In Search of a True Watchdog for Albany

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    New York Inspector General Joseph Fisch speaks at a news conference in Albany, N.Y., on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010.

    The State Inspector General recommends a new, crime-busting office with the power to investigate all of state government, including the executive and legislative branches.

    Joseph Fisch, the Inspector General, told the New York Post: “These are drastic times that require unorthodox solutions.” 

    It’s an idea that may be hard to achieve. And history tells us that major governmental institutions or the people who run them resist having anyone looking over their shoulder. They guard their turf zealously.

    Baruch Professor Doug Muzzio told me that the devil in this proposal is in the details.

    “You can’t have a fox guarding the chicken coop," said Muzzio "Yet people in office don’t want other people looking over their shoulders. This monitor must be independent and, therefore, you can’t have the parties being scrutinized choosing the person or entity that’s supposed to watch them.”

    Fisch says the new governor should choose the agency and the people to police state government. That raises a question about impartiality. If, for instance, there’s a new super-watchdog to look at both the legislative and executive branches of government, he or she must be truly independent. How do we find such a person?

    True, Governor-elect Cuomo in his campaign proposed an independent state “ethics commission” with enforcement powers over both the legislative and executive branches. He deserves credit for that. But how can such a commission be removed from the influence of either the governor or legislative leaders?

    Muzzio is right. The devil is in the details. The Legislature, racked by scandals, is unlikely to join in any effort to reform itself.

    But the people of New York want reform. The question is whether they can trust responsible people in the Legislature and the new administration to carry it out.

    If we don’t get reform, the voters will be disillusioned. And New York could be stuck in the muck of corruption for another two years. For all of us, that would squander a great opportunity to make New York better.