Friday, December 09, 2005
More on Roger Green: where's the "secret report"?
The New York Times profile today of Roger Green, From Conviction to Re-election and Beyond, omits mention of Atlantic Yards, but it also glosses over a significant dispute about the State Assembly's transparency, since the Ethics Committee has not made public the secret report it produced. The article states:
In early 2004, Mr. Green pleaded guilty to two counts of petty larceny and one count of filing a false instrument, acknowledging that he billed the Assembly for travel expenses although he had had free rides to Albany from a prison-services company seeking state contracts.
As part of his bargain with prosecutors in Albany, Mr. Green escaped having to plead guilty to a felony, which would have prevented him from standing for re-election. He agreed to be placed on probation for three years, pay back $3,000 to New York State and pay a fine of $2,000 for the petty larceny convictions.
After his conviction, the release of a secret report by the Assembly's ethics committee recommending sanctions against him, and a request from the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, to step down, Mr. Green resigned the seat he had held for more than two decades.
The release of a secret report? The report has been produced, but it was never made public, and that's been a huge controversy. The same Times reporter used imprecise language in a 6/4/04 article about Green, headlined "Assemblyman's Resignation Puzzles Many in Brooklyn":
Mr. Green resigned from his Assembly seat on Tuesday, after the Assembly's ethics committee issued a secret report recommending sanctions against him and after the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, asked him to step down
Again, the report had been produced, but issued only internally. The lack of public access to it generated significant criticism. In a 6/7/04 piece headlined Silver Refuses to Expose Green, the New York Post wrote:
ASSEMBLY Speaker Sheldon Silver is refusing to release the Ethics Committee report on disgraced former Assemblyman Roger Green, despite hopes by committee members he would do so.
"The expectation was that the speaker would release the report," an Ethics Committee member told The Post.
"The speaker has the power to release it. Nothing is stopping him. It's his decision," said the member, who demanded anonymity.
The refusal by Silver (D-Manhattan) to release the report may violate the state Freedom of Information Law, which says "the Legislature shall . . . make available for public inspection" all "final reports or recommendations" prepared by Assembly committees.
A Silver aide contended another section of the law - barring the release of information constituting an "unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" - justified Silver's refusal.
But the 2 1/2-page Ethics Committee report doesn't focus on Green's "personal" privacy, dealing instead with his official actions - legal and illegal - in office, those who read the report say.
Ethics Committee Chairman Mark Weprin (D-Queens) refused to say if the report should be made public.
"I'd rather not comment on that," said Weprin, who was named committee chairman by Silver. '
In a 6/8/04 editorial headlined Release Green report, the Daily News observed:
Speaker Sheldon Silver and Ethics Committee Chairman Mark Weprin refuse to release the committee's report. That's unacceptable.
Silver spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee explained the speaker's position: "The report was given to him in confidence by the committee, and he's going to respect that." What's missing from that nonanswer are some simple facts: The report was paid for by the people of New York, and the people of New York have every right to judge both Green's conduct and the Assembly's response to same. The Assembly's dodge that the public can make its judgments based on the criminal proceedings doesn't cut it.
A 6/14/04 column in the Brooklyn's Courier-Life newspapers directly connected Green's resignation to the report:
Green would rather have not resigned at all, but he did so in a deal with Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver to prevent (or at least forestall) the release of the Assembly Ethics Committee's report on his misconduct, which would have prompted his colleagues to punish him.
The Albany Times-Union, in an 8/25/04 editorial headlined "And now, the cover-up," wrote:
So here's Roger Green, with the gall to run for the state Assembly seat he was forced to resign from earlier this year after pleading guilty to charges of billing the state for false travel expenses. His conviction just isn't an issue to most people, he says.
The scandal on top of the scandal is that Mr. Green, a Brooklyn Democrat, may very well be right. For that, though, thank the Assembly itself. It's so much easier for Mr. Green to pretend that nothing ever happened, or that it was at most a big misunderstanding, when the Assembly refuses to make public the report by its ethics committee recommending that Mr. Green be punished for his travel reimbursement scam.
Worse yet is the excuse that the Assembly offers for its refusal to release the report on Mr. Green. It's saying, in essence, that it's keeping the report secret because the law doesn't require otherwise.
Well, then, the law ought to be changed. It says so much about the arrogance of the state Legislature that it could get away with rewriting New York's Freedom of Information Law so that it was largely exempt from it.
On 11/8/04, the Times-Union referred to "a still-secret Assembly ethics committee report" on Green. So it looks like it hasn't been released after all. And according to Gotham Gazette's Eye on Albany, the Times tried to get the report: The Assembly denied a Freedom of Information request from the New York Times to make the report public.
That same article quoted a good-government watchdog about the issue:
Rachel Leon, executive director of New York Common Cause, said it ultimately is "up to the voters if they want to elect him."
But she noted that the state legislature has refused to release the ethics committee report on Green, keeping from voters information they need. "If it's all on the up and up, people need that information to make an informed decision," she said.
I should add that City Councilwoman Leticia James--now an antagonist on the Atlantic Yards issue--was Green's senior staffer during the period of time he billed the state for expenses he didn't pay for. She defended Green in the 6/4/04 New York Times, which reported: City Councilwoman Letitia James said, "The people in this community are still with him." Also, she told the New York Sun, in a 6/2/04 article: "There was no intent on his part to do anything wrong," said Council Member Letitia James, who formerly served as Mr. Green's chief of staff.