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Good-government group questions Watertown man's JCOPE nod (Updated)


A good-government group is criticizing Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb's pick for an ethics watchdog panel because of family ties.
Mr. Kolb, a Republican, picked David A. Renzi, a lawyer of Watertown, to sit on the 14-member Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which will oversee the executive and legislative branches.
The problem? Mr. Renzi's wife, Jessica A. Renzi, works for state Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Heuvelton.
"For a JCOPE appointee to have his spouse employed by a state senator, while legal, crosses the line ethically," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union. "It doesn't look good to have such a tight association between an appointee and a state senator, over whom one has oversight."
For his part, Mr. Renzi acknowledged that his appointment could be problematic.
"There very well could be a conflict," Mr. Renzi said. "This all came so suddenly. If there is, I'm not accepting it."
Mr. Renzi said he was contacted a few months ago by Mr. Kolb's office, and only heard back about his appointment via email on Friday.
Mr. Kolb's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Renzi ran for state Senate in 2008, losing to Democrat Darrel Aubertine. Mr. Aubertine went on to lose in 2010 to Mrs. Ritchie, now Mr. Renzi's wife's employer.
The big news in Albany circles has been the Senate Democrats' choice for the JCOPE panel. Mr. Dadey, of the good government group, said that the choice of Mr. Renzi was as troubling.
"They both look like their eyeglasses were broken, because the optics don't look good. It isn't good when both minority leaders' picks raise significant questions based on ties," he said. "We want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt about their objectivity and integrity, since they haven't yet acted, but all eyes will be on these two appointments, given their tight associations."
Graham Wise, Mrs. Ritchie's chief of staff, said that the senator does not believe Mr. Renzi's appointment to be an issue.
"She's got nothing but good things to say about Dave, as a person, as a lawyer, and an ethical man," Mr. Wise said, noting that Mr. Renzi was a choice of the state Assembly, not the Senate.
Mr, Wise said that if an issue came before JCOPE involving the Ritchie office, Mr. Renzi would recuse himself.
"Unquestionably," Mr. Wise said.
Mr. Kolb hasn't responded to me, but he has responded to Capital Tonight, defending his pick.
“Let’s say if something, God forbid, were to happen with Senator Ritchie; he would have to recuse himself,” Mr. Kolb told Liz Benjamin. “But that’s no different from anybody else on the commission having some sort of dotted line connection to someone.”
And not all good-government groups cast aspersions on the choice. One such group reasoned that with Mr. Renzi's connections to the Legislature, he would be able to educate lawmakers about inadvertent ethics breaches.
"If you’re going to watchdog, you ought to know something about what that milieu of government is," Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters told me.

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