Several current and former staffers of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have reportedly claimed their work on his for-profit book about his response to the coronavirus was not voluntary, as previously claimed by the governor’s office.
“As is permissible and consistent with ethical requirements, people who volunteered on this project did so on their own time,” Richard Azzopardi, a Cuomo senior advisor, said last week, according to the Times Union of Albany, the capital city of New York.
Azzopardi claimed the governor’s use of his staff was on their own time, legal and not a misuse of taxpayer money, according to the newspaper.
Under New York law, Cuomo and other state employees are prohibited from using government resources for personal gain.
The staffers (or people speaking on behalf of them in some cases) reportedly told the newspaper that the work on Cuomo’s book “American Crisis” was expected as part of their jobs: A “clear expectation that we would do political work to help with his campaign and run the governor’s personal errands in the Executive Chamber.”
“It was not optional,” a former staffer who asked to remain anonymous reportedly told the Times Union. “It was considered a part of your job. Everyone knew that you did what was asked of you and opting out was never really an option.”
“Opting out was never really an option.”
It’s known that two of the governor’s top advisers worked on the book, but along with Melissa DeRosa and Stephanie Benton, several junior staffers also reportedly helped the fast turnaround of the bestseller that Cuomo published in October after starting it last summer.
Some of the assignments at various stages in the writing process that were often doled out by supervisors reportedly included notetaking and typing from Cuomo’s dictation, mailing out copies of the book after they were signed by the governor and on one occasion printing out an edited copy and taking it to the governor’s mansion.
“Sorry lady can u print this too and put in a binder and drop at mansion,” Benton, director of the Governor’s Offices, reportedly wrote to an assistant regarding the manuscript.
One person with direct knowledge of a junior staffer’s involvement called it “patently ridiculous” that the staffer had volunteered for the project.
A second person with direct knowledge of a separate junior staffer’s involvement with the book agreed the work was done alongside government work, the newspaper reported.
Cuomo’s office has denied that any overtime was paid to junior staffers for work on the book over a claim from the Times Union that records showed at least two staffers received a large amount of overtime pay in the last year.
His office insisted that overtime was paid only for duties in the “operation of state government.”
“Every effort was made to ensure that no state resources were used in connection with this project – to the extent an aide did something like printing out a document, it appears incidental,” Azzopardi said.
He also denied that junior staffers worked on dictation, claiming Cuomo used an app to transcribe his audio notes.
Azzopardi said proof of Benton’s voluntary work is reflected in time cards but did not give the Times Union any documented proof of the voluntary nature of any of the staff’s involvement in the book, the newspaper reported.
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