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Ethics board director Ellen Biben to resign

ALBANY -- The first executive director of the state ethics board, which has been criticized for being ineffective, overly secretive and too close to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, said she will resign after 14 months on the job.

Ellen Biben will be the third member of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics to step down since it held its first public meeting in December 2011.

JCOPE's first chairwoman, Janet DiFiore, left last month to run for re-election as Westchester County district attorney. Board member Ravi Batra resigned last year because of what he called orchestrated leaks to the media and the board's lack of political independence from Cuomo.

Biben, who makes $148,000 a year, announced in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that she would leave the board to seek private sector employment.

Board members appointed by legislative leaders will now have an opportunity for input in choosing JCOPE's next top staffer. Under law, at least some of the appointees of legislative leaders must support the hiring of the executive director. But in April 2012, JCOPE refused a Freedom of Information Law request by The Associated Press to identify the ballots cast in its secret vote to hire Biben. Since then, however, some JCOPE commissioners appointed by legislative leaders have indicated frustration with the board's structure.

Biben told the newspaper she would explore job opportunities after she leaves, but she will remain in the position for four weeks as JCOPE deals with some of New York's biggest law firms, companies and lobbying firms.

Biben had been Cuomo's appointed inspector general before taking the top enforcer job at JCOPE, which was created in the Democratic governor's 2011 ethics reform act. Before that, she worked for Cuomo as a counsel dating to his term as attorney general.

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