officials, and as a political shield, to authorize questionable conduct by certain county officials.

– County officials acted as puppeteers for Ethics Commissioners and officials providing them with letters and statements to make to the public that contained false statements meant to disguise misconduct.

– Financial Disclosure Forms were used by a county official in a failed attempt to threaten a legislator into voting to end the legislature’s investigation into the Ethics Commission.

– The Suffolk County Legislature created ethics bodies to protect citizens and government from corruption. They never contemplated that the Commission itself needed to be protected.

Recommendations Made

Felony offenses and penalties must be established to protect the Ethics Commission Board from improper influence.

Future ethics boards or commissions must have more than three voting members to inoculate itself from improper influence.

Ethics officials must receive training.

The Commission must meet regularly more than once a month and in the evening. Voting members should be paid for their time to permit meaningful attention to ethics issues. Time guidelines must be imposed on the review process to support both timely review and decisions by the ethics body. Using prolonged ethics complaints to paralyze political opponents must be relegated to the past.

A Newsday article provides names to the details outlined in the Grand Jury report.  As David Grandeau, who directed the New York State Lobby Commission for 12 years, said “Any time you have an ethics agency dominated and controlled by political forces, you have a recipe for disaster.”

It is truly amazing the lengths that some people will go to obtain or protect political power! Just about every municipality has an Ethics Board. The Suffolk County Grand Jury report should be used as a training example of how not to operate an Ethics Commission.

www.reinventinggov.org