NYT: Paterson Is Urged to Empower Prosecutor to Investigate Public Officials
The Times had this story, which I think is very much worth reading. We’d appreciate your feedback, and more commentary will follow.
ALBANY — Governors and mayors should stop meddling in the affairs of public authorities, according to a new report from a state task force reviewing the state’s sprawling authority system.
The commission was created by Gov. David A. Paterson in December 2009 to assess the effectiveness of new legislation that created an oversight and enforcement body to police the authority system and put in place new measures to improve the accountability of authorities.
But the report found that politicians were inserting themselves in the business of authorities, which are supposed to be independent bodies, by sometimes pressuring their appointees to vote in certain ways.
The report proposes that the law be amended to make explicit that politicians who appoint board members have a fiduciary duty that precludes them from improperly influencing their appointees. And it proposes giving state regulators enforcement powers over politicians who appoint board members, including referring violations to the attorney general or a local district attorney.
The recommendations are unlikely to be met with enthusiasm by many politicians, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has often seemed to expect that his appointees carry out his policies, particularly those he has named to the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
The report will probably renew an old debate about authorities. While many politicians believe elected officials should have more influence over their management, government watchdogs believe the boards of authorities should be devoted solely to fulfilling the public mission of the authorities, not doing the bidding of politicians.
“The law has always required board members to do what’s right for the public, not what’s right for the elected officials,” said Assemblyman Richard L. Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat who championed the 2009 authorities law.
“Think if it was a judge,” he added. “Should the governor be able to call a judge on the Court of Appeals and tell them how to decide a case? The same should be true of the M.T.A. These are independent agencies with an independent mission.”
Mr. Paterson thanked the task force for its work but did not comment on many of its recommendations, though he did praise the report’s concerns that authorities were not complying with state law regarding contracting with businesses owned by minorities and women.
Mr. Bloomberg’s office said it needed to review the report before commenting.
The report also suggests that the administrator of a new Authority Budget Office, David Kidera, has not been active enough in enforcing the law.
“He’s a man of integrity and I don’t doubt his honesty or intelligence,” said Ira M. Millstein, a corporate governance expert who led the seven-member task force. But he added, “If this thing is going to be meaningful, he’s going to have to be more aggressive.”
Mr. Kidera was not available for comment.
The state’s hundreds of public authorities have long been criticized for their lack of accountability and often corrupt practices. They range in size from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has about 69,000 employees, to tiny authorities with fewer than 100 employees, like the New York State Theater Institute, a public theater group that has been mired in scandal.