Is the New York State Assembly serious about ethics reform?

February 22, 2018 07:23 AM

Is the New York State Assembly serious about ethics reform?

Former Director of the Assembly's Office of Ethics and Compliance Jane Feldman isn't so sure. She quit the job, describing it as a waste of money.

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"I never felt like they wanted me to do much," Feldman said.

Feldman arrived in Albany in 2015, thinking she was coming to the capital to help clean up corruption.

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was then facing fraud and extortion charges. His successor, Carl Heastie, created a new position: the head of the Assembly Office of Ethics and Compliance.    

"It was my understanding to look at the processes and procedures and laws and try to figure out why New York has had so much more corruption or members and elected officials in trouble than most other states," Feldman said.

The former prosecutor, who then spent six years as executive director of Colorado's Independent Ethics Commission, seemed like the perfect candidate. But shortly after taking the job, she began to have doubts about her role.

Brett Davidsen: "When you get there and you're gung ho to start. What did they give you to do?"
Jane Feldman: "Well, um, really not a whole lot."

After only 18 months, she became frustrated and quit. She returned to Colorado.

Recently, News10NBC flew out to Denver and sat down with Feldman. She had a lot to say about her short time in Albany.

Brett Davidsen: "Do you think you were hired more as a public relations move?"
Jane Feldman: "Well, that is sort of my belief."

At $120,000 a year, Feldman said she believed that she was going to be involved in crafting ethics policy. Instead, she was primarily conducting training sessions for state employees. 

Feldman told friends the job was a waste of money, something she now says was probably a poor choice of words.

Brett Davidsen: "What did you think of her comment that the job was a waste of money?"
Bill Magnarelli: "I think that's wrong. Absolutely wrong."

Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli headed up the search committee that ultimately selected Feldman for the ethics job.

Brett Davidsen: "When you talked to her, what did you tell her her role would be as it related to ethics and policy?"
Bill Magnarelli: "Well, you know, this was a new position. So what it was going to be was not completely thought out."

Magnarelli said Feldman misread what she was hired to do.

"What we were looking for was someone to teach, not only the members, but also all of the staffs exactly what was required of them as far as ethics was concerned," Magnarelli said.

 "I would not have accepted this job if they said it's just gonna be training," Feldman said.

In fact, according to announcement about the newly created position, the posting said the person selected for the job would "be proactive in identifying areas where our rules and regulations need improvement."
Jane Feldman:  "I was in my apartment in Albany watching the six o'clock news and the Speaker had a press conference announcing he was introducing widespread ethics reform. I knew nothing about it."
Brett Davidsen: "Do you think that's something you should have been involved in?"
Jane Feldman: "Absolutely."

News10NBC tried repeatedly to speak with Heastie, but no one from his office would return our calls or emails for comment.

Feldman said that in her year and a half, she only met with the speaker once.

"In fact, when I left, nobody from the Speaker's office asked to talk to me about why I was leaving," she said.

Feldman said that she did have ideas to clean up Albany. She said, among other things, the Legislature needs to reform its per diem policy, and be more transparent when it comes to publishing findings from the ethics commission.

Brett Davidsen: "Do you think New York is serious about ethics reform?"
Jane Feldman: "I mean, I think they think they're serious about ethics reform."

Feldman left the job almost eight months ago. While Magnarelli said that lawmakers are committed to filling her position, they have yet to begin a new search. 


Brett Davidsen

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