In the News | Press

Democrats' public integrity proposal has teeth

Democrat & Chronicle

The responsibility of overseeing and protecting taxpayer resources should be the No. 1 priority of every elected official.

Recently, it has become apparent that the public is losing faith in its elected officials. At the county level, we have seen many instances where inadequate internal controls have allowed unscrupulous employees or contractors to defraud taxpayers of thousands of dollars. Despite these repeated issues, the county executive and county legislative majority has done little to prevent these situations from taking place in the future.

To address this gross lack of oversight, we recently proposed the creation of a Monroe County Office of Public Integrity. Importantly, this office would not add any cost to the current county budget and it could actually yield savings in recouped funds that would result in a net savings to county taxpayers.

Unfortunately, the executive and legislature Republicans were quick to dismiss this proposal, claiming that an independent oversight system is already in place. They point to a law firm hired by the executive in the wake of the Robutrad scandal, which receives and investigates complaints from the county's whistleblower hotline.

What they fail to mention is that this firm answers solely to the county executive. The firm's contract doesn't even require legislative approval.

Moreover, the activities, investigations and findings of this firm are completely withheld from public view due to attorney-client privilege. And, requests from legislators for information about this system have gone unanswered.

In contrast, our proposal would create an independent Office of Public Integrity headed by a director, who would be overseen by an uncompensated board of citizens appointed by legislative leaders and the county executive. This would give the director more autonomy than the current system and also shield the office from unnecessary political influence.

Furthermore, the director would be required to file biannual reports with the legislature, which would then become available to the public, providing a level of transparency lacking currently.

And most importantly, the Office of Public Integrity would be empowered to do unannounced spot audits of all county departments, local development corporations, and county-created local authorities - something that does not exist today.

The status quo is simply not good enough, and we have seen it fail time and again. For the taxpayer's sake and to restore public confidence, we urge the county executive and Republican majority to support a Monroe County Office of Public Integrity.

The public is invited to voice opinions on this proposal at 5:30 p.m. March 21 in the county legislative chambers.

Andrews is assistant Democratic leader and Kaleh is a county legislator in District 28.