So generous - with other people's money

Wednesday, December 4, 2013
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Brian Fischer , who retired in March after six years as commissioner of the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, was generous to his employees. Nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that his gifts were given without regard to state policy or taxpayers' interests, as a couple of new reports by the state inspector general show. The state should seek reimbursement from him and the recipients, where appropriate.

One of the audits involved the use (or misuse) of New York state vehicles. The corrections department is one of the state's largest and has always had a big fleet of cars and assigned them liberally, including to every prison superintendent. But in 2009, at the height of the state's budget crisis, the Division of the Budget ordered agency heads to review their own policies and virtually eliminate assigned vehicles and personal use of state vehicles, with a later memo from the director of state operations emphasizing that this was a dramatic shift in previously allowed policies. But Fischer took away not one car, with such justifications as they were good for morale and needed for emergencies, even when, as in the case of the superintendents, they were clearly not.

The other audit criticized Fischer for giving corrections officers paid time off (400 staff days) to work for a youth-education nonprofit corporation called COPS CARE. The organization had state grants with which it was supposed to reimburse the department for officers' time, but the department received no reimbursement in this case. Fischer told the auditors he knew he had no authority or budget to give his personnel this time off, but did so anyway because he thought the organization (which no longer exists) was doing good work.

Obviously if Fischer had been paying for these gifts out of his own pocket, he never would have given them. Perhaps he should pay now.

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