Posts Tagged ‘power’

Conflicts of Interest Don’t Just ‘Happen’

Tuesday, June 29th, 2021

By Bob Gaydos

B38B4BB8-7234-4325-B13F-8A4490131428     A funny thing happened to Ed Diana on the way to his $500-a-week, no-show job arranged through the public industrial development agency of the county he ran for a dozen years. He got caught.

     That’s the only thing that “happened“ to Diana, despite what his lawyer would have you believe. Everything else he made happen.

      This is a big story in Orange County, New York, which is about an hours drive northwest from New York City, but it’s about greed and political corruption, so it has implications nationwide. And yes, as with most such stories these days, it involves Republicans, but at least this time, some of them are on the right side of the law.

       Diana, who served three terms as county executive in Orange, recently pleaded guilty to two counts of filing a false instrument. Specifically, he signed a form which states that, as a member of the board of directors of the Orange County IDA, as vice chairman in fact, he had no conflict of interest with the business of that agency. That he had no tangible personal gain arising from that relationship.

       In fact, though, he did. Lying on this form is a felony in New York State. Diana did it twice. He also played guilty to a misdemeanor charge of conflict of interest.

        “If this could happen to Ed Diana, this could happen to anyone,” Diana’s lawyer, Ben Ostrer, said, speaking to the press after Diana’s guilty plea in court. “If you are in government service be thankful it isn’t you.”

         What a load of bull, even for a lawyer in the Rudy Giuliani era.

          In addition to his three times as county executive, Diana also served on the county legislature and a couple of terms as supervisor of the town of Wallkill, one of the larger towns in Orange County. Three decades of public service as an elected official in Orange County. With that experience, you should be able to smell a potential conflict of interest about three months down the road. Yet Ostrer would have us believe it could happen to “anyone.“

          Diana was allowed to plead guilty to avoid a prison term. He agreed to repay the IDA $90,000. He said he had been paid as a “consultant” for three-and-a-half years. In addition to Diana, the former CEO of the IDA pleaded guilty to a charge of corrupting government and agreed to re-pay $175,000 for her no-show job.

           The phantom jobs were with a company owned by the former paid managing director of the IDA, who the prosecutor said was the motivating force and worst actor in this case. He steered firms looking to do business in Orange County to his companies for equipment, planning, office space and technical assistance. Over time, he also raised the rates for the services. He pleaded guilty to corrupting government and agreed to repay $1 million. He will be on probation for five years. All three will be officially sentenced in September.

            All of this “happened” while the board of directors, which other than Diana, also included the chairman of the county legislature, looked the other way or napped during board meetings. Same for the board’s lawyer. The county legislature fired the entire board a couple of months ago when it learned of District Attorney David Hoovler’s investigation. The DA, like Diana, a Republican, said he didn’t file charges against any other board members or their lawyer, because “There’s no criminal liability for incompetence.” Sometimes that means prosecutors can’t prove intent.

      Hoovler pointed out that no money had been stolen, per se, and that all the monies paid to people who shouldn’t have been paid had been accounted for. You say tomato, I say tomahto. People got money they shouldn’t have gotten because of their positions and the money could’ve been used by the IDA for other purposes. In the process, the integrity of the IDA was badly damaged. As a public agency whose primary tool is the awarding of tax breaks to companies looking to locate in its county, trust is far more valuable than cash. The new Orange IDA board must work hard to rebuild that trust.

      It can start by knowing that conflicts of interest don’t just “happen.” Not in Orange County, New York, or anywhere else. They are created. A defining feature of much of today’s Republican Party, on a national level as well as at the local level, is a casual disregard for the rule of law and an arrogant disdain for the truth. That’s a fact. I don’t like writing it, but it’s true. I think it represents a major threat to our democracy.  (In this case, the current Orange County executive, also a Republican, sharply criticized the corrupt arrangement  and called for the state to toughen the punishment for such crimes.)

       When one of our two major parties decides it can unilaterally make up the rules as it goes along  and concoct excuses to avoid responsibility, we are in serious trouble. If people will buy the big lie — The election was stolen. There was no insurrection — why not try a “little” one? “If this can happen to Ed Diana, it can happen to anyone.”

     No it can’t.  Witness the thousands of New Yorkers who serve on public and private boards of directors without such happenings. Of such molehills are mountains created. Lying and entitlement are addictive. So is power. The antidote is truth. Hold public officials accountable. Make them explain their actions. Trust must be earned, today more than ever.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

A Power Play in Turkey

Thursday, June 6th, 2013
turkey-protest

Protestors in Istanbul struggle with tear gas deployed on them by police.

By Bob Gaydos

The question of the week is: Why would someone who has an entire country to run — to plan a budget, promote economic and social health, maintain an army, deal with leaders of other countries — bother with eliminating the last remaining park space in a busy area of his county’s largest city?

The answer: Because he can. Or, more accurately, because he thinks he can, and, even more accurately, because he wants to and doesn’t think anyone else can stop him.

It is, simply, the allure of power, perhaps the most cunning and pervasive of all addictions. In my limited exposure to the human condition, which includes writing about addictions, I’ve noticed that few are immune from the euphoria of the perception of absolute power. Which, of course, does not exist. Nor, as far as I know, does a 12-step program for those addicted to it.

In Turkey, where the power play over a popular open space area in Istanbul erupted into days of public protests, the demonstration of government power included an extreme overreaction by police, including widespread use of tear gas, arrests and efforts to shut down social media sites on the Internet. These are typical 21st century reactions to civil disobedience, as demonstrators in the United States, home of free speech, have also discovered. Even people who supposedly understand the necessary limits on it often abuse what power they have. Such is the addiction — do not dare to disagree with me, or else.

As this is written, the conflict persists in Turkey, but the rest of the world is well aware of what is happening, as it was when similar protests erupted in Turkey’s neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt, recently. The Turkish protests seem to fall into the “last straw” category. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected fair and square, so to speak, in a democratic election. He replaced a military government, which many Turks found to be oppressive. Be careful what you wish for.

Erdogan, who insists on putting a shopping mall and mosque in a popular open area dotted with restaurants and shops (an issue mayors usually deal with), has turned out to be as intractable and authoritarian in his rule as any military type. In fact, perhaps more so because he seems to believe that winning the most votes gives him the right to do whatever he pleases, no matter how many of his countrymen and women it displeases. Compromise with a different viewpoint is not part of his makeup, nor, as events in Egypt suggest, is it part of the understanding of governing of other Islamists. Democracy in its truest sense will likely be slow to come in the Middle East.

But there are two sides to the power equation. Those in power can only remain there as long as those out of power allow. Where power is seized by force, obviously, the resistance and determination to alter the equation takes longer to materialize and succeed. But a tipping point eventually does come and revolutions happen. Turkey may be headed there today. If so, the aid and encouragement of nations that have a better grasp on the just exercise of power should pressure Erdogan to loosen his grip and allow all Turks to express their views without fear of violent repercussions.

It takes physical courage to take to the streets against an oppressive government, to stand in front of a line of tanks, to tear down a wall, to occupy a park, to declare independence. But it’s not always necessary to take to the streets to overcome abuse of power. The human voice when summoned and combined into a chorus of dissent can be a powerful weapon.

Today, the Internet makes it possible to martial tens of thousands of voices rather quickly. Find a cause, find a message, find like-minded people. Does Monsanto, the ubiquitous source of the world’s genetically modified food, have too much power over how the food is grown and packaged? The Internet is awash with the voices of those who believe so and do not hesitate to tell their elected leaders how they feel. Threaten those in position of political power with loss of their power and they may actually hear you. Complain to your friends and do nothing and the power remains with Monsanto and its money. (Example of success: Connecticut recently became the first state to require labeling of GMOs.)

I do not mean to suggest it is easy to redraw the power equation, that there are not sometimes very real dangers in trying to do so. But I do know that those who have power, however they come by it, seldom give it up willingly. And, like all addictions, it inevitably gives those afflicted a skewed view of the world and their importance in it.

Solidarity with the people of Turkey.

bob@zestoforange.com