In this edition of Press Play, we talked with Alex Kipp, Director of Education and Engagement at the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board (NYC COIB), a New York City agency tasked with administering, protecting and promoting integrity in New York City government by helping public servants. You can find their video content at nyxt.nyc/coib.
What is NYC Conflicts of Interest Board?
The fundamental thing that the Board is doing is dealing with the Ethics Law to help public servants avoid conflicts between their public duties and their private interests, because when public servants act officially in a way that is also serving their own private interests, the public might question the integrity of those actions. NYC COIB prevents those things.
How is NYC Conflicts of Interest Board organized?
The Board’s work is broken up into a number of different units: there is an Enforcement Unit to deal with the violations; there is an Advice Unit, which is there to help answer questions to public servants so that they can address a conflict of interest before it becomes a problem, and so that it never becomes an enforcement case; there is the Education and Engagement Unit; and the last unit is the Annual Disclosure Unit that makes reports available for public inspection.
What is the main goal of the Education and Engagement Unit?
At the Education and Engagement Unit, our job is to get the word out about this Law, how it works, what a conflict of interest is, how to get advice, and how to prevent having an enforcement case.
What would be an example of someone getting assistance from NYC COIB?
Most conflicts of interest are related with people who want to do more good things. For example: you have a great public servant that has been around in city government for a while and has a lot of expertise with a lot of connections. And let's say there is a not-for-profit, and they see the public servant with this tremendous experience, so they invite this public servant to be on the board of this not-for-profit. Now, that public servant has legal obligations about that not-for-profit. A lot of not-for-profits in the city also get money from City Government. So, it is important that while that public servants can serve on that board, in order to ensure that there is a level playing field for all not-for-profits and there isn’t any kind of appearance of a conflict of interest, that this public servant would never partake in the matters that that non-for-profit had in dealing with city agencies. So we give guidance to public servants to allow them to do this important work, like volunteering to be on the board of a non-for-profit, but to do it in the right way so that they don’t accidentally violate the law.
How can people get involved with NYC COIB?
One of the things that we have done during the last year is creating an online training program that we developed. So in addition of being able to take the conflicts of interest training which is mandated under law in a class, people are also able to take it online. And the result of that is that it frees our education engagement staff to do even more other stuff, to teach classes where people want very special information on special topics, or to generate different kinds of events, or to make more videos, many of them hosted on NYXT. With many different activities, you might see us running around in costumes during Halloween or delivering brochures on the subway.
People can get involved by going to our website, or Twitter, spending five minutes and getting more familiar with New York City´s ethics law for public servants, because ultimately what we are trying to do is to create a normative culture of ethics for how everyone expects public servants to deal with questions of conflict of interest. The more people who know about those norms, the more normative those norms are going to be, and that way ethics and government is everybody's responsibility.
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