Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Et Tu, Commission on Public Integrity?

Two weeks ago, my colleague Beth Foster and I wrote an op-ed in the Daily News about the naming of a city public school campus for a sitting state senator: What's in a name? Frankly, a pretty big political favor. (The paper's title.) Actually, there seems to a trend of public schools named for sitting state Senators.

In the piece, we recommended that the Commission on Public Integrity issue a ruling to make clear that such namings of a campus or a school at a minimum violates the spirit of the Public Officers Law.

The Commission answered in a disappointing, yet hardly surprising, aptly titled letter to the editor:

Sorry, Wrong Number

Albany: Andrew Stengel and Beth Foster wrote that the Commission on Public Integrity should rule against naming a cluster of schools in Queens after a state senator ("What's in a name? Frankly, a pretty big political favor," Opinions, May 14). The commission has jurisdiction only over the executive branch of state government, as well as lobbyists and their clients. This matter is not within our purview.

Walter C. Ayres, Director of Communications
Commission on Public Integrity

Yes, it's true that the Commission, which was created last March under the Public Employees Ethics Reform Act, lacks power over the legislative branch. (Such an arrangement might be a violation of separation of powers.)

My answer: So what?

If the Commission wanted to weigh in on the issue, it could do so for the executive branch. After all, there is no doubt this is a public integrity issue. A ruling along the lines we argue would apply to the governor, but would serve as both a precedent and a warning for the legislative branch.

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