Mar 31 2011

NYS Commission on Public Integrity Wants to Muzzle Me

Why would it want to do that?  All I did was suggest that the Commission may have had ulterior motives when it dismissed, without so much as an investigation, an ethics complaint made by the Center for Justice and Democracy about the lack of balance on the Medicaid Redesign Team.

And yet, today I received this in my email box:

Dear Mr. Barovick,

In your blog posting on March 26 (“In New York State, Lots of Irony In Integrity”) you wrote:

Well, here’s something that consumers in New York State might be interested in. The good folks on the NYS Commission On Public Integrity serve at the pleasure of the Governor. And so, speaking of the subject of integrity, its members have a personal stake in pleasing the same entity. Could it be that the NYS Commission On Public Integrity was unduly influenced by that interest when it outright rejected the conflict of interest claim? And wouldn’t that be the ultimate irony?

I am writing to inform you that the Commissioners do not serve at the pleasure of the Governor.  In order to insulate the Commission from such influence, they serve five-year terms and cannot be removed except for “substantial neglect of duty, gross misconduct in office, inability to discharge the powers or duties of office or violation of this section, after written notice and opportunity for a reply.” [Executive Law § 94(7)]

I believe that a correction is in order.

Walter C. Ayres

Director of Communications

Commission on Public Integrity

540 Broadway

Albany, New York  12207

And here is my response to Mr. Ayres:

Dear Mr. Ayres:

I disagree with you.  It is the Governor who can remove commission members, and therefore, they serve at his pleasure. The statutory reasons that allow for such discharge are, as I am sure you will agree, vague enough to justify removal whenever the Governor feels like getting rid of someone who is being particularly pesky to him or his agenda.

I also think that your organization made a decision based not on reason or ethics, but pure politics.  So to me, you do not have sufficient credibility or standing to complain about my post, which I will not change.

Thanks for writing.

Andy Barovick

So what’s really going on here? The Commission doth protest too much, methinks. Or, to put it another way, the Commission is reacting a bit dramatically because it doesn’t like being called out on its shortcomings of integrity.  Yet the spirit of deception continues in Mr. Ayres’ own missive. He emphasizes that the commissioners cannot be removed except under several circumstances, but leaves out who it is that does the removing, i.e., the Governor.  However, when you read the applicable statute, found in my initial post (click on link above), you cannot miss that fact.

Nobody in this debate will argue with a straight face that the Medicaid Redesign Team wasn’t stacked with hospitals and related organizations.  Nobody will contest that there was no representation of patient-safety groups or consumers’ rights organizations. Nobody could deny that it is the patients harmed by malpractice who would be most affected by any tort “reforms” proposed by the MRT.  So when the Center for Justice and Democracy filed its complaint, which was grounded in the stark imbalance and unfairness of the makeup of the MRT, that organization deserved, at the very least, to be heard.  Instead, the Commission on Public Integrity muzzled them, and quickly.  To give them a fair hearing would have involved conducting an investigation, and actually examining the serious, fact-based claims that the Center put forward.  But the pillars of Integrity at the eponymous Commission must have had other things on their minds, such as political expediency.  Because nothing else will explain the failure to accord the Center’s complaint even a momentary look.

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