HSE University Anti-Corruption Portal
Unseriously About Serious Matters: New York Anti-Corruption Education

The New York Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) approached the need to inform the city officials about the established anti-corruption restrictions and duties with a touch of humour.

In its YouTube and Twitter videos COIB tells how the officials should behave so as not to violate the legal provisions regarding conflicts of interest and financial disclosure statements.

For instance, in this video, where puppets replace actors, a COIB consultant like a superhero in an expensive suit, having seen in the sky a sign of danger, rushes to the crime scene where a villain is shamelessly distributing precious gifts (ranger stickers) to city employees. “These are just birthday presents for my new best friend!”, reassures the perpetrator. “Nice try, but in the city government there are no “new best friends”! It seems that the only gift anyone is getting here is the gift of knowledge”, responds our hero with giving him a punch on the face and performing his victory dance. 

In another video Dan, a COIB official, asks “Mr Blue Book” (which embodies the New York City conflicts of interest law) and “Mr Orange Book” (the COIB Plain Language Guide to the law) whether a second job of his colleague in her spare time (the so called moonlighting, which means that this secondary job often takes place at night) could violate the law. Those reassure Dan that although an outside job formally violates “the letter of the law”, an official may be allowed to do it when it has no overlap with their city duties. “How do I get a moonlighting waiver?”, asks Dan and answers his own question. “Just visit the website and fill out the handy-dandy form. You see lots of people choose have waivers and get second jobs to supplement their city salaries”. “Who knows second jobs better than our good friend Dan”, adds Mr Orange Book. “Moonlighting is the only way he can pay his student loan debt, and remember it is not dischargeable through bankruptcy, so it’s back to faking your own debt”, he reminds Dan. “Now is not a good time to talk about it”, responds Dan through his teeth. “When is? You’re sad all the time”, says Mr Orange Book with resentment. “Yes, you are young, vibrant, you should be out there in the world dating”, adds Mr Blue Book. “Don’t bring up dating again, he’ll start crying”, whispers Mr Orange Book to him. Trying to get back to the scenario, Dan, slightly overwhelmed by emotions, reminds that such topics where not in their plan and they should discuss how long it takes to get a moonlighting waiver and mention that the waivers are public documents and even with the waiver an official cannot make use of his city time or city resources for doing an outside job. In the end of the video Dan casually asks a delivery service courier, seeking his signature, whether they are hiring. After having seen these video some viewers said they had nightmares that were apparently linked to the protagonists embodied in books with eyes and mouths or to the worries about Dan and his hard life.

By the way, COIB made an unboxing video (a popular YouTube genre where a blogger unpacks various products and shares his/her impressions about them) to present the “Mr Orange Book”, its Plain Language Guide. The presenter who opens the box is not particularly happy about the lack of a charger cable, but he is really enthusiastic about the book being double-stapled and having peculiar scent: “As someone who has sniffed numerous government documents over the years let me tell you, you really get government office from it in a way that you just don’t from federal and state guides”. The blogger was pleased to see a detailed table of contents in the Guide and got particularly excited about the “revolving door” section. In order to assess how effectively the Guide attains the objective set by its drafters, i.e. to explain the anti-corruption restrictions for municipal employees, - the presenter looks up the section on misusing one’s city job for private advantage, reads out the respective provision and finds it clear and concise. He is also pleased to see that the Guide includes – for free – numerous practical examples. He then throws himself into discussing the examples related to his blogging activities. The overall impression of the presenter is that the Guide may be useful for city employees, those doing business with the city, any kind of lawyer or as a collector’s item for policy wonks and sociopaths.

And in this video, made “in the best tradition” of romantic music videos, a COIB official, responsible for providing ethical consulting for city employees, reminds the audience: comes a time in life when you realize that you can’t do it alone that you need “that special” song to get you through. After that the narrator, dressed in white, sings “that very” song:

When you’ve got questions, I’ve got ethical suggestions for you.

You know we will keep this our little secret, confidential, that’s how we do.

We’ll help you work it out, our phone number has never changed,

We know conflicts may lead to a strain.

Call me up, your “attorney of the day”

When these conflicts lead you to a strain.

Call me up, your attorney of shhhh…

COIB also pays attention to the financial disclosures: In this anime video two men in cars try to overrun each other on a mountain road. The original text in Japanese is interpreted by the authors in their own way: “I’ll be the first to file my financial disclosure”, is thinking the first driver with a glint in his eyes. “Annual financial disclosure serves a vital purpose. I must show him the seriousness with which I regard financial disclosure, as a public servant”, he tells himself, stepping on it. “This extremely bright light I’m shining in your eyes is a metaphor about the impact of transparency in government”, says he, overrunning his opponent, whose strange silence, according to the authors of the video, expresses his extreme agreement with the value of financial disclosures. “Maybe if my vehicle inexplicably sprouts wings I will be able to convey to my fellow public servant the importance of reasonable disclosure requirements”, thinks the first racer when his car sprouts two glowing wings. “The transparency… It’s beautiful!”, exclaims the other with tears in his eyes as he sees this. However, the victory in the race is not enough for the first driver: he thinks that there is a lot more to know about financial disclosure, but Twitter only allows embedded clips of 140 seconds. “So after this I will probably go read more on nyc.gov/etics”, he tells himself. – Also I might start bicycling, I don’t know yet”. 

* The New York Conflicts of Interest Board is an independent city body, responsible for administering, law enforcement and interpretation of the provisions of Chapter 68 of the New York City Charter,better known as the conflicts of interest law, and articles 12 through 110 of the New York City Administrative Code, which establishes the rules for employees for their annual financial disclosures.

Standards of conduct
Asset disclosure
Conflict of interest

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