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Governor releases plans to boost transparency and ethics in New York government

NEW YORK NOW - Gov. Kathy Hochul released plans on Thursday to increase transparency at state agencies and authorities, expedite requests for public information and documents, and address conflicts of interest at the highest levels of her administration.

Those plans, Hochul said, are part of her promise to clean up state government, and create “the most transparent administration in the history of the state of New York,” as she said in August.

“The changes we’re announcing today bring us closer to creating the kind of government that New Yorkers deserve, and we’ll continue to build on this progress,” Hochul said.

When she took office, Hochul asked each of the state’s executive agencies and public authorities to develop new plans for increased transparency. Those plans have now come to fruition, but appear to be the first step in the process.

State agencies and authorities will change their online presence to make public information more accessible, conduct statewide listening tours on how to improve transparency, provide more language options, and more, the Hochul administration said.

New York will also overhaul its process for fulfilling information under the Freedom of Information Law, a process that allows the public and journalists to request and receive public documents.

Under the Cuomo administration, those requests had to be cleared by his office before they were fulfilled by state agencies. FOIL requests often took months, or even years, to be fulfilled during that time.

That will no longer be the case, the Hochul administration said. Now, FOIL requests will be processed by individual agencies in an effort to speed up response times by cutting out the middle-man.

State agencies will also be required to publicly post responses to frequently requested documents, or those of significant interest to the public. The administration will also explore ways to speed up FOIL requests on the technological side of things.

Hochul also released a handful of memorandums signed by her, Lt. Gov Brian Benjamin, and a top aide that outline where they’ll agree to recuse themselves from certain issues and relationships pertaining to state government.

In her memorandum, Hochul agreed to recuse herself from any state business involving Delaware North, a food service and hospitality company where her husband works in Buffalo. Any business involving the company will be handled by someone else, per the memo.

In his memorandum, Benjamin agreed to recuse himself from business involving NextPoint Acquisition, a financial services company where he previously worked. He also disclosed that his wife currently works at New York State Homes and Community Renewal, a state agency.

In a separate memorandum, Secretary to the Governor Karen Persichilli Keogh agreed to recuse herself from any business involving Bolton St. Johns, a lobbying firm where her husband works.

Hochul also signed an executive order Thursday that will require all state employees to take a live ethics training every three years. Employees of the Executive Chamber, the governor’s office, will have to take that training every two years.

The announcement builds on a separate initiative announced Tuesday to combat harassment and discrimination in her office through new training requirements.