Testimony to MTA Governance Committee on Ethics Policy

     

Testimony of Rachael Fauss, Reinvent Albany
To Governance Committee of the MTA
Re: Addressing Conflicts of Interest in the MTA Code of Ethics
December 16, 2019
Good afternoon, I am Rachael Fauss, Senior Research Analyst for Reinvent Albany. We advocate for more transparent and accountable state government — including for state authorities like the MTA.

I am here to follow up on a letter we sent the Board last week that again asks you to amend the MTA Ethics Codes to clearly ban outside income for the MTA’s Chairman/Chief Executive Officer and enact other ethics reforms, as supported by Reinvent Albany and our good government colleagues. This is the fourth time we have asked the MTA Board to reforms its ethics policy, dating back to March 2018.

According to the Committee’s approved workplan and today’s agenda, you are scheduled at this meeting to review the MTA Code of Ethics, and consider possible changes. The Board failed to adopt changes to the MTA Ethics Policy in 2018, punting its discussion in 2018 to 2019. Since then, it was revealed that former Chairman Lhota resigned due to an “incompatible” conflict of interest. The time has now come to address this issue, and we ask that you do so by amendment you Code of Ethics as recommended in our letter.

We strongly believe that clear prohibitions for outside income are preferable, especially for the Chairman/CEO, but the MTA has adopted a policy of “disclose and recuse” for conflicts, including for its volunteer board members. Even within this regime, the MTA in practice is falling short of best practices recommended by the NYS Authorities Budget Office (ABO) to document reasons for all recusals in Board meeting minutes along with votes. Additionally, Board members should recuse themselves when they have conflicts of interest from deliberations prior to their start, rather than at the end of the deliberations when votes occur. The MTA Code of Ethics also recommends members leave the Board room if necessary when they have a conflict, but this has not been followed.

Lastly, MTA Board materials have begun to summarize all actions for members, listing all procurements in a single list at the beginning of Board packets to aid members in reviewing actions for potential conflicts. Similarly, the MTA staff should provide a public tracker of all final Board actions on its website, including yes or no votes by members, and recusals or abstentions, including the reason for the recusal.

Thank you for your consideration.