In our daily morning meetings, the editorial board spends a lot of time talking about accountability. It’s a buzz word in government, often used by those most in need of it and usually directed at members of an opposing political party. That buzziness often obscures its importance. Accountability is essential in government and in most aspects of our lives.

Tied to accountability is the concept of openness. Without openness, accountability is difficult to achieve. The board has explored that relationship frequently, most recently in imploring Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign a bill to restore the state comptroller’s oversight over state contracts, something the board said would help “shed light on the opaque nature of Albany.” The absence of such scrutiny, the board wrote, has left “taxpayers in the dark as to whether the deals were fair and competitively priced, whether vendors were above board and chosen for the right reasons, and whether there were troubling instances of pay-to-play.” 

The need for accountability is wide-ranging. The board recently chastised the state for its refusal to update ancient computer technology and adopt best practices, which contributed to the state losing $11 billion to unemployment insurance fraud during the pandemic.  As the board wrote, “The time for accountability has come.”

The board also has sought accountability in the heartbreaking death of Thomas Valva, the 8-year-old boy who died after being forced to sleep on the concrete floor of a freezing Center Moriches garage. After the conviction of the boy’s father, the board wrote, “Now what’s needed is an intensive investigation and a public reckoning of how the system allowed the abuse of the 8-year-old boy and his older brother, both of whom had autism, to continue.”

The cyber attack on Suffolk County cries out for similar system-wide accountability with, as in all these cases, an eye on how to prevent a recurrence. The board posed questions about what the county did and did not do before the hack, whether it followed its own guidelines and recommendations, and to what degree it responded to warnings that such an attack could occur. The board concluded that “once the emergency passes, there is going to be a lot of explaining to do.”

The board also argued for openness in the matter of the secret agreement between former and now-disgraced Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota and former County Executive Steve Levy, which caused Levy to forfeit his $4 million campaign fund and abandon his political career 11 years ago for reasons that remain hidden. The board argued that current DA Ray Tierney has an obligation to the public to release the agreement, again to prevent similar future deal-making. “Across the nation, there is widespread concern about attempts to nullify the will of voters,” the board wrote. “That’s just what Spota did, without accountability, regarding Levy. The public has a need to know how it all happened.”

- Michael Dobie