Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/272 Fri, 22 Jun 2018 11:00:27 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) NYPD Pushes Back Against Calls to Reform Special Victims Division http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7602:nypd-pushes-back-against-calls-to-reform-special-victims-division http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7602:nypd-pushes-back-against-calls-to-reform-special-victims-division nypd council hearing rape

NYPD reps at Monday's hearing (photo: @NYCCouncil)


At a tense oversight hearing examining the NYPD's response to sex crimes on Monday, the NYPD opposed all four bills introduced by the City Council in response to a Department of Investigation report released two weeks earlier.

The bills seek to require evidence-based models to determine staffing levels for the Special Victims Division, more training for sex crimes detectives, and a digital, searchable case management system for the SVD.

On March 27, following a year-long investigation, the DOI released a report stating that the NYPD's Special Victims Division has been chronically understaffed for years, with only 67 detectives available to investigate roughly 5,600 sex crimes per year (ranging from rape to groping).

As a result, “a full exhaustive work effort [for every sex crime investigation] has not been possible," wrote Michael Osgood, Deputy Chief of the Special Victims Division, in one of the many internal correspondences Osgood sent to NYPD higher-ups asking for more investigators and included in the DOI report.

Osgood did not testify at the hearing.

Advocates, sexual assault survivors, a former Special Victims sergeant, and other members of the NYPD testified before the City Council regarding the NYPD's handling of sex crimes. While survivors, advocates, and the former Special Victims sergeant say the NYPD needs to act to improve the experience of victims who report their assaults, the NYPD claims no need for improvement.

The hearing was led by Council Members Donovan Richards, chair of the Committee on Public Safety, and Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Committee on Women.

Officially, the NYPD has 90 days to respond to the DOI's findings, which NYPD officials repeated several times at the hearing when asked specific questions.

But in an informal response issued on its website, the NYPD rebutted the DOI's findings, calling its report "an investigation in name only" and stating there are 85 detectives available to investigate adult sex crimes, not 67.

"The number of detectives assigned to actively investigate adult sex crimes is 67 (not 85) and the NYPD did not dispute that number last Friday when we discussed the report with NYPD officials," the DOI said in a statement issued in response.

By Monday morning, the NYPD had added another 20 detectives to the Special Victims Division, 15 from patrol, five from detectives squads. Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said that brought the total number of detectives assigned to investigate adult sex crimes to 100 (but did not account for the 100 being less than the 20 he said they added and the 85 the NYPD previously asserted).

Boyce’s testimony indicates the city now has 100 detectives to investigate 5,600 sex crimes annually.

For comparison, homicide investigations are similar in length and complexity to sexual assault investigations, and the city's homicide squads had 101 detectives to investigate 282 homicides in 2017, according to the DOI report.

The DOI made 12 recommendations, including that the NYPD hire 73 additional detectives "to meet the minimum investigative capacity required by an evidence-backed and nationally-accepted staffing analysis model" known as the Prummel model.

The DOI also said the NYPD should increase training for adult sex crimes detectives, invest in a new case management system, and renovate or relocate the facilities of all the special victims units that handle adult sex crimes.

"Investigators are not properly trained, facilities are not suitable, and wait times are extensive. It is no wonder that victims don’t report more often," said Council Member Richards at Monday’s hearing. "And it seems that NYPD leadership is just fine with victims of sex crimes being ignored."

Chief of Patrol Terrence Monahan, Deputy Commissioner of Collaborative Policing Susan Herman, and Director of Legislative Affairs Oleg Chernyavsky testified before the Council. Chief of Detectives Boyce, who is on the verge of retirement from the NYPD, was also seated at the table and fielded questions. Though Council members said they wanted to hear from Chief Osgood as head of the Special Victims Division, the four NYPD officials seated at the table took virtually all of the questions, along with some terse interjections from Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters Larry Byrne.

By and large, NYPD officials asserted that the department takes rape seriously, that both staffing and training are adequate, and that their electronic case management system is sufficient.

Chernyavsky said that the bills requiring additional training would "dilute the police commissioner’s authority by dictating a particular method and duration of training."

In response to Council Member Debi Rose's bill requiring the NYPD to use evidence-based models to determine appropriate staffing levels for the Special Victims Division, Chernyavsky said, "The requirements of this bill, however, erode and encroach upon the most basic responsibilities of the police commissioner to manage this agency and its personnel."

However, Chernyavsky's response ignores the fact that the head of the Special Victims Division requested additional staffing from multiple commissioners over the course of years. The DOI report includes dozens of pages of internal NYPD communications wherein Osgood repeatedly requests additional investigators to be added to the division.

As the DOI report notes, the caseload of the city's adult sex crimes detectives has increased by 65.3 percent since 2009, when there were 72 detectives.

"I cannot understand how anyone can argue with these recommendations," said retired Special Victims Sergeant Michael Bock, who worked with the division for years. "None will be detrimental to investigations. What are we afraid of?"

Bock appeared before the Council after the NYPD representatives, none of whom stayed to hear his testimony. The department left behind two people to monitor the rest of the hearing.

Despite assurances from the NYPD that the SVD is adequately staffed, that training is sufficient, and that the division's electronic case management system is adequate, the testimonies of many sexual assault victims and advocates indicate otherwise.

As one woman, Desdemona Meck, testified, "Two months after moving to New York City, two men attempted to rape me in the Bronx." A few hours after the assault, she received a rape kit and reported the rape to the precinct.

"The detective told me I have to learn to be smarter in New York City, that I should toughen up, and in the future not be so nice to strangers. She went on to ask me if I was positive I hadn't somehow made it seem as though the sex was something I had wanted."

Meck said the detective's reaction made her feel "shameful." Meck went on to identify both of the assailants through mugshots. The detective deterred Meck from bringing the case to trial. "She seemed confident in her belief that spending more time on the case would be a waste."

Advocates who testified at the hearing like Mary Haviland, Jane Manning, Christopher Bromson, and Angela Fernandez have worked very closely with both the NYPD and sexual assault victims for years. Some attend private meetings with NYPD officials, have attended trainings for Special Victims detectives and have likewise had those detectives attend their advocate trainings.

Haviland, executive director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, is currently involved in an audit of closed sex crimes cases. Bromson, the executive director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center, and Manning, head of Women's Justice NOW, have assisted many sexual assault victims who have come to their organizations for help, often after reporting their rape to the NYPD goes awry.

"The fact that Chief Boyce could sit without a smile on his face and say that the SVD could follow up with victims is just not the reality," Haviland said. "They are not able to follow up with victims who come in. They are not able to give explanations for dropped cases or the results of rape kits."

"This issue of inadequate staff and inadequate training is something that advocates have been bringing up to the NYPD for years, we've been pleading for those things for years," said Manning.

Fernandez represents a different group of advocates who were largely not present at the hearing -- ones who work in hospitals running programs for sexual assault survivors. As the DOI report notes, sexual assault victims often have to wait hours to see a detective after reporting their assault and getting a rape kit done in a hospital. Detectives are supposed to come to the victim in the hospital, but that doesn't always happen.

"One service provider described how a client spent the entire night at a hospital waiting for an SVD detective to arrive," DOI investigators wrote in their report. "When no detective showed up, the victim, thoroughly discouraged, decided against reporting the crime to the police and went home."

Over the weekend, the NYPD rolled out a public awareness campaign aimed at increasing reporting of sex crimes.

Yet without more detectives assigned to investigate reported sex crimes, some victims who report their assaults will continue to suffer in the ways advocates and victims described at the hearing.

Both Council Members Rosenthal and Rose expressed concern over the NYPD's mixed messages -- at the same time they have put out a public awareness campaign to get more people to report their sexual assault, they have also been reluctant to add more staff to the division responsible for investigating those sexual assaults.

"With the increase in reporting, will there be enough personnel to handle these cases?" Rose asked. "It is imperative that they have enough staff to investigate these cases, to avoid the re-victimization of the people who step forward."

The NYPD's refusal to allocate adequate resources to the Special Victims Division has far-reaching consequences for victims of sexual assault and discourages victims of sexual assault from coming forward to report what happened to them. NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill did say recently that when he names a replacement for the retiring Boyce as chief of detectives, that person will do a full review of the SVD.

While the NYPD currently maintains that they have an adequate number of investigators staffing the SVD, Bock, the recently retired Special Victims sergeant, says otherwise.

"I really believe the DOI report nailed it. The NYPD's denial is upsetting," Bock said. "For a long time, the running joke in the [Special Victims] office was, 'Can I have another cinder block as I'm swimming in the pool?'...Having 20 open cases on your screen doesn't feel good."

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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NYPD Pushes Back Against Calls to Reform Special Victims Division Mon, 09 Apr 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Women's Caucus Gets Additional Support to Meet, Expand Agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7575:city-council-women-s-caucus-gets-additional-support-to-meet-expand-agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7575:city-council-women-s-caucus-gets-additional-support-to-meet-expand-agenda Carlina Rivera City Council

Council Member Carlina Rivera (photo: Emil Cohen)


The New York City Council’s Women’s Caucus, comprised of the 11 women in the 51-member legislative body, will soon have additional support for its legislative and programmatic agenda with new funding for a full-time paid staff person added to the Council’s operating budget for the next fiscal year.

The Council’s finance committee voted last week to approve a $17.3 million increase in the Council’s own budget, which it can insert into Mayor Bill de Blasio’s yet-to-be-released executive budget, due in the next few months. That budget uptick includes additional funding, provided through Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s office, for the Women’s Caucus and the Progressive Caucus to each hire a full-time staffer. The Progressive Caucus, now 21 members, has so far pooled resources to pay for a full-time staffer while the Women’s Caucus has had to depend on individual Council members’ staff. The only caucus that has had a full-time staff person paid for by the Council has been the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.

“We secured a commitment from [Johnson] so it is a campaign promise fulfilled,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera, who is co-chair of the Women’s Caucus along with Council Member Margaret Chin, referring to pledges made by Johnson before he was elected speaker. The caucus, then under the leadership of Council Members Helen Rosenthal and Laurie Cumbo, met and interviewed all eight candidates who were running to lead the Council, and extracted several promises from each, including funding for a new staff position to serve the caucus.

“As he was running for speaker, he told the Women’s Caucus that this is something he would do, recognizing our number, of course, that we comprise over 50 percent of the population,” said Rivera, whose Manhattan district borders Johnson’s and Chin’s. “So what we’re hoping to do with a full-time person is really to push forward our agenda, which is comprehensive.”

As Rivera alluded, the Council comprises an abysmally low number of women members -- the 11 is down from 18 in 2009. There is an effort -- 21 in '21 -- underway being spearheaded by former Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and others to see a wave of women elected to the Council through the next city elections, in 2021. None of the eight main speaker candidates for this term were women (though Council Member Inez Barron did cast a protest vote for herself the day the Council voted for speaker, and that too because of the lack of people of color in leadership positions in the city.) Since before the last election cycle, there have been increasing calls for improving women’s representation across city government and to add women’s voices to important policy decisions.

“Every issue is a women’s issue,” Rivera emphasized, “but specifically, we really want to focus on a couple of things. We want to address the issues of underrepresentation of women in elected office, of course, but not just in elected office, corporate boards, local and state commissions.

“We want to be sure that we have the data to just really identify where these gaps are and to make sure that we are giving women opportunity at every level of government but also in the private sector,” she said, indicating some of the work that the caucus’ new staff member may be tasked with.

The new funding is slated for the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, giving the Women’s Caucus just over three months to go through the hiring process. The position is expected to be posted publicly and every member of the caucus will have a voice in choosing the new staffer.

Rivera laid out a long list of policy priorities for the caucus that is likely to keep it busy in this four-year legislative session. Among them: pay equity, ending sexual harassment in the workplace, equal access to quality education, health care for incarcerated women, adult literacy. The Women’s Caucus will host a series of workshops on salary negotiations, Rivera said, and also push strongly on a package of anti-sexual harassment legislation recently introduced at the Council.

Rivera said she’s focused on “making sure that women have full access and they feel like whether its in education, the workplace, or just civic life, the opportunity is there.”

“In the past the Women’s Caucus has put forward some amazing initiatives and pieces of legislation, whether its paid family leave, whether its access to feminine hygiene products in our public spaces -- that is something that we want to continue to build on,” she said.

The new staffer will also liaise with the Council’s other caucuses, certain members of which overlap, and with partners in state and federal government and advocates on the ground. “What I’m hoping to do is be a little bit more collaborative than historically within the caucuses so there’ll definitely be cross collaboration since we now have a full-time staffer for each of these caucuses,” Rivera said. “And I think they’ll benefit from working together and of course will increase our capacity.”

“I’m excited,” Rivera added. “I think that a woman having a seat at the table changes the dynamic and trajectory of important policy discussions. And I think if we had more women as representatives, we’d be better off as a city and as a nation. So I’m looking forward to it.”

Council Member Chin, in a statement to Gotham Gazette on Wednesday, thanked the speaker for following through on his promise to the Women's Caucus. "This year, we’re fighting to expand our agenda, build local relationships, and increase our visibility to ensure that the causes of women and girls never take a backseat. This will be a game-changer in moving that agenda forward," Chin said.  

[Read: Fulfilling Johnson Promise, City Council Significantly Increases Its Operating Budget]

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated to include a statement from Council Member Margaret Chin. 

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City Council Women's Caucus Gets Additional Support to Meet, Expand Agenda Tue, 27 Mar 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Anti-Harassment Bills Don’t Apply to the City Council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7527:city-council-anti-harassment-bills-don-t-apply-to-the-city-council http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7527:city-council-anti-harassment-bills-don-t-apply-to-the-city-council Johnson City Council staff

Speaker Johnson and others (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


Last week, the City Council proposed a legislative package aimed at confronting sexual harassment in private and government work environments. It includes 11 bills, four of which would apply to city agencies should they become law. Council members sponsoring the bills, including Speaker Corey Johnson, touted the legislation as evidence of the Council taking significant action toward preventing and punishing the type of harassment that has become the focus of a national movement. But the bills do not apply to the City Council itself.

“All New Yorkers are entitled to a safe, respectful workplace – and this starts with sending a strong message to employers that there is no place for sexualharassment in New York City,” Johnson said in a press release. “With more and more sexual harassment cases being brought to light, it has never been more important for the government to play a role in the movement to end sexual harassment and assault.”

There was also some confusion among the bill-sponsoring Council members and in the speaker's office as to whether the bills applied to other non-mayoral government entities such as the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, or Borough Presidents. After this article was originally published, a Council spokesperson clarified that "The legislation as it is written will cover non-mayoral government entities, including the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, or Borough Presidents. The Council will be covered through a rule that will be drafted to ensure compliance."

Speaker Johnson, along with Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Mark Levine, and Adrienne Adams, are the primary sponsors of the bills that add requirements to city agencies’ anti-sexual harassment policies and procedures. Johnson’s bill would mandate twice-annual sexual harassment training; Adams’ bill would instruct the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and Commission on Human Rights to partner in determining risk factors “associated with sexual harassment” in city agencies; Levine’s would mandate that city agencies collect and then report sexual harassment cases; and Rosenthal’s would direct the Commission on Human Rights to administer surveys that test “general awareness and knowledge of workplace sexual harassment policies and prevention.”   

When originally asked about the omission of the Council and other non-mayoral entities in the legislation, a City Council spokesperson said that the Council is in the beginning stages of the legislative process, the bills may change, and that the Council will adhere to the laws they pass. There was no discussion of the Council’s own policies at the hourslong hearing on the bills held February 28 at City Hall.

A spokesperson for Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Women, told Gotham Gazette that the process is in its early stages, insisted the Council would comply with the practices in the new laws, and said that many of the provisions in the bevy of bills are already the Council’s policy, such as the provisions included in Johnson’s bill.  

A spokesperson for Adrienne Adams also said the Council was early in its process and “intended to comply” with the legislation.

A spokesperson for Mark Levine did not respond to requests for comment. Last year, Levine announced plans to introduce legislation that would designate Council staff complaints as the purview of the Council’s Standards and Ethics Committee, which currently only has oversight of elected Council members. The proposal has yet to make it into bill form.

For the several hundred employees of the City Council, the body’s own harassment policies and procedures are not public and Gotham Gazette is still awaiting the results of a Freedom of Information Law request for information regarding how harassment complaints are handled and how the Council’s equal employment committee (EEC) functions.

When it comes to handling complaints at the Council, sources indicate that there is a process for making and evaluating complaints through the EEC. Elected Council members themselves, are subject to the Committee on Standards and Ethics, made up of Council members, which evaluates complaints and can adjudicate punishment, as it recently did with Council Member Andy King, who was assigned additional training after a complaint of undue attention to a staff member was substantiated.

The bills will likely be changed before they are voted through committee and then the full Council, but to what extent remains unclear.

It was also unclear whether the offices of the Comptroller, Public Advocate, and Borough Presidents were aware of their inclusion in the legislation. When asked about their exclusion, working from apparently incorrect initial responses from the Council, those offices sent the following replies.

A spokesperson for Comptroller Scott Stringer declined to comment regarding the Council leaving itself out of the legislation, but provided Gotham Gazette with the office’s policies and procedures on sexual misconduct.  

A spokesperson for Public Advocate Letitia James did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said, "We have a standing EEO policy and trainings are conducted annually in coordination with DCAS. Even though the agency is not required to do so, Brooklyn Borough Hall implements the same anti-sexual harassment training that is applied in mayoral agencies. I will continue to apply the highest City standard for combating sexual harassment in the workplace, and I appreciate the City Council taking up this important issue.”

A spokesperson for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. told Gotham Gazette, "Our office has a comprehensive sexual harassment policy that reflects the policies published by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services on the issue."

A spokesperson for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz said they had to review the legislation before commenting and that the office has existing policies in place for sexual harassment.

A spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer declined to comment on the legislation.

A spokesperson for Staten Island Borough President James Oddo also declined to comment on the legislation, but told Gotham Gazette the Borough President’s office follows the procedures used by city agencies and has both a male and female Citywide Diversity and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) officer.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, told Gotham Gazette that the omission of the City Council is part of a “pervasive disease of legislators.” “They like to prescribe vaccinations for everybody else but themselves,” she continued. “I have no idea what the motive is.”

Note: this story has been updated in several places based on new information provided by the City Council after the story was originally published.

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City Council Anti-Harassment Bills Don’t Apply to the City Council Thu, 08 Mar 2018 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Examines Sexual Harassment Policies, Considers New Laws http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7508:council-examines-city-sexual-harassment-policies-considers-new-laws http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7508:council-examines-city-sexual-harassment-policies-considers-new-laws Helen Rosenthal women

Council Member Rosenthal and others (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


As the nation grapples with how to confront sexual misconduct, the New York City Council is addressing the issue in its oversight and legislative capacities. On Wednesday, Council members held a press conference and subsequent hearing on “best practices” for preventing sexual harassment, identifying current city government protocols, and considering a slate of new legislation.

The 45-minute press conference outside City Hall featured about a dozen Council members, along with advocates, promoting the action being taken by the Council. It was led by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Committee on Women and ran the hearing that was held jointly with the Committee on Civil and Human Rights. During the hearing, members formally introduced the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act, a package of 11 bills aimed at preventing and punishing sexual harassment in much of city government and the private sector.

“Countless women and men have raised their voices and built the #MeToo movement,” Rosenthal said at the press conference. “The courage and the grace of these survivors has made a reckoning inevitable, not just for the powerful individuals finally brought to account, but for our society as a whole. We owe them a great deal of gratitude--and more to the point, we owe them action.”

“Because although we have strong sexual harassment protections on the books,” she said, “we know that reality has not caught up with the law. Harassers are still too often able to operate with impunity.”

Among the Council proposals is a bill requiring city agencies to administer anti-sexual harassment training twice per year. The lead sponsor of the bill is Council Speaker Corey Johnson. Another bill, introduced by Council Member Mark Levine, would require the dozens of city agencies to produce a yearly report of sexual harassment incidents. Additionally, Rosenthal introduced a bill mandating that the city’s Commission on Human Rights distribute a “climate survey” to city agencies to “assess the general awareness and knowledge of workplace sexual harassment policies and prevention” in them, according to the bill’s summary.  

In a similar vein, Council Member Adrienne Adams proposed a bill requiring the Commission on Human Rights to join forces with the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) to deliver an “assessment of risk factors associated with sexual harassment within city agencies” to the mayor and speaker. Notably, this assortment of legislation applies only to mayoral agencies, including the mayor’s office, but not the City Council itself, according to a spokesperson for Rosenthal. The bills do not apply to the Borough Presidents’ offices, the Comptroller’s office, the Public Advocate’s office, or other non-mayoral government entities, either.

At Wednesday’s hearing, representatives from DCAS presented a new citywide employee handbook that outlines guidance for many examples of inappropriate workplace behavior and what to do when an employee feels harassed.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer submitted legislation that would require businesses contracting with the city to include sexual harassment policies and procedures in their division of labor services employment reports.

The array of proposals also addresses private businesses throughout the city. For example, Council Member Laurie Combo and Public Advocate Letitia James put forward legislation requiring businesses with more than 14 employees to conduct sexual harassment prevention training. Along similar lines, Council Member Keith Powers’ bill on the matter would amend the city’s Human Rights Law related to sexual harassment to apply to businesses employing any number of people, rather than the current threshold of businesses with more than four employees.

Council Member Robert Cornegy, for his part, introduced a bill that would mandate that employers inform workers of their rights vis-à-vis sexual harassment with an office poster and a bill introduced by Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel would direct the Commission on Human Rights to provide resources regarding sexual harassment on its website.

Council Member Carlina Rivera has legislation classifying sexual harassment as a form of discrimination under the city’s Human Rights Law. In an interview prior to the hearing, Rivera explained the goals of the effort. “What we’re looking for is clearly to show everyone that as a city we’re going to set the model for others, whether it’s the public or private sector,” she said. “What we’re looking for are best practices.”

The Council wants to ensure “every workplace is free from sexual harassment,” Rivera added.  

“When it comes to private businesses,” Rivera said, “one of the things that is incredibly challenging is transparency.” The legislation pertaining to private businesses, Rivera said, needed to not just be symbolic, but must clearly codify what is and is not acceptable workplace conduct.

“We’re doing this to open that door for all to come forward and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening to me in my own business,” she continued, “and we’re going to be able to challenge them on their own set of practices in terms of protecting their employees.”

Former City Comptroller and Congressional Representative Liz Holtzman, who participated in both the press conference and hearing, echoed Council Member Rosenthal. She noted that though there have been previous efforts to address seuxual harassment, not enough has been done to follow through once the problem had been identified.

The Council bills may be amended before either another hearing to discuss them or committee votes to move them through. Bills passed by committee are then voted on by the full 51-member City Council. Mayor Bill de Blasio would then be asked to sign any bills passed by the overwhelmingly Democratic Council. The Democratic mayor has indicated he is supportive of taking new legislative action on this front, and representatives of his administration appeared supportive of the Council’s proposals at the Wednesday hearing.

Public Advocate James contended that as high-profile instances of sexual harassment make headlines, it is also a common occurrence in daily life of too many everyday New Yorkers. “We all have our own individual, personal Harvey Weinstein’s that we know,” she said.

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City Council Examines Sexual Harassment Policies, Considers New Laws Wed, 28 Feb 2018 23:15:00 +0000
City Council To Examine Government Sexual Harassment Policies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7473:city-council-to-examine-government-sexual-harassment-policies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7473:city-council-to-examine-government-sexual-harassment-policies City Council Helen Rosenthal

Council Member Rosenthal (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


Amid a national reckoning with sexual harassment and misconduct that has led to the downfall of prominent men in media, entertainment, and politics, the New York City Council is turning an eye to its own backyard.

The City Council will convene a hearing on February 28 to examine best practices for dealing with workplace sexual harassment and the current policies in place in a city with a municipal workforce upwards of 330,000 full-time employees. The Council’s Committee on Women and the Committee on Civil and Human Rights will hear from experts and survivors on the strongest approaches to policy that encourage individuals to report instances of harassment and protect them if they do.

The committees are also seeking testimony from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration on the policies at City Hall and the city’s many agencies to determine which departments could serve as a model for a uniform city-wide policy and areas where the city needs to strengthen its rules and enforcement.

“My expectation is for the administration to come in and help us set up a baseline of what’s happening right now in terms of policy and reporting of incidents,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, chair of the women’s committee, in a phone interview on Friday.

Rosenthal said she’s looking to hear from commissioners at agencies that already have strong policies and hopes to create, over the course of several such hearings, a citywide policy by the end of the year. “And then we’ll spend the next three years monitoring the use and challenges to making them better,” she said, alluding to the four-year term for both the current Council class and the mayor.

The city does not currently have a blanket harassment policy for municipal employees and the city does not track sexual harassment claims across city agencies. But the mayor’s administration has been pressed into action in recent weeks. At an unrelated January 10 news conference, asked if the city would begin to compile statistics on the problem, de Blasio said, “We have to address this problem across the board in this city and in this country. I want New York City to do all we can do, both in terms of our own workforce and the private sector workforce. We need to figure out what that is and we obviously need to figure out what the legal requirements are, so we will have more to say on that shortly.”

The mayor also noted that a majority of women hold leadership positions in his administration and that sexual harassment “has not been a phenomenon that I have heard coming up in our administration in any significant way.” A week before that news conference, the mayor came out in support of a proposal by Governor Andrew Cuomo to require reporting on sexual harassment claims by entities that do business with the state. De Blasio said the city would look to implement similar policies.

“We’re coming out with a package of policies and protocols very soon,” said mayoral spokesperson Eric Phillips in an email on Friday, when asked about what the administration would present at the Council hearing, which was originally scheduled for February 15 but was deferred.

“Our review and policy timing won’t have anything to do with the timing of their hearing, but we’re glad they’re looking into the issue,” Phillips said in a subsequent email when asked whether the policy would be ready in time for the hearing. Another spokesperson, Olivia Lapeyrolerie, said in an email Monday that representatives from the Department of Citywide Administrative Services and from the New York City Commission on Human Rights would be at the hearing to testify.

City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer introduced legislation last session that would achieve that to a degree by mandating that nonprofits seeking city funding report on how they manage and resolve complaints, and by banning certain organizations with a history of misconduct complaints from receiving taxpayer dollars.

Notably, the City Council’s own representatives are not expected to testify, according to a spokesperson for Rosenthal’s office, but the hearing is meant to inform several pieces of legislation that are currently being drafted at the Council.

That may include legislation which Council Member Mark Levine requested in December, aiming to bolster the Council’s own internal processes for dealing with claims of sexual harassment. The proposal would elevate staff member complaints by requiring scrutiny from the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics as opposed to by internal Council staff, and would also require regular reporting on harassment complaints. Currently, the standards and ethics committee -- which is made up of elected City Council members and chaired by Council Member Steven Matteo -- evaluates complaints against sitting Council members, albeit in confidential meetings, and can take various punitive actions ranging from a censure to removal from office.

Although there have been few such complaints in recent years, on Monday, the committee substantiated a recent harassment complaint by a staff member against Council Member Andy King of the Bronx. King, who has denied allegations that he “paid unwelcome attention” to the staffer, will be required to undergo ethics and sensitivity training.   

Another bill proposed by Levine, which would mandate that city agencies disclose complaints twice a year, is likely to be discussed at the hearing. Rosenthal, who is working with Levine on the bills, expects that they will be introduced within two months, by the time her committee holds another hearing in April.

The Council’s efforts are also a contrast with counterparts in the state Legislature. The state Senate has come under fire over its revised sexual harassment policy, issued in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference which has a power-sharing agreement with the Senate Republicans led by Sen. John Flanagan. The policy has been criticized for being watered-down, crafted in secret and, most strongly, for including an added warning against false reporting.

[Read: State Senate’s New Sexual Harassment Policy Draws Criticism]

“Having a group of men decide what the policy will be seems unfortunate,” Rosenthal said of the Senate’s process, which was led by an outside law firm at Flanagan’s behest. “We should have input from survivors, women and experts in the field.”

The model policy, Rosenthal said, is the “policy of equity” employed by the County of Los Angeles since 2011. The policy enumerates various forms of harassment in the workplace and the consequences of those actions, and rigorously tracks complaints. In December, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors reviewed the policy to improve it further.

“Given that we have a president who is a misogynist, I think that the notion that New York City should double down to make sure our house is in good order is more than important,” Rosenthal said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated.

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City Council To Examine Government Sexual Harassment Policies Mon, 12 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Members Outline Priorities for New Term http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7436:city-council-members-outline-priorities-for-new-term http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7436:city-council-members-outline-priorities-for-new-term 38866913345 afd4b05a3e z

City Council members (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


The New York City Council is gearing up for a new agenda under Speaker Corey Johnson, with several newly created committees and fresh faces in the legislative body. As the Council begins to schedule its first committee hearings and readies for the reintroduction of legislation from the last session, there are a number of priorities that Council members are planning to pursue. Returning members say they want to pass bills that have been pending and build on their work from the last four years, while new members are eager to follow through on the policy platforms that got them elected.

New issue committee chairs appear ready to steer those committees in new directions, while Johnson has promised a robust agenda and is taking steps to beef up the Council’s oversight powers, expand its land use division, and increase its scrutiny of the mayor’s budget. Many of the committees, new and old, under his watch will take on greater responsibilities and are expected to tackle a slew of contentious policy issues, legislation, and oversight matters. Council members who spoke with Gotham Gazette indicated a broad list of priorities, with some agenda items that will have citywide ramifications and others more parochial, district-level in their scope.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal, in her new role as chair of the women’s committee, said she will pursue legislative and public policy solutions to combat sexual harassment in the public and private sectors, to end the gender pay gap for municipal workers, and advance criminal justice reforms to protect sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.

“We are seeking to empower women at every level -- in the workplace, in the economic arena, in social interactions, and in politics,” Rosenthal said. In December, Rosenthal stood with Council Member Mark Levine to announce a request for drafting legislation that would require complaints by Council staffers to be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics, as is currently the case for complaints against elected Council members, and would also mandate that city agencies report on sexual harassment claims twice a year.  

Rosenthal also wants to see through the full implementation of her legislation, signed by the mayor in September last year, to create an Office of the Tenant Advocate within the Department of Buildings. Among her other priorities are protections for small businesses in her Upper West Side district, seniors’ needs, and the city’s social safety net. Formerly chair of the contracts committee, which will now be led by new Council Member Justin Brannan, Rosenthal said her guiding philosophy in approaching priority issues will still be “fiscal responsibility.”

Council Member Levine said he hopes to follow up on unfinished business from the last session, including the implementation of Right to Counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court, which was a bill he sponsored and waged a years-long campaign to win support from the mayor. Now chairing the health committee (he had parks last term), Levine will also focus on expanding healthcare coverage and addressing racial inequities in health outcomes across the city. One priority he has expressed support for is single-payer healthcare, an issue that Speaker Johnson has been vocal about pursuing.

After chairing the public safety committee last term, Council Member Vanessa Gibson is chairing the new Subcommittee on Capital Budgets, which will be tasked with analysing the city’s now $96 billion capital budget. The subcommittee will assess the procurement process at city agencies and how agencies spend their capital dollars. Gibson said she is “looking to create better capital spending oversight and ensure there is a consistent process for capital projects so that we can truly realize meaningful investment in New York’s aging infrastructure.”

Gibson also said she will continue to advocate for bail reform, an issue that Governor Andrew Cuomo has promised to put his weight behind this year. Gibson will also have to navigate complicated land use issues as she tackles the proposed Jerome Avenue rezoning in her Bronx district. The project is moving forward quickly and will come through the land use committee now being chaired by Gibson’s Bronx colleague Council Member Rafael Salamanca.

Council Member Ritchie Torres, another Bronx Democrat, is overseeing the newly empowered Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which will comprise a dedicated investigative unit of former prosecutors, professional investigators, and former journalists. While the division is staffing up, Torres’ first public task will be a joint oversight hearing on February 6 with the Committee on Public Housing, which he chaired last term, concerning heat and hot water failures in NYCHA housing. The new chair of the public housing committee is newly-elected Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, who formerly worked at the public housing authority, NYCHA.

[Related: New City Council Committee Chairs Have Plenty on Their Plates]

The new chair of the Committee on Rules, Privileges, and Elections, Council Member Karen Koslowitz, said last week she was still formulating her agenda for 2018. Her committee is expected to lead the way on a package of internal rules reforms that a majority of the Council, including Speaker Johnson, have endorsed.

Koslowitz, of Queens, also spoke of extending traffic safety laws to bicycle riders, saying that she would “like to see them be registered, licensed.”

Council Member Mark Treyger, a former teacher who has taken over as chair of the education committee, spoke at length about the issues plaguing public school infrastructure. “I come from a district that some of our schools were built with money from the New Deal, and haven't seen upgrades since the New Deal,” he said of his southern Brooklyn community, also emphasizing the need for additional school aid.

Treyger also wants to advance two bills he proposed in the last session: one requiring the city to station licensed social workers in all police precincts, and another to make it illegal for police officers to engage in sexual activity with a person in their custody. The second bill was prompted by a recent case in which an 18-year-old woman accused two officers of rape while she was in their custody. The officers claimed the act was consensual, leading to public outcry over the loophole in the law that does not automatically categorize it as custodial rape. Legal proceedings continue in the matter.  

Council Member Fernando Cabrera, the new chair of the governmental operations committee, said he will push campaign finance reforms over the next few years since his committee has oversight of the Campaign Finance Board, which administers the city’s public matching funds program to incentivize small-dollar donations in elections. “The whole idea of the campaign finance [program] was to equalize the playing field,” he said. “Whenever you have policies that don’t… [that] puts a candidate at a disadvantage, I have issues with that,” he added, without going into specifics.

In his role, Cabrera will also oversee the city Board of Elections, the Law Department, the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, among other agencies. The BOE will administer at least three election days this year, in June, September, and November, with a fourth likely in some districts if Cuomo calls for special elections to fill several currently vacant state legislative seats.

Council Member Steven Matteo, the Republican minority leader, said he plans to prioritize property tax relief this year, something he has long advocated for. “Last year we had the veterans property tax that we passed here, my bill. I want to expand on that this year, too, do some real property tax relief for everyone else,” he said. Matteo, one of three Republicans in the Council, was appointed by Johnson to chair the Committee on Standards & Ethics, which, if new legislation on workplace sexual harassment is passed by the Council, will likely see its role expand this session. The committee is currently investigating an allegation of sexual harassment against Council Member Andy King.

Mayor de Blasio has promised to take up property tax reform this term, which Matteo intends to hold him to. The Council had announced plans for a property tax reform task force last term, but it never came to be.

Council Member Brannan also hopes to tackle property tax reform, he said, hoping that he will be able to sit on the proposed commission “to really take a deep dive into it.” As a former employee of the Department of Education, Brannan also said the Council has an opportunity to increase its oversight of DOE operations. “I think, it’s a couple areas where I think we can get a little more aggressive,” the contracts chair said. DOE contracts to outside vendors have been a point of contention for years, an area Brannan may be able to meld his prior experience and new responsibilities.

Council Member Carlina Rivera, also newly-elected, will have her hands full chairing the Committee on Hospitals, newly created to oversee the city’s municipal hospital system, which is in financial crisis. But she also has local concerns she wants to address, she told Gotham Gazette, including reforms to city rules that allow construction in the early mornings, evenings, and weekends, an issue leftover from her predecessor, former Council Member Rosie Mendez.

Some of Rivera’s other priorities concern land use and infrastructure projects, particularly the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project, an integrated coastal protection initiative aimed at reducing flood risk due to coastal storms and sea level rise. She also intends to focus on NYCHA’s infrastructure woes, citing the numerous developments in her district and the issues of heat and hot water in NYCHA housing, and she must negotiate a major land use deal in her district related to a proposed Union Square tech hub that the de Blasio administration wants to build.

Council Member Diana Ayala, another rookie lawmaker, is chairing the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services. She said she expects some examination of safe injection sites coming to New York City, which advocates argue would reduce drug users’ risk of overdose, transmitting diseases, and death. Speaker Johnson has said he is in favor of exploring the possibility. "The safe injection sites I know are going to be a big issue," Ayala told Gotham Gazette. "There's been a lot of conversation around bringing those to New York."

Ayala also suggested that she will be looking into how New York City’s criminal justice system deals with the issue of domestic violence.  

When asked about her policy priorities, new Council Member Adrienne Adams emphasized immigrant protections and homelessness. Adams expressed deep concern about the policies coming out of  Washington, D.C. under the Republican-led Congress and President Donald Trump. Under former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the Council passed a number of immigrant-friendly laws and curbed the city’s cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities. “My district is extremely diverse and with the policies coming from Washington these days, they’re affecting my district and the entire city of New York tremendously,” said Adams, of southeast Queens.

Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., of the Bronx, who joined the Council from the state Senate, is the first chair of the Council’s new Committee on For-Hire Vehicles. When asked about his priorities, Diaz Sr. simply said, “Taxis.”

Samar Khurshid contributed to this article.

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by Matthew Sweeney, Gotham Gazette

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Note: this article has been updated to better clarify Diana Ayala's comments on safe injection sites.

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City Council Members Outline Priorities for New Term Tue, 23 Jan 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Council Members Announce Legislation to Root Out Sexual Misconduct in City Government http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7357:council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7357:council-members-announce-legislation-to-root-out-sexual-misconduct-in-city-government rosenthal levine sexual harassment legislation

Council Members Rosenthal and Levine (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


Amid a national outcry against sexual assault and sexual harassment, including in the workplace -- intensified by numerous accusations against sitting members of Congress that have resulted in two resignations thus far -- members of the New York City Council are stepping up to combat, prevent and expose any cases of sexual misconduct within their own ranks and that of the gargantuan city government.

A series of bills proposed on Thursday by two Council members aim to bring to light any instances of sexual harassment at the City Council, city agencies, and even at organizations that contract with the city or receive city funds.

“This moment has the potential to be a turning point, but it will only stick if policy makers seize this opportunity to not just punish individual abusers but reform the system that enabled that abuse,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, co-chair of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, at a news conference at City Hall. Rosenthal was appearing with Council Member Mark Levine, who requested the new legislation on sexual harassment policies. “Institutions like the City Council must step up and interrupt the power dynamics that have allowed abuses to exist just under the surface for far too long,” Rosenthal said.

Levine, a Manhattan Democrat who is running to be the Council’s next speaker, has requested that bills be drafted to strengthen the City Council’s policies on sexual harassment, requiring that complaints by Council staffers be investigated by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics rather than the Council central staff, as is the case right now. The committee currently only investigates complaints against the elected members of the Council and has the power to discipline them through an official censure, fine, removal from a committee or expulsion from the body. The Council would also have to regularly report the status of complaints to those bringing the claims.

Levine’s proposals are not limited to internal Council practices. He also asked for bills mandating twice yearly disclosure of sexual harassment claims at all city agencies, and has proposed creating a task force to assess agency policies to improve reporting standards and to make it easier for those subjected to harassment to come forward.

“At a time of something of a national awakening to the epidemic of sexual harassment and abuse of power by men in the workplace, in industries like Hollywood, in newsrooms, in the halls of Congress...it would be dangerously naive of us to think that we’re not facing a similar epidemic in the workforce of this city,” Levine said. “It would also be naive for us to assume that in the City Council with its staff of about 300 that we are immune from this epidemic.”

Separately, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer from Queens, another speaker candidate, has proposed two bills that would mandate reporting of sexual harassment policies -- how complaints are resolved, disciplinary and training practices -- from organizations that apply for city funding and would impose a minimum five-year ban from receiving city funds on organizations with multiple complaints. “The #MeToo movement is about exposing systematic workplace sexual harassment and assault, but it's up to lawmakers now to push forward solutions to address it,” Van Bramer said in a statement.

At Thursday’s news conference, which included advocates and Council Members Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Jumaane Williams, who is also running for speaker, Levine said he was not aware of instances of harassment that had occurred at the Council in the last few years, either involving Council members or their staff. When asked by Gotham Gazette if he would ask the current speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and the current staff to make public any possible instances, he said, “Our bill is not retroactive...I certainly would encourage that but our bill is only effective from the day it passes.”

Levine also acknowledged that with the Council’s busy end-of-term schedule and with only two more full-Council meetings on the docket to close out the year and the term, the bills are unlikely to become law this year. “It’s almost certainly too late to pass before the end of the session but this will be a top priority of mine in whatever role I happen to be occupying come January,” he said. “We want to be proactive.”

Members of women’s advocacy organizations praised the reforms proposed Thursday. Ella Mae Estrada, associate dean and chief diversity officer of New York Law School, also announced at the news conference that the School would be partnering with the City Council and Assemblymember Charles Lavine to bring together elected officials, activists and academics for the National Conference on Sexual Harassment in the Government Workplace. “We are all part of an overdue and needed conversation in this country about sexual harassment and we all have an obligation in creating workplaces that are safe and respectful for all of our employees,” Estrada said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Council Members Announce Legislation to Root Out Sexual Misconduct in City Government Thu, 07 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
'Open Budget,' Economic Development Transparency Bills Become Law http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7346:open-budget-economic-development-transparency-bills-become-law http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7346:open-budget-economic-development-transparency-bills-become-law de Blasio public hearing City Council bills

De Blasio at a public hearing (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Four government transparency bills that were passed by the City Council on October 31 aged into law on Friday, having gone 30 days without any action in favor or against them by Mayor Bill de Blasio. The bills all relate to increased disclosure by the administration of billions in city government spending and have been praised by good government advocates.

Among the bills was one that requires the administration to publish annual budget documents in a user-friendly, machine-readable format to the city’s online Open Data Portal, allowing the public easier access to information that is currently listed in thousands of line items in the $86 billion city budget. The bill’s lead sponsor was Council Member Ben Kallos.

The three other bills -- with lead sponsors Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Dan Garodnick, and Corey Johnson -- formed a package aimed at improving transparency at the Economic Development Corporation, a city-run entity that manages and promotes the administration’s job-creation and business-development initiatives. The bills allow the City Council added oversight of EDC, which provides many millions of dollars in financial benefits to projects and businesses each year and also handles the sale and lease of city-owned land. They mandate that EDC provide fiscal impact statements and job creation estimates for projects receiving financial assistance; require EDC to detail their efforts to clawback funds from those agreements that fail to meet their goals; and allow the City Council time to review and comment on proposed economic development agreements.

“These new City laws will make it much easier to understand both the big picture of how the City is spending money and the specifics of hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidy deals the City makes with businesses,” said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, a good government group, in a statement Friday. “It will be much easier to see if the taxpayer is getting a good deal. These new laws are a blueprint for what the state should do.”

The City Charter provides that if the mayor takes no action on a bill after it is approved by the City Council, within 30 days, it automatically becomes law. In fact, it’s “pretty common” for bills to age into law without the mayor’s signature, said mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein, in an email on Friday. She added that if the mayor signed every bill, “we’d be doing bill signings like every day.”  

Goldstein noted that out of the 25 bills passed by the Council on October 31, all but one aged into law. The only one the mayor signed was Council Member Rafael Espinal’s bill to repeal the city’s antiquated Cabaret Law, which used to require establishments to obtain licences from the city to allow dancing. De Blasio signed the bill on November 27 at Elsewhere, a popular nightclub in Brooklyn.

Often, the mayor holds bill-signing ceremonies at City Hall, affixing his signature to numerous bills at a time. At one such ceremony on October 16, for instance, de Blasio signed a dozen bills into law. “It’s really just a timing thing,” Goldstein said in a later email, estimating that perhaps close to 100 bills have similarly lapsed into law in de Blasio’s first term.

City Council spokesperson Robin Levine declined to comment for this article.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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'Open Budget,' Economic Development Transparency Bills Become Law Fri, 01 Dec 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Women's Caucus Secures Commitments from City Council Speaker Candidates http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7324:women-s-caucus-secures-commitments-from-city-council-speaker-candidates http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7324:women-s-caucus-secures-commitments-from-city-council-speaker-candidates Helen Rosenthal City Council Speaker

Helen Rosenthal among Speaker hopefuls Cornegy, Levine, Johnson (photo: William Alatriste)


The Women’s Caucus of the City Council recently interviewed the eight candidates -- all men -- seeking to become the next Speaker of the Council, arguably the second most powerful position in city government. While the Women’s Caucus will not be endorsing a speaker candidate ahead of the January vote, according to caucus co-chair Helen Rosenthal, it did secure important commitments from each candidate and the process, which also included a questionnaire, was informative in helping the female members of the next Council class decide who to support.

When inaugurated in January, next Council of 51 members will include only 11 women, a gender imbalance that has been the focus of a good deal of recent attention, in the media and from the Women’s Caucus itself, which issued a report detailing the declining number of women in the Council, causes of the trend, and ideas for what to do to reverse it.

According to Council Member Rosenthal, all eight speaker candidates committed to funding through the speaker’s office a staff person for the Women’s Caucus, something that is currently only afforded to the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus (BLAC). Rosenthal called it “an incredibly important achievement” since it will allow the caucus to be more active in terms of releasing press statements and substantive reports, and more.

The speaker candidates -- Council Members Robert Cornegy, Corey Johnson, Mark Levine, Donovan Richards, Ydanis Rodriguez, Ritchie Torres, Jimmy Van Bramer, and Jumaane Williams -- also committed to ensuring that about half of their leadership team would be women if they are elected speaker, Rosenthal said. In this context “leadership” was defined as the majority leader and deputy leaders that the next speaker names, but Rosenthal said the Women’s Caucus also pushed the candidates on committing to strong female representation as chairs of Council committees.

“The speaker candidate interviews went really well,” Rosenthal said in an interview. “All of the candidates were extremely engaged in the process.”

Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat who co-chairs the caucus with Brooklyn Democratic Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who is currently on maternity leave, explained that soon after Election Day, current and incoming members of the Women’s Caucus held interviews with each of the eight speaker candidates over the course of two days, with each interview lasting about 15 minutes. The interviews came after the candidates were asked to fill out a questionnaire (see below). Some of the in-person questions were follow-ups from questionnaire answers, while others were asked to all of the candidates.

“We asked questions like ‘What’s a women's issue?’” Rosenthal said. “It was telling. There were a few people who went right to domestic violence and child care, but the vast majority said ‘All issues are women’s issues,’ and that was revealing.”

Rosenthal said that caucus members agreed not to talk in specifics about individual speaker candidates and how they answered questions. (She is backing Levine, who represents a neighboring district, but in the interview she did not discuss that support relative to the Women’s Caucus process.)

“What has become clear in this whole exercise is that having a female speaker has somewhat masked over the importance in this loss of women in the Council,” Rosenthal said, referring to the fact that the Council has had a female speaker for the past 12 years, with Melissa Mark-Viverito for four and Christine Quinn for the eight before that. Mark-Viverito is term-limited out of office at the end of this year. The number of women in the Council has decreased from 18 elected in 2009 to 11 after this year’s elections.

“If you look at what Melissa’s done with the staff in the Council -- roughly half of the staff are women,” Rosenthal said. “And we wanted to know what [the speaker candidates] would do in terms of leadership positions, committee chair positions, and also staff in the Council.”

“We really wanted a clear answer. ‘You say you want women on your team, but what are your staffing levels in your own office?’ Again, there were actual differences,” Rosenthal added, noting that one speaker candidate was caught in an uncomfortable situation due to a lack of women on his current staff.

Returning female members of the Council include Rosenthal and Cumbo, as well as Margaret Chin, Vanessa Gibson, Deborah Rose, Inez Barron, and Karen Koslowitz.

“The new women coming in were in the room,” Rosenthal said of incoming Council members who were just elected. She said some of those women -- Council Members-Elect Carlina Rivera, Diana Ayala, Alick Ampry-Samuel, and Adrienne Adams -- were present over the two days of interviews. “The whole dynamic was great,” Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal said there were frank discussions about why it is important to have women in the room and asking candidates things like, “What’s your vision for amplifying women’s voices?”

Heading into the race to be the next speaker, a woman was thought to be the frontrunner, but Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland announced earlier this year that she would not seek reelection and would be moving to Maryland for family reasons.

Asked why there were no other women who sought the speakership, Rosenthal said she couldn’t speak for others. “I know why I didn’t,” she said. “Certainly Julissa did. You would have to ask each woman, and my guess is, it’s personal. If there were more women in the Council, you’d see a different outcome.”

As for her own decision, Rosenthal said, “It’s because to do the job well, I don’t think I could manage having a family life and being speaker. That’s personal to me. I’m at a stage in my life where any down-time I have, which is very little, I need to be with my family. The thought of having no down-time weighs on me personally. It doesn’t mean I’m not ambitious, I certainly am. It doesn’t mean I play the traditional woman’s role in my family -- my husband and I are equal partners, and he’s stepped up during this experience.”

Ferreras-Copeland is currently chair of the finance committee, one of the Council’s two most powerful committees along with land use. Rosenthal is currently chair of the contracts committee, while Cumbo chairs the women’s issues committee, Gibson chairs public safety, Chin chairs aging, Barron chairs the higher education committee, and Koslowitz chairs the state and federal legislative committee. Choices for committee chair positions, especially finance and land use, are often part of the process of selecting the speaker, which is greatly influenced by the Democratic county machines, especially those in Queens and the Bronx.

Asked if she hoped one of the big two committees would be chaired by a woman in the next Council, Rosenthal said, “Sure, I hope both are. Both and majority leader.” Does she want one of the two? “No, not necessarily,” she said. “I would like to be part of the leadership team.”

womens caucus sc questionaire 600b

 

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Women's Caucus Secures Commitments from City Council Speaker Candidates Thu, 16 Nov 2017 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Passes Bills Expanding Oversight of Economic Development Spending http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7284:city-council-to-pass-bills-expanding-oversight-of-economic-development-spending http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7284:city-council-to-pass-bills-expanding-oversight-of-economic-development-spending dmw7vyeuqaayxfq.jpg large

CM Garodnick speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony (photo via @DanGarodnick)


[editor's note: the bills discussed in this story have passed the Council since its publish; the headline has been tweaked to indicate that fact, but the story remains unchanged from its publish]

The New York City Council is set to pass a package of three bills that will expand its oversight of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, a city-affiliated non-profit that is instrumental in the city’s efforts to stimulate business and create jobs.

The EDC handles a wide array of projects and initiatives from infrastructure and real estate development to cultural projects and parks and public spaces. The organization’s work is at the center of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to create 100,000 jobs over ten years that pay $50,000 annually, and it recently led the process for the city’s bid to host the second headquarters of retail giant Amazon. Hundreds of projects receive financial assistance each year from the city through EDC in the form of tax benefits, loans, grants, and even energy benefits

But as of now, EDC is required to report little publicly about its operations and the benefits of its work to the city and New Yorkers. The City Council bills being passed this week, which are expected to be signed into law by the mayor, seek to increase those reporting requirements to add a layer of accountability and transparency to EDC’s work.

“We spend an extraordinary sum every year on economic development and the goals are laudable: creation of jobs, the expansion of affordable housing or even the refurbishing of important cultural or historical sites,” said City Council Member Daniel Garodnick, chair of the economic development committee and prime sponsor of one of the three bills in the package, in a phone interview. “But, unfortunately it’s not always clear whether these dollars achieve their intended objectives.”

Garodnick’s bill would require the EDC to provide fiscal impact statements for projects it sponsors, including estimates of the number of jobs being created. Another bill, sponsored by Council Member Corey Johnson, would require EDC to report on its efforts to recover funds from any third party that received financial assistance but failed to live up to an economic development agreement. The third bill, sponsored by Council Member Helen Rosenthal, would give the City Council an opportunity to comment on proposed economic development agreements by mandating that EDC provide project descriptions and budgets to the Council at least 30 days before the agreement is finalized.  

The three bills build on Garodnick’s efforts that he began in 2014 to improve oversight of EDC and how it utilizes taxpayer money. Last year, Garodnick and Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, the Council’s finance chair, led a task force to examine the city’s economic development tax expenditures. The task force issued 10 recommendations including instituting regular reviews of tax expenditures and improved oversight. The three bills being passed on Wednesday were an outcome of those recommendations.

“Through these bills, EDC will provide comprehensive fiscal impact statements and enhanced compliance reports for projects that receive our financial assistance,” said Shavone Williams, an EDC spokesperson, in a statement. “We look forward to this collaboration with the City Council as part of our larger efforts to remain as transparent as possible to the communities we serve.”

Support from EDC indicates the mayor will sign into laws the bills, which have passed through Garodnick’s committee and will be voted on by the full City Council on Tuesday.

Garodnick did acknowledge that EDC has improved its processes and that it already provides some information annually on its projects as required under city and state law. EDC puts out an Annual Investments Projects Report, in three volumes, on projects that receive financial assistance and details of the sales and leases of city-land. The last report, issued January 30, notes that EDC provided some form of financial assistance to 554 projects in fiscal year 2016. The report included information on 46 sales of city-land that brought in $536.1 million and 89 leases of city-owned land with rents worth $126.1 million.

The 554 projects accounted for 5.9 percent of the total private employment in the city; about $36.1 billion in private investment; they cost the city about $138 million in fiscal year 2016 (totalling $1.8 billion over the life of the projects) and brought in $5.2 billion in tax revenue (estimated to grow to $50.3 billion over the life of the projects).

“I felt that more could be done to ensure that the public has a handle on how we are spending our money here and we want to give the public better access to this information,” said Garodnick, who is leaving the Council at the end of the year due to term limits. “We want to go further and be able to measure the upfront goals with the outcomes.”

Indeed, in the context of numerous neighborhood rezonings proposed by the de Blasio administration across the city, advocacy groups have consistently called for more rigorous scrutiny of promises made by the city and keeping developers accountable if they receive any benefits from the administration. This also applies to singular projects, including the prominent example of the Bedford Union Armory redevelopment, a process that was spearheaded by EDC. The project is on city land but proposes a long-term lease to a private developer, raising concerns among community advocates.

“There is a natural tension here between the need to activate economic development measures and local community perspectives,” Garodnick said, when Gotham Gazette ventured whether increased oversight was necessary in the aftermath of the Bloomberg years, when development went largely unchecked. “And part of this is ensuring that local needs are considered and that’s really what the Rosenthal bill is about. This is a very important agency that spends an extraordinary amount of money which does a lot of good work. We want to add these oversight measures to ensure the greatest transparency of taxpayer dollars.”

Garodnick also agreed that there’s a need to ensure that the mayor’s plan to invest in burgeoning economic sectors to directly create 100,000 jobs receives the appropriate scrutiny. “This would always be important but with the commitment that is being made to find ways to create economic opportunities, this is even more important,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Council Passes Bills Expanding Oversight of Economic Development Spending Mon, 30 Oct 2017 04:00:00 +0000