Created: 10/29/2013 10:13 PM WHEC.com
By: Associated Press
Another commissioner has quit New York's ethics board after it hired an executive director with ties to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, according to a legislative official.
On Tuesday, law professor and ethicist Ellen Yaroshefsky resigned from the 14-member Joint Commission on Public Ethics, according to the official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because that person wasn't authorized to announce the decision.
Yaroshefsky, a professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City, provided no reason for her resignation.
Word of her decision came as a surprise after an unusual session of the ethics board, which has long been criticized by good-government advocates for its secrecy. In the brief public part of Tuesday's meeting, Yaroshefsky proposed what she called an independent search for an executive director. Other commissioners then moved the discussion behind closed doors.
Neither Yaroshefsky nor commission spokesman John Milgrim immediately responded to requests for comment.
In July 2012, Commissioner Ravi Batra resigned, he said, partly because the secretive commission lacked independence from Cuomo.
"I'm saddened to hear of Commissioner Yaroshefsky's departure," Batra said in an interview Tuesday. "Her service was of one who cherished her independence."
Batra had been appointed by the Senate Democratic conference. Commissioner Patrick Bulgaro, an appointee of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver resigned in July, without comment. Yaroshefsky also was a Silver appointee.
In April, the commission issued a report critical of Silver, a Democrat, for arranging a secret $103,000 settlement of sexual harassment accusations against Assemblyman Vito Lopez. The commission never accused Silver of wrongdoing. Lopez has denied sexually harassing anyone. The Legislative Ethics Commission levied a $330,000 fine against Lopez, based on an accusation that he groped, intimidated and manipulated young women staffers.
Yaroshefsky's resignation comes as the anti-corruption Moreland Commission, appointed by Cuomo in July, is being criticized for its focus on the Legislature, rather than his own office or other statewide officials. Last week, Cuomo defended the commission, citing the rash of corruption scandals that have touched more than 30 lawmakers over the last seven years, including several arrests this year.
"With the Moreland Commission existing in the same space as JCOPE, ethics, not corruption, is in the crossfire," Batra said.
Before Yaroshefsky's resignation, the commission announced in a press release that it had hired Letizia Tagliafierro as executive director. Her appointment was expected to be voted on in previous public sessions, but was delayed. The commission wouldn't say why.
Ellen Biben made $148,000 as executive director. She announced in May that she was leaving the job. Shortly before that, she hired Tagliaferro as director of investigations. Both had worked for Cuomo.
Most of the commission's top staffers had worked for Cuomo; the governor appoints the chairman.
"You are seeing a bunch of commissioners that have a higher standard of integrity than perhaps the rest of the commissioners," said David Grandeau, the former state lobbying enforcer and now an attorney who represents lobbyists. "When things happen, when their integrity is compromised, they choose to leave."