New York's ethics commission should be turned "upside down" and become more independent of the officials its supposed to police, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday said.
Her comments come a day after Hochul re-appointed a former commissioner to lead the ethics and lobbying regulatory panel on an acting basis, only to have that commissioner oppose a push to claw back a multi-million dollar book deal for ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Good-government advocates and lawmakers have called for reforms at the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), a little-known, but often maligned watchdog in state government that has come under scrutiny for its lack of independence from Cuomo and state lawmakers.
"What I'm going to do is turn it upside down and to challenge the premise that an entity that is created by elected officials by their own appointees should be charged with investigating those individuals," Hochul said on Wednesday at a news conference providing an update on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hochul also defended the re-appointment of James Derring to the commission as acting chairman. Derring, a former Cuomo appointment, resigned from the commission two weeks ago. But Hochul on Wednesday said Derring's re-appointment was only necessary to get business moving again at the commission.
"In order for business to go forward, I had to appoint somebody," she said, adding Derring is "unknown to me."
"I want to make sure we are not stacking these bodies with our friends, with our allies," Hochul added.
She also declined to weigh in on whether Cuomo, who resigned Aug. 24, should have to return the millions of dollars he received to write a book about the pandemic. Attorney General Letitia James's office is investigating whether Cuomo inappropriately used government resources to help him write the book.
"I'm not going to render opinions because I don't think it's my place to do so," she said. "I will not interfere with what JCOPE does. That's wildly inappropriate to do so."