The new Joint Commission on Public Ethics got off to a rocky start today as the 14-member panel met for the first time and was immediately questioned on why it was going into executive session to hold part of its meeting behind closed doors.
And that was after board member Ravi Batra, an attorney and controversial pick for the commission by Senate Minority Leader John Sampson, said it was using his $300 stipend for the day to help give a $1,000 donation to the Squash Hunger charitable group based in Troy.
“Keep up the good work,” Batra said, as he handed the check—a rare scene for an ethics panel—to the charity’s executive director, Amy Klein.
The commission, known as JCOPE, then proceeded through its administrative tasks. They plan to put together a search panel for a new executive director, plan to meet at least once a month and will develop a code of conduct.
As they moved to head into executive session, Associated Press reporter Michael Gormley asked for an explanation as to why the board was headed into private session, citing the state’s Open Meetings Law.
The outgoing executive director, Barry Ginsberg, explained that JCOPE—like former state ethics panels—is exempt from the Open Meetings Law and the Freedom of Information law.
Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, the chairwoman of JCOPE, said the board would do its best to meet in public, but sensitive matters—such as personnel decisions and investigations—would need to be done in private.
“I think that all of us would agree given the nature of the work, that we would endeavor to do as much of our work in open view and to have the public be able to tune in and hear what we’re thinking and talking about and working on,” DiFiore explained. “But there are some matters that require confidentiality, and I think as we go, we will figure out what those matters are. And today the matters that are on our agendas, that we’ll discuss in the executive and closed session of the meeting, are appropriate.”
Here’s DiFiore opening the meeting and thanking members for their service.