On Tuesday, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics announced that it had chosen Seth Agata, a former aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, as its new director. Agata is the third consecutive JCOPE director with close ties to the governor whose government it is supposed to hold accountable.
“Seth Agata is a tremendous choice for executive director of the commission,” JCOPE’s chairman, Daniel Horwitz, said in a statement. “He brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and integrity to the position.” Horwitz, incidentally, is Bernie Madoff’s old lawyer.
At a brief public meeting on Tuesday morning, the Albany Times Union reports, Horwitz only said he hoped the nine-month-long search to replace former Executive Director Letitzia Tagliafierro, who left JCOPE in July for a job at the Cuomo-controlled Department of Taxation and Finance, would come to a close soon. Not present at Tuesday’s meeting was JCOPE’s chief of staff and special counsel (and former State Police First Deputy Superintendent) Kevin Gagan, who’d applied for the executive director job and was seen as a favorite for the position.
Recently, JCOPE has sought to expand its reach, bringing political consultants and public relations professionals under its regulatory purview. The PR people are not happy about this, and have filed a federal lawsuit accusing the watchdog group of “bureaucratic overreach” that poses an “immediate and serious threat to First Amendment freedom.”
A letter to the Times Union in July, following Tagliafierro’s exit, from four commissioners appointed by state legislative leaders, warned that the next JCOPE director should come from outside Cuomo’s sphere of influence. “Needless to say, this appointment and the cavalier approach taken only foretells more bad news for JCOPE. Designed to be ‘independent,’ the incessant interference continues,” it read.
“If the next Executive Director is not hired from outside State government after an exhaustive search, the public trust will be inexorably destroyed.”