ALBANY -- Members of the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics Wednesday accused agency staff of making "midnight appointments" that could "destroy" public trust in the ethics watchdog.

Four of the panel's 14 members made the charges in a letter to the editor to the Times Union of Albany. Their comments came after several staff positions were filled by people who had worked for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

It was the most public criticism by commissioners of the powerful board's independence since one of JCOPE's original members, Ravi Batra, resigned in 2012 after saying the commission lacked independence from Cuomo.

At issue are several promotions and appointments the commissioners said were made by the executive director in contravention of a staffing plan approved by the commissioners.

Cuomo created JCOPE as an "independent enforcement unit" for ethics and lobbying violations in the legislative and executive branches.

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JCOPE's first two executive directors and most of its senior staffers had worked for Cuomo. The latest was Letizia Tagliafierro, a former administration aide who this month announced her resignation. She is returning to the administration to head the state tax and finance department's criminal investigations division.

"If the next executive director is not hired from outside state government after an exhaustive search, the public's trust will be inexorably destroyed," commissioners Joseph Covello, Marvin Jacob, David Renzi and George H. Weissman wrote.

JCOPE spokesman Walter McClure said the commission "has put a process in place to conduct an extensive search for a new executive director. As with the appointment of two previous executive directors, the decision will be made exclusively by the commissioners who represent the executive and legislative branches and both major parties."

A Cuomo spokesman declined to comment.