When Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman appointed public integrity officers in every regional office, the goal was statewide improvement in eliminating government corruption.
“They wanted to create a visible point person and elevate the importance of ethics at the local government level,” said Russ Haven, legislative counsel for New York Public Interest Research Group.
In an effort to restore the public’s trust, taxpayers are now given a more reliable place to report complaints of government corruption. According to a press release published in June 2011, Schneiderman said that having a public integrity officer in each regional office will help root out corruption and give everyday citizens a place to bring complaints without fear.
“The goal is to prevent there from being scandals by preventing unethical conduct – by training, giving advice and having disclosure,” said Robert Wechsler, director of research for City Ethics.
According to Haven, the state government often receives a lot of attention, but local governments do not get as much in comparison. He said that since daily newspapers have cut back, they are not able to cover local government as they have in the past. Many still don’t know about the existence of New York’s public integrity officers.
“Whether it’s a substantive effort to address the overt forms of corruption, or just a political gesture to make examples of the blatant offenders, I could not say without further research,” said Oswego State political science professor Michael Ruddy in an email.
“Government ethics programs don’t really deal with a lot of what people consider corruption, which is like taking bribes and people doing criminal kinds of acts,” Wechsler said. “It usually involves conflicts of interest. Those are situations where either an official is or can be perceived as putting [their] self-interest or the self-interest of [their] family or business associates, ahead of the public interest.”
Depending on state or local government, sometimes it is more effective to go straight to the district attorney for criminal behavior or potential for public harm, according to Haven.
The public’s right and need to report criminal behavior and to make use of resources provided by the government played a role in Schneiderman’s decision.
Maureen MacPherson is the current public integrity officer for the Oswego area and is based in Syracuse. She is a graduate of Syracuse University College of Law and had previously served as a prosecutor at the Onondaga County District Attorney’s office. MacPherson has been serving at the office of the Attorney General since 2004.
“Unless a citizen knows about what’s going on, they can’t really report it,” Wechsler said. “The good part is that things are done at the state level. [It is] done by people who don’t usually have any personal or political interest in what they’re investigating. But the bad part is that [it] doesn’t include some of the elements of an ethics program that are really important.”