Ethics Reform In Albany: A Matter Of Conviction

The felony conviction of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is a stunning reminder that legislative corruption has deeply pervaded the roots of New York’s government. Corruption in any form is unacceptable, but it’s especially troubling when those in a position of power take advantage of the constituents and legislators who put them there.
 
What Sheldon Silver did is a disgrace, a stain on the institution of government, and diminishes the efforts of lawmakers who serve constituents with integrity. The fact that he is eligible to receive a pension funded by your hard-earned tax money is equally disgusting.
 
ASSEMBLY REPUBLICANS WILL CONTINUE TO FIGHT FOR CHANGE
 
The aftermath of the jury’s verdict produced calls for ethics reform from nearly every corner of Albany. Even Mr. Silver’s Majority conference colleagues, who firmly supported him despite knowing he was the subject of a federal investigation, expressed the need for anti-corruption reforms. However, when Democrats promise reform, believe it when you see it.
 
The Assembly Democrats have talked the talk of reform, but failed miserably to walk the walk. Time after time they have blocked meaningful reform measures put forward by Republicans. From pension forfeitures, to term limits, to greater transparency in how the Assembly conducts business, Democrats have refused to consider reform bills or simply vote against them in committee.
 
I’m proud that Assembly Republicans have – and will continue to – propose the most stringent anti-corruption reforms in Albany. Our Public Officers Accountability Act (A.7393) addresses corruption on multiple levels and is designed to limit the concentration of power, which has proved fatal in the hands of corrupt people like Sheldon Silver. Democracy cannot work when unethical people are allowed to accumulate so much influence.
 
ALBANY’S ETHICS COMMITMENT WILL BE TESTED EARLY
 
It won’t take long for New Yorkers to know Albany’s level of commitment to changing its ways. When the Legislature returns to Albany in January, it should immediately end the “three-men-in-a-room” negotiating approach that has persisted for too long. Having the most critical budget and legislative discussions involve only the governor, Assembly Speaker and Senate Leader is a major part of Albany’s problem. The days of backroom deals, secretive negotiations, and putting too much power in too few hands must end.
 
The governor has stated that ethics reform is a matter for the Legislature to address. And he’s right; lawmakers have a duty to act.  But the governor is hardly devoid of responsibility. His decision to exclude legislative leaders from negotiations remains a problem. His attempts at anti-corruption measures have been more confusing than effective. Consider this contradiction:
 
In 2013, the governor created the Moreland Commission, a panel of law-enforcement officials who – in his words – would “investigate and prosecute wrongdoing” in Albany. However, when asked this week about ethics reform, the governor, who disbanded the Moreland Commission prematurely, changed his story and claimed that the panel, “was not an investigative, prosecutorial commission.”
 
Is it any wonder why movement on ethics reform seems like a rudderless ship, drifting in no particular direction? Albany must find its way in 2016.
 
Elected officials have a responsibility to the citizens who elected them. Any time that responsibility is neglected, it is an injustice to taxpaying constituents who entrust government officials with their money, safety and interests. While I will continue to advocate for legislation to address these issues, I will also challenge anyone entrusted with public interests to reflect on the position they have been given and act accordingly. Far too many have not.
 
What do you think? I want to hear from you. Send me your feedback, suggestions and ideas regarding this or any other issue facing New York State. You can always contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, email me at kolbb@assembly.state.ny.us, find me by searching for Assemblyman Brian Kolb on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.

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