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Opinion

We Need Commercial Waste Reform, and Now We Have a Plan


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Council Member Cornegy, the author (photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


New Yorkers have good reason to be concerned, even angry, about the state of affairs in our city's commercial waste industry. Stakeholders and commentators are absolutely right to note that, among other issues to address, the tragic loss of life in this industry is unacceptable.

However, agreement on the importance of cleaning up commercial waste carting does not change the fact that a huge question is still on the table: How can we actually achieve our shared goals as quickly and effectively as possible?

In many ways, the answer lies in comments made just this week by Mayor de Blasio, when he said, "I hope that we can really strengthen the hand of the Business Integrity Commission, give them a lot more tools, a lot more teeth to work with in their regulation of that industry."

My colleagues in the City Council and I have introduced legislation, known as Intro. 996, which would do that by empowering the Business Integrity Commission (BIC) to raise standards in the commercial waste industry and hold bad actors accountable.

Our bill would enable BIC to create standardized safety certifications for industry employees and institute requirements that ensure workers are properly trained. It would also give BIC the tools to establish clear rules regarding allowable levels of emissions for commercial waste trucks. Additionally, the bill would empower BIC to more stringently regulate the industry with regard to maximizing efficiency along each waste collection route.

These are just several examples of how Intro. 996 would give BIC more of the tools and teeth that Mayor de Blasio has said are necessary for advancing commercial waste carting reforms. Our legislation would also let BIC establish its own task force to offer additional insight and recommendations for continuing to improve this industry over the long-term.

On the other hand, Mayor de Blasio's own Department of Sanitation has offered a nebulous and flawed proposal to develop commercial waste zones, which would replace the industry's current open market system with a series of geographic zones that are exclusively contracted to a small number of waste carters.

First, Sanitation’s proposal is not squarely focused on advancing the mayor's stated goal of empowering BIC. By relying on a fundamental restructuring of the industry, this plan would essentially take power away from BIC rather than giving it more of the tools it needs to regulate carting companies.

There is also the issue of unintended consequences. It is common knowledge by now that the zone-based waste collection plan implemented last year in Los Angeles had a truly disastrous rollout. Prices and service complaints skyrocketed, leading to a chaotic situation that, if it were to happen in New York, would surely make it extremely difficult to achieve our shared goals.

The Department of Sanitation’s own 2016 report, released as part of introducing its waste zone proposal, acknowledged that costs for small businesses that are served by this industry would increase under a zone-based plan. Additionally, the report acknowledged that zones would lead to job losses in the industry - and I do not think that efforts to increase safety have to include putting people out of work.

To be clear, I am ready to advance commercial waste carting reforms now and deliver results on increasing safety, reducing environmental impact and increasing regulatory oversight. And I want to achieve this in the way that Mayor de Blasio himself has articulated - by giving BIC more of the tools and teeth it needs.

Now is the time to translate our concerns about this industry into tangible, sensible, and effective action - we just need to get it done.

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Robert E. Cornegy, Jr. represents the central Brooklyn communities of Bedford Stuyvesant and northern Crown Heights in the New York City Council. On Twitter @RobertCornegyJr.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

I’m with Cynthia Because She Stands for Schools, Not Jails


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Antonio Reynoso, the author, endorses Cynthia Nixon (photo: @CMReynoso34)


Last week, I endorsed Cynthia Nixon for Governor because her campaign is focused on making sure young people of color across New York thrive in school, rather than wither away in jail. As a City Council member from a predominantly black and brown community in Brooklyn, I constantly hear from young people who know what they need to succeed in school and what stands in their way.

Right now, there are more police in New York City schools than there are guidance counselors and social workers combined. What message does that send our children?

It is time to drastically change course in how we invest in the lives of black and brown young people. Talking to friends and allies across the state, the stories and experiences of the young people in my district are strikingly similar to those of young people across New York, from the Hudson Valley to Syracuse and beyond—because, while we can draw geographical lines to separate their school districts, it’s the color line that ensures they will all still be impacted by racially discriminatory school discipline policies and practices.

These policies have created a school-to-prison pipeline that afflicts young people of color across the State of New York. As Governor, Cynthia Nixon is committed to transformative policy changes to dismantle this system. That’s why a central part of her #SchoolsNotJails platform is school climate reform. Cynthia’s plan will push New York to lead the way by creating a Restorative Practices Training department within the State Department of Education to support schools in implementing restorative practices, introduce legislation to end school-based arrests for misdemeanors and violations, support schools to remove ineffective security measures, such as law enforcement and metal detectors, and only use suspensions as a last resort.

In New York State, there are over 500 suspensions per day and a disproportionate number of our young people being suspended are students of color. Statewide, one in five black boys are suspended from school each year; for black girls, it is one in seven. In New York City, black students are 27% of the population but nearly half of all students suspended; in Kingston they are 14% of the student body but 36% of all suspensions; and in Troy, they are 31% of the population but 61% of all students who are expelled.

The racial disparities in the statistics on referrals to law enforcement are just as alarming. In New York City, black and Latino students are 92% of all students who receive a summons; in Schenectady, black and Latino students are 75% of all students referred to law enforcement; and in Buffalo, black and Latino students are 85% of all students referred to law enforcement.

These disparities begin in pre-kindergarten, where black students are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended from school. And they continue through high school and beyond—one suspension in high school doubles the likelihood that a student will drop out before graduation and it denies students from critical instructional time. Last year, students in New York lost 686,000 days of instruction because of suspension. If the school discipline gap continues, it’s no wonder that our state is struggling to close the graduation gap.

Those numbers alone should be enough evidence to convince Governor Cuomo to take steps to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. But instead of confronting this reality, under his leadership, New York has done nothing to curtail the school-to-prison pipeline.

The young people I meet with are clear that the way forward is not to continue to “harden” their schools and rely on ineffective and harsh school discipline and policing, but to ensure equity in school discipline policies and practices and reimagine our approach to safety. There is no evidence that police officers and metal detectors make schools any safer, but there is ample research that shows they makes students feel less safe and result in more young people being pushed in front of police officers, prosecutors, and judges instead of guidance counselors, social workers, and school administrators.

Students feel safest in their schools not when they know technology exists that track their every move, or police officers do random checks and sweeps, but when they have staff trained in trauma-informed care, restorative practices, and youth development that are there to attend to their needs and create an inclusive environment.

Young people in my district are leading the way in demonstrating what safe and supportive schools can look like. Many of these schools are implementing restorative practices with real results -- dramatically decreasing suspensions and building strong school communities. This year my district saw one of the largest decreases in suspensions across the city. We can replicate this and transform schools into the safe and supportive learning environments our students and families deserve.

New York needs a public school system that is completely disentangled from the criminal justice system and a commitment that we are creating a nurturing and supportive environment for all students. This is the commitment that Cynthia Nixon is making. We need to invest in schools, not repeat the same policy failures that have led to our children ending up in jails.

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Antonio Reynoso is the City Council member for New York’s 34th Council District in Brooklyn. On Twitter: @CMReynoso34.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]

Fixing the City's Broken Approach to Nonprofit Contracting


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Comptroller Scott Stringer, a co-author (photo: @NYCComptroller)


From housing for homeless families to meals for our seniors, non-profit organizations are on the front lines of our city, supporting our most vulnerable neighbors. Yet these groups are surviving hand-to-mouth when it comes to funding and often it’s our own city government that’s stalling the contracting process and delaying payments that thousands of nonprofits rely on.

In a new report, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office looked at thousands of human service contracts, and found an astounding 90 percent were submitted to the Comptroller’s Office for registration by a City agency after the contract start date had already passed, with half of them arriving six or more months late. Some agencies, including the Department of Homeless Services and the Department of Education, submitted over 99% of their contracts late.

The consequences of the City’s chronic lateness are huge. Because vendors don’t get paid until their contracts are registered, widespread delays in the contracting process force cash-strapped nonprofits to take out loans, miss payroll, or potentially cut services, just to deal with the shortfall in cash. In the last fiscal year alone, nonprofits took 751 City-issued bridge loans worth $149.9 million in total to keep the wheels turning as the City slowly processed their contracts.

It’s unacceptable. The burden of the City’s sluggish procurement process shouldn’t fall on our non-profit partners. That’s why we’re calling for common-sense reforms to break through the bureaucracy.

The City should build a public tracking system for contracts. If you can track a package as it moves across continents, you should be able to track contracts as they move through City agencies. Moreover, the City must develop clear metrics and strict timeframes throughout the procurement process, which will bring a basic level of transparency and accountability into this system.

Consider this: a non-profit is awarded a City contract to provide job training, with a specific start date for summer programming. That contract then goes through multiple layers of bureaucracy at the contracting agency before going over to some, if not all, of the following oversight agencies for review: the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, the Law Department, the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Investigation, and the Division of Labor Services at the Department of Small Business Services.

These levels of review are crucial and help to safeguard the integrity of the City’s public procurement process, rooting out waste and fraud. But as these agencies are not held accountable to deadlines, the full process can take months or even years to complete before the contract arrives at the Comptroller’s Office for registration.

In the end, the non-profit is left waiting for its contract and subsequent payment, without information on the process. This forces hundreds of non-profits into an impossible catch-22: wait to begin work, which can stall vital services and drive up costs – and in reality is rarely possible – or begin work without a registered contract, which can jeopardize the organization’s finances.

But with strict time-frames and a tracking system, non-profits might be spared this turmoil and gain some control in a process that currently treats their ability to function and help thousands of New Yorkers as an afterthought.

What we’re putting forward is a blueprint for the City to do better. Making these fixes will bring the contracting process in line with the City’s priorities, because behind these contracts are people who need food to eat, a roof to sleep under, or someone to care for them. These people are our neighbors, our relatives, and our friends. And right now, the snail’s pace of City agencies is putting their care at risk.

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Scott Stringer is New York City Comptroller and Jose (Joey) Ortiz, Jr., is the Executive Director of the NYC Employment and Training Coalition. On Twitter @NYCComptroller and & @JoeyOrtizJr of @NYCETC_org

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email [email protected]



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