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Monroe County should make public integrity office work

Democrat & Chronicle

When Robert Morone was "misbehaving" as a key player in the Robutrad scandal, he admits thinking: "What if I got caught?" He concluded that at the most he'd be fired from his county job but, incredibly, never did it occur to him that he'd be prosecuted.

The uncovering of scandals linked to county government since 14 Robutrad workers were arrested in 2009 shows Morone is hardly alone in how he assesses the consequences of "misbehaving." Because that is so, Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks should embrace a plan that could help deter public corruption involving county tax money.

Yet Brooks persists in dismissing the merits of establishing an independent agency that would investigate public corruption. It's a proposal that this page has long advocated, and now is being advanced by minority Democrats in the county Legislature.

Unfortunately, it was essentially declared dead on arrival by Brooks and the Republican-controlled county Legislature. Why? They insist creating a public integrity office is unnecessary because one already exists.

The Independent Accountability Office, established after Robutrad workers were arrested for allegedly stealing more than $110,000 from county taxpayers, hasn't enough teeth to satisfactorily get public corruption under control. It is run by two prominent local lawyers and, unlike Rochester's Public Integrity office, has no full time investigators. It's telling that Monroe's part-time watchdog agency was active when improprieties were uncovered by this newspaper at the Monroe County Airport Authority, for example.

In an election year, it may be especially hard for Brooks and GOP lawmakers to put aside the fact that Democrats are pushing for the PI office. Still, they should demonstrate real leadership and make the PI idea work to catch and deter those who would rob county taxpayers.

Then people like Morone won't be so surprised.