Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/mark-peters 2017-10-17T07:33:41+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Proposal Would Mandate Media Blitz for City's Anti-Corruption Efforts 2017-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7012:bill-would-mandate-awareness-campaign-for-city-s-anti-corruption-efforts Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/lead_photo.jpg" alt="lead photo" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Vincent Gentile (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on Monday to discuss three bills, including one which would require the Department of Investigation to conduct an annual public outreach campaign to inform New Yorkers about how to identify corruption and use the resources of the DOI to file corruption complaints.</p> <p>The Department of Investigation, the city’s independent watchdog agency, is responsible for investigating wrongdoing by city agencies, officers, elected officials, and entities and individuals who do business with the city. <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3055680&amp;GUID=5F6FC889-2591-4A4A-820A-5576B73942D6&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1618</a>, sponsored by Council Member Vincent Gentile, chair of the committee, would require that the DOI launch annual advertising campaigns intended to educate the public about its anti-corruption efforts, as well as require the department to file an annual report detailing the complaints received and disaggregate them by “agency, month, type of misconduct, and the mechanism through which the complaint was submitted.”</p> <p>“I commend the commissioner and the department for committing valuable resources to raising awareness of the importance the public plays in assisting the DOI in weeding out corruption,” Council Member Gentile said in his opening statement.</p> <p>In 2016, the DOI launched a series of ads on city buses and subways with slogans such as “Bribery and corruption are a trap. Don’t get caught up,” and “Get the worms out of the Big Apple,” to encourage New Yorkers to report instances of corruption through its complaints hotline. The campaign cost $312,000, financed through asset forfeiture funds from defendants of DOI investigations. Within the first four months of the 2017 fiscal year, complaints filed to the DOI <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/operations/downloads/pdf/pmmr2017/doi.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increased</a> by eight percent compared with the number of complaints filed in 2016. The DOI cited the 2016 outreach campaign as the main reason for this increase. Gentile’s proposed bill would expand the campaign to print, radio, and other public forums.</p> <p>Representatives from DOI were invited to testify at Monday’s hearing, but Commissioner Mark Peters was unable to attend. Other DOI staff were in attendance but did not testify.&nbsp;When Council Member Rory Lancman asked about the commissioner’s absence, Council Member Gentile stated, “I don’t know the particulars” and noted that “the Department of Investigation has indicated to me that they will send a letter to the Council by the end of this week, which will be used as testimony as part of this record.”</p> <p>In an email to Gotham Gazette, a DOI spokesperson said, "DOI agrees with the City Council about the importance of public outreach and is working with the Council on the details of this legislation."</p> <p>Brandon Muir, executive director of Reclaim NY, a non-profit organization aimed at increasing transparency in government, was the only member of the public to offer testimony on the potential impact of the bill. “As a strong defender of the taxpayer in New York, it will be important for the campaign to identify and make public specific metrics that judge the efficacy of the ad campaigns," he said. "Consistent citizen oversight relies on citizens understanding that the rules of the game exist.”</p> <p>Council Member Gentile asked Muir if he believed an increase in advertisements would actually help in combatting fraud and corruption. “Of course, and I would look to ‘See Something, Say Something,’” Muir said, referring to the Department of Homeland Security’s national ad campaign that seeks the public's help in identifying potential terror threats. “I mean, that’s now something I think I’ve heard on Saturday Night Live, it’s become such a popular moniker,” Muir added.</p> <p>But Muir also acknowledged that the success of the DOI's campaign would largely be determined by whether or not citizens would continue to stay involved in the oversight process in the long term. “I think we need to look at it in the context of an ongoing effort to increase transparency,” he said, “not just a one time statement or a one time bill.”</p> <p> </p> <p>This article has been updated.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/lead_photo.jpg" alt="lead photo" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Vincent Gentile (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on Monday to discuss three bills, including one which would require the Department of Investigation to conduct an annual public outreach campaign to inform New Yorkers about how to identify corruption and use the resources of the DOI to file corruption complaints.</p> <p>The Department of Investigation, the city’s independent watchdog agency, is responsible for investigating wrongdoing by city agencies, officers, elected officials, and entities and individuals who do business with the city. <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3055680&amp;GUID=5F6FC889-2591-4A4A-820A-5576B73942D6&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1618</a>, sponsored by Council Member Vincent Gentile, chair of the committee, would require that the DOI launch annual advertising campaigns intended to educate the public about its anti-corruption efforts, as well as require the department to file an annual report detailing the complaints received and disaggregate them by “agency, month, type of misconduct, and the mechanism through which the complaint was submitted.”</p> <p>“I commend the commissioner and the department for committing valuable resources to raising awareness of the importance the public plays in assisting the DOI in weeding out corruption,” Council Member Gentile said in his opening statement.</p> <p>In 2016, the DOI launched a series of ads on city buses and subways with slogans such as “Bribery and corruption are a trap. Don’t get caught up,” and “Get the worms out of the Big Apple,” to encourage New Yorkers to report instances of corruption through its complaints hotline. The campaign cost $312,000, financed through asset forfeiture funds from defendants of DOI investigations. Within the first four months of the 2017 fiscal year, complaints filed to the DOI <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/operations/downloads/pdf/pmmr2017/doi.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increased</a> by eight percent compared with the number of complaints filed in 2016. The DOI cited the 2016 outreach campaign as the main reason for this increase. Gentile’s proposed bill would expand the campaign to print, radio, and other public forums.</p> <p>Representatives from DOI were invited to testify at Monday’s hearing, but Commissioner Mark Peters was unable to attend. Other DOI staff were in attendance but did not testify.&nbsp;When Council Member Rory Lancman asked about the commissioner’s absence, Council Member Gentile stated, “I don’t know the particulars” and noted that “the Department of Investigation has indicated to me that they will send a letter to the Council by the end of this week, which will be used as testimony as part of this record.”</p> <p>In an email to Gotham Gazette, a DOI spokesperson said, "DOI agrees with the City Council about the importance of public outreach and is working with the Council on the details of this legislation."</p> <p>Brandon Muir, executive director of Reclaim NY, a non-profit organization aimed at increasing transparency in government, was the only member of the public to offer testimony on the potential impact of the bill. “As a strong defender of the taxpayer in New York, it will be important for the campaign to identify and make public specific metrics that judge the efficacy of the ad campaigns," he said. "Consistent citizen oversight relies on citizens understanding that the rules of the game exist.”</p> <p>Council Member Gentile asked Muir if he believed an increase in advertisements would actually help in combatting fraud and corruption. “Of course, and I would look to ‘See Something, Say Something,’” Muir said, referring to the Department of Homeland Security’s national ad campaign that seeks the public's help in identifying potential terror threats. “I mean, that’s now something I think I’ve heard on Saturday Night Live, it’s become such a popular moniker,” Muir added.</p> <p>But Muir also acknowledged that the success of the DOI's campaign would largely be determined by whether or not citizens would continue to stay involved in the oversight process in the long term. “I think we need to look at it in the context of an ongoing effort to increase transparency,” he said, “not just a one time statement or a one time bill.”</p> <p> </p> <p>This article has been updated.</p> Investigations Commissioner Lays Out Budget Needs For Agency 2017-03-09T05:00:00+00:00 2017-03-09T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6798:investigations-commissioner-lays-out-budget-needs-for-agency Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/peters_and_bk_da.jpg" alt="peters and bk da" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p dir="ltr">DOI Commissioner Mark Peters (photo: @DOInews)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">At a City Council preliminary budget hearing on Thursday, Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters laid out new funding and staffing needs for his agency, which is facing a $5 million proposed reduction in its fiscal year 2018 allocation by Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p dir="ltr">The proposed preliminary budget for the Department of Investigation (DOI), the watchdog body that monitors and probes public corruption and other wrongdoing at 45 city agencies, is $41.7 million, down from $46.7 million in last year’s adopted budget. (That number does not include another $13 million in federal forfeiture funds that is available for the agency to spend through fiscal year 2018. Peters also noted that these funds are not affected by federal budget fluctuations.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Testifying at the hearing, held by the Council’s oversight and investigations committee, Peters stressed the need for adequate funding as the agency’s work has grown in key areas, including monitoring construction safety, NYPD surveillance practices, the Administration of Children’s Services, and the Department of Corrections. The agency has over 700 personnel, Peters said in his opening statement, working towards a “comprehensive strategy of systemic investigations, high impact arrests, preventative controls and operational reforms, in a manner designed to ensure we leverage our resources effectively.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Peters didn’t provide an exact budget ask, he said after the hearing, “There’s work we’re doing both around the Department of Corrections and ACS where we believe that we could make very good use of some additional staff so we’re talking with OMB [the Office of Management and Budget] about it.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Peters also spoke of the need for additional staff to cover a massive backlog in background checks for city employees, an issue raised by Council Member Vincent Gentile, chair of the committee, during the hearing. The city currently has a backlog of 4,000 needed background checks, and Peters projected that number would grow by another 1,600 over the next fiscal year.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gentile expressed a range of concerns about the DOI’s responsibilities and how DOI measures success. Pointing to <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/operations/performance/mmr.page" target="_blank">the Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report</a>, which gauges performance indicators for all city agencies, Gentile wondered why the report did not include data for individual Inspectors General at different city agencies. Peters, who had earlier in his testimony warned against a heavy dependence on statistics, instead emphasized the agency’s focus on citywide systemic change. Reporting on 45 city agencies, he said, would be “cumbersome” and “not necessarily helpful” to gauge effectiveness as DOI works to root out waste, fraud, and abuse.</p> <p dir="ltr">At Gentile’s insistence, Peters also explained his reticence in relying on the length of an investigation as a performance metric. Quicker investigations, he said, could be less effective. “The biggest cases where we have the most impact are the ones where we don’t jump too quickly,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">He added, “I think the best metric, that’s hard to put a number about is, ‘Is there a greater sense in these city agencies that there’s a cop on the beat watching and are we seeing significant institutional change?’”</p> <p dir="ltr">Peters did provide numbers to illustrate the agency’s work, however. In the 2016 calendar year, DOI made 694 arrests, a 22% increase over 2015, stemming from more than 1,800 investigations. The agency also referred over 800 cases for criminal prosecution, a 14% increase.</p> <p dir="ltr">The hearing also touched on agency financial savings, a particularly pertinent subject this year round with major risks in the city budget, including potential federal funding cuts, proposed state funding cuts, and slowing city economic growth. DOI identified a one percent reduction in its Other Than Personal Spending (OTPS) costs, amounting to about $22,000. “Have you considered other areas that might yield some cost savings,” Gentile asked.</p> <p dir="ltr">Peters said the agency had little room for creating savings through efficiencies. “The real savings come from things like doing the monitoring of monies spent,” he said, referring to DOI’s role as a watchdog of others and citing the $40 million saved by the agency’s <a href="http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/4-Arrested-in-Alleged-Build-It-Back-Fraud-413903443.html" target="_blank">arrest of four people</a> involved in defrauding the “Build It Back” Superstorm Sandy relief program.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gentile, in closing out the hearing, said he anticipates an executive budget hearing for the agency, unlike last year when DOI saw a substantial 43 percent increase in its budget. The executive budget will follow on the heels of the Council’s official response to the mayor’s preliminary budget, after weeks of hearings like the one held Thursday. The next fiscal year starts July 1.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6648-under-the-hood-at-agencies-investigation-department-increases-policy-focus" target="_blank">Under the Hood at Agencies, Investigation Department Increases Policy Focus</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/peters_and_bk_da.jpg" alt="peters and bk da" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p dir="ltr">DOI Commissioner Mark Peters (photo: @DOInews)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">At a City Council preliminary budget hearing on Thursday, Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters laid out new funding and staffing needs for his agency, which is facing a $5 million proposed reduction in its fiscal year 2018 allocation by Mayor Bill de Blasio.</p> <p dir="ltr">The proposed preliminary budget for the Department of Investigation (DOI), the watchdog body that monitors and probes public corruption and other wrongdoing at 45 city agencies, is $41.7 million, down from $46.7 million in last year’s adopted budget. (That number does not include another $13 million in federal forfeiture funds that is available for the agency to spend through fiscal year 2018. Peters also noted that these funds are not affected by federal budget fluctuations.)</p> <p dir="ltr">Testifying at the hearing, held by the Council’s oversight and investigations committee, Peters stressed the need for adequate funding as the agency’s work has grown in key areas, including monitoring construction safety, NYPD surveillance practices, the Administration of Children’s Services, and the Department of Corrections. The agency has over 700 personnel, Peters said in his opening statement, working towards a “comprehensive strategy of systemic investigations, high impact arrests, preventative controls and operational reforms, in a manner designed to ensure we leverage our resources effectively.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Although Peters didn’t provide an exact budget ask, he said after the hearing, “There’s work we’re doing both around the Department of Corrections and ACS where we believe that we could make very good use of some additional staff so we’re talking with OMB [the Office of Management and Budget] about it.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Peters also spoke of the need for additional staff to cover a massive backlog in background checks for city employees, an issue raised by Council Member Vincent Gentile, chair of the committee, during the hearing. The city currently has a backlog of 4,000 needed background checks, and Peters projected that number would grow by another 1,600 over the next fiscal year.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gentile expressed a range of concerns about the DOI’s responsibilities and how DOI measures success. Pointing to <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/operations/performance/mmr.page" target="_blank">the Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report</a>, which gauges performance indicators for all city agencies, Gentile wondered why the report did not include data for individual Inspectors General at different city agencies. Peters, who had earlier in his testimony warned against a heavy dependence on statistics, instead emphasized the agency’s focus on citywide systemic change. Reporting on 45 city agencies, he said, would be “cumbersome” and “not necessarily helpful” to gauge effectiveness as DOI works to root out waste, fraud, and abuse.</p> <p dir="ltr">At Gentile’s insistence, Peters also explained his reticence in relying on the length of an investigation as a performance metric. Quicker investigations, he said, could be less effective. “The biggest cases where we have the most impact are the ones where we don’t jump too quickly,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">He added, “I think the best metric, that’s hard to put a number about is, ‘Is there a greater sense in these city agencies that there’s a cop on the beat watching and are we seeing significant institutional change?’”</p> <p dir="ltr">Peters did provide numbers to illustrate the agency’s work, however. In the 2016 calendar year, DOI made 694 arrests, a 22% increase over 2015, stemming from more than 1,800 investigations. The agency also referred over 800 cases for criminal prosecution, a 14% increase.</p> <p dir="ltr">The hearing also touched on agency financial savings, a particularly pertinent subject this year round with major risks in the city budget, including potential federal funding cuts, proposed state funding cuts, and slowing city economic growth. DOI identified a one percent reduction in its Other Than Personal Spending (OTPS) costs, amounting to about $22,000. “Have you considered other areas that might yield some cost savings,” Gentile asked.</p> <p dir="ltr">Peters said the agency had little room for creating savings through efficiencies. “The real savings come from things like doing the monitoring of monies spent,” he said, referring to DOI’s role as a watchdog of others and citing the $40 million saved by the agency’s <a href="http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/4-Arrested-in-Alleged-Build-It-Back-Fraud-413903443.html" target="_blank">arrest of four people</a> involved in defrauding the “Build It Back” Superstorm Sandy relief program.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gentile, in closing out the hearing, said he anticipates an executive budget hearing for the agency, unlike last year when DOI saw a substantial 43 percent increase in its budget. The executive budget will follow on the heels of the Council’s official response to the mayor’s preliminary budget, after weeks of hearings like the one held Thursday. The next fiscal year starts July 1.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6648-under-the-hood-at-agencies-investigation-department-increases-policy-focus" target="_blank">Under the Hood at Agencies, Investigation Department Increases Policy Focus</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Under the Hood at Agencies, Investigation Department Increases Policy Focus 2016-12-01T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-01T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6648:under-the-hood-at-agencies-investigation-department-increases-policy-focus Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/doi_ad_horizontal_trap.jpg" alt="doi ad horizontal trap" width="600" height="383" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Department of Investigation ad (photo via DOI)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Formed in the 1870s, the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI) is a law enforcement agency tasked with keeping city government honest. Run well, DOI acts as a safeguard against fraud, abuse, and neglect in municipal government, an advocate for taxpayers, and an enforcer of ethics.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2013, then Mayor Michael Bloomberg<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/downloads/pdf/2013/jul13/fy2013_master.pdf" target="_blank"> described</a> the agency as a "vigilant watchdog," and a "national leader in promoting transparency, efficiency, and accountability in government."</p> <p dir="ltr">While DOI is often responsible for arresting bad actors in city government, its long-term impact is best seen in its investigative reports, policy recommendations, and follow through ensuring that agencies implement suggested reforms. As with many types of government reports, though, it is not always easily evident what type of oversight DOI provides to see that its recommendations are indeed implemented.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI has unlimited power to investigate any city agency, officer, elected employee, contractor, and those who receive city benefits: its jurisdiction spans 45 mayoral agencies and various other city entities, boards, and commissions. Through its subpoena power and by maintaining a working relationship with agencies under investigation, DOI has access to information and resources that can produce lasting reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">Often, DOI investigations result in criminal prosecution. In the 2015 calendar year, DOI made 569 arrests from over 1,500 investigations, and received over 700 criminal prosecution referrals, nearly double the number from the prior year, as previously<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/126-city/6212-government-investigator-explains-43-budget-bump" target="_blank"> reported</a> by Gotham Gazette. This data is from the tenure of DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters, who was nominated to the position by Mayor Bill de Blasio and confirmed by the City Council early in 2014 despite some concerns about the fact that Peters had worked on de Blasio’s campaign.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under Peters, DOI has focused less on arrests and more on investigations and reports to identify root causes of malfeasance or ineffectiveness and push comprehensive reform. "DOI, in the last two years, instead of being a reactive agency, which tended to react to complaints and react to tips coming in, has now become a proactive agency," Peters said at a March City Council budget<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/126-city/6212-government-investigator-explains-43-budget-bump" target="_blank"> hearing</a>. The office’s capacity and budget have expanded under Peters.</p> <p dir="ltr">The key feature of DOI reports are Policy and Procedure Recommendations (PPRs). PPRs identify relevant violations, neglect, and criminal activity, and propose solutions to the agency under investigation.</p> <p dir="ltr">A typical PPR recommends the sharing of data analytics or internal reports to ensure that recommendations are being met. Some task agencies to provide employee training to close loopholes that led to the infractions at hand. A PPR usually prompts an official response from the agency under investigation, which details steps taken to address DOI recommendations, and any areas of disagreement.</p> <p dir="ltr">Inspector generals, grouped by category (i.e. social services, uniform services) are responsible for monitoring PPRs; there are separate inspector generals for NYCHA, NYPD, the New York City Housing Development Corporation, and New York City Health + Hospitals. Commissioner Peters meets with his inspector generals for each agency every three weeks, according to comments made at a March hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which has oversight of DOI.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to DOI, in fiscal year 2016, which ended June 30, it issued 693 PPRs with an implementation rate of 81%, up from the 74% implementation rate in fiscal year 2015. The number of PPRs was a 87% increase from the year before, DOI said.</p> <p dir="ltr">"We have not, in the past, been as good at tracking compliance as I would like to be," Peters admitted at the same City Council hearing, noting that DOI was improving internal protocols.</p> <p dir="ltr">IGs are responsible for monitoring DOI-issued timelines and delivering regular reports to the commissioner. Data collection plays an important role in this process, as does more regular tracking. According to Nicole Turso, the DOI press secretary, data that tracked progress had been updated only once a year, resulting in a lower implementation rate.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI has no legal authority to force agencies to accept the terms of PPRs, however, DOI typically has city government on their side. In some cases, the Mayor's insistence pressures agencies to adopt PPRs. In others, the agency in question will adopt recommendations to avoid public backlash. DOI also relies on the fact that compliance typically benefits both parties: there is a strong mutual interest in enacting reform. Still, agency pushback to DOI is not uncommon, especially during the initial investigatory phase.</p> <p dir="ltr">"When you do the type of work that we do, there's always a certain amount of friction. But, having said that, we're all in it for the greater good,” said Turso, about city employees across agencies, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “We're all out for integrity and good government. We parse through the difficulties that we have and make it work."</p> <p dir="ltr">Turso pointed to the recent Rivington House investigation as a prominent exception to this rule.</p> <p dir="ltr">In March of 2016, the de Blasio administration was found to have signed off on a series of decisions that led to the conversion of a Lower East Side nursing home into a new apartment building of market-rate condominiums. A DOI investigation into the process had already begun, as de Blasio officials had recognized mistakes made and notified the agency.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI investigations include virtually unfettered access to government documents. But in July, the Daily News <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/mayor-lies-keeping-info-doi-rivington-house-probe-article-1.2731644" target="_blank">reported</a> that the mayor’s team withheld a memo revealing prior knowledge of the sale that appeared to compromise some of the accounting of how key decisions were made in removing deed restrictions from the Rivington House property and its subsequent sale. When DOI issued its initial report on the matter, it cited restrictions to its access to de Blasio administration documents and computers.</p> <p dir="ltr">After DOI threatened litigation against the Law Department, according to <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/downloads/pdf/2016/Jul16/25LawDept07-26-2016.pdf" target="_blank">DOI</a> only then did the Law Department produce documents previously classified as irrelevant.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Daily News reported that this refusal to cooperate was nearly unprecedented, citing that no DOI commissioner had been forced to threaten litigation under the Dinkins, Giuliani, and Bloomberg administrations.</p> <p dir="ltr">Outside of the Rivington case, which was a very public embarrassment for the de Blasio administration, DOI reports mostly strong communication and efficiency in their collaborations with city agencies.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI investigations vary in nature, and three 2015 cases show the scope of the agency’s oversight: the first involves fraud within the Human Resources Administration (HRA); the second, negligence by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS); and the third, lack of accountability at the New York Police Department (NYPD) around the use of chokeholds prior the death of Eric Garner.</p> <p dir="ltr">While DOI provided insights into the three case studies selected by Gotham Gazette for this article, it did not respond when asked for a variety of details about how DOI representatives ensure compliance with PPRs on a daily basis, or track them.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Human Resources Administration Fraud</strong><br />In December 2015, the Human Resources Administration alerted DOI of internal fraud, leading to the arrest of one current and one former HRA employee on charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The culprits exploited a vulnerable computerized case management system and used benefit issuance procedures to steer $2.4 million to themselves and associates using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards.</p> <p dir="ltr">In order to investigate and prosecute these cases, DOI joined forces with HRA, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, the FBI, the New York State Office of the Inspector General, and the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office.</p> <p dir="ltr">In October, DOI Commissioner Peters <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/downloads/pdf/2016/Oct16/pr32WatsonJackson_HRA_100716.pdf" target="_blank">announced</a> the sentencing of one former HRA employee to 23 months in federal prison for her role in schemes totaling approximately $1.8 million, including the purchase of $120,000 worth of Red Bull, later pawned off to small retail locations.</p> <p dir="ltr">Following its investigations, DOI issued a series of recommendations to HRA. These included the design and implementation of a secured, electronic, fraud report system. DOI also recommended an increased supervisory review of cases and frequency of training, and the design and implementation of a comprehensive EBT fraud identification training program.</p> <p dir="ltr">In its<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2015/Dec15/pr38hra_fraud_120115.pdf" target="_blank"> report</a>, DOI commended HRA for taking immediate action to implement recommendations, including an agreement to enhance controls to monitor program vulnerabilities. Most importantly, HRA would continue sharing data analytics with DOI and continue collaboration to develop new strategies.</p> <p dir="ltr">As of November, DOI reports that each reform timeline has been met.</p> <p dir="ltr">HRA spokesperson Lourdes Centeno emphasized the two agencies’ strong relationship to Gotham Gazette. "HRA has a long-standing partnership with the Department of Investigations,” Centeno said, “and we value their assistance in adjusting instances of potential staff misconduct interagency."</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Department of Homeless Services Shelter Conditions</strong><br />In March 2015, DOI<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/downloads/pdf/2015/mar15/pr08dhs_31215.pdf" target="_blank"> announced</a> that a year-long investigation of 25 DHS-operated shelters revealed serious health and safety violations, a lack of social service programs, and inadequate or missing certificates of occupancy. The shelters provided housing for approximately 2,000 homeless New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the report, Peters explained that the investigation was requested by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who came into office with about 51,000 people sleeping in city shelters (the number has since grown to about 60,000).</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI reached its conclusions by reviewing records, interviewing shelter residents, and collaborating with inspectors from the Department of Buildings, Fire Department, and Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Upon DOI review, 621 building, housing, and fire safety violations were issued, including accounts of vermin infestations, blocked or obstructed entrances and exits, and nonworking smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI also discovered that DHS had not, for years, used the city's contracting process to secure providers, and was not enforcing existing contracts, eroding an important check that holds providers accountable for failing to meet health and safety standards.</p> <p dir="ltr">Providers include faith-based non-profits like Volunteers of America, as well as organizations like the Women’s Prison Association, which serve groups like families affected by maternal incarceration, and others, including private landlords.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Dangerous living conditions, rat-and-roach infested residences. And fire violations are the stark reality facing too many homeless families and children in the City’s shelters,” Peters noted in the DOI report.</p> <p dir="ltr">Giselle Routhier, policy director at Coalition for the Homeless, said no one should underestimate the importance of building maintenance in providing shelter for homeless people and the role of shelter in helping people return to stable housing. "Poor conditions are problematic for very obvious reasons. There are health and safety issues—families are concerned whether roofs are caving in, versus actually being able to focus on getting the kids to school and getting out of shelter," Routhier said in an interview. "One of the best ways to make sure that you have a system that is capable of being operated with the proper oversight of conditions is to not always be concerned about having enough capacity," she said. "When capacity gets tight, everything else kind of false to the wayside."</p> <p dir="ltr">The de Blasio administration has consistently struggled with several elements of combatting homelessness, in part due to the city's affordable housing crisis that leads to shelters busting at the seams. There are challenges with not only the conditions at shelters, but with helping to keep people in their homes through rental assistance and working with those ready to leave shelters on using vouchers to help pay for rent in stable housing. The administration has also seen significant community pushback to its efforts to open new shelters.</p> <p dir="ltr">The essence of the DOI report, echoed in a damning December 2015 audit from city Comptroller Scott Stringer, was the deplorable shelter conditions. The two reports prompted significant city action, including the creation of a new shelter repair squad. The Department of Homeless Services’ Shelter Repair Squad has worked to aggressively address building violations, with significant progress, though many shelter issues remain.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Being homeless is tough enough – no one in shelters, particularly children, should have to endure poor or unsafe living conditions,” said Mayor de Blasio in a May 2015<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/303-15/mayor-de-blasio-launches-shelter-repair-squad-address-urgent-health-safety-conditions-in#/0" target="_blank"> announcement</a> of the shelter repair squad launch.</p> <p dir="ltr">DHS&nbsp;<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/downloads/pdf/2015/mar15/pr08dhs_31215.pdf" target="_blank">pledged</a> to bring in new shelter capacity through the city's procurement process. Lauren Gray, senior communications advisor at DHS, told Gotham Gazette that the agency has announced a commitment to increase the number of shelters city-wide as the administration transitions to a "borough approach" to help homeless individuals and families stay closer to their communities, jobs, and support networks. A more local approach is something de Blasio has recently promised as he has seen pushback to shelter siting plans in several neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI was especially critical of cluster sites, privately-owned residential buildings that the city has <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/manhattan/de-blasio-phase-cluster-sites-house-homeless-article-1.2484896" target="_blank">paid</a> up to $3,500 a month to maintain the notoriously inadequate shelters. In January, 2016, de Blasio <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dhs/downloads/pdf/press-releases/three-year-plan-clusters-press-release.pdf" target="_blank">announced</a> a three-year plan to phase out cluster sites completely, in coordination with DHS.</p> <p dir="ltr">As 2016 nears an end, Gray reports that approximately half of the more than 1,700 cluster units have already been brought under contract. She also said that, as of mid-October, the shelter repair squad has helped see to “a 75% reduction in cluster unit violations since January 2016."&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">As of November, DOI reports that each reform timeline has been met by DHS relative to the PPR from the March 2015 DOI investigation.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>NYPD Chokeholds &amp; Accountability</strong><br />On July 17, 2014, NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo placed Eric Garner in a chokehold, a maneuver forbidden by section 203-11 of the NYPD patrol guide, leading to Garner’s death. The confrontation, caught on video, spurred public fury, fueling the national debate about excessive force by police officers, quality-of-life policing, and relations between law enforcement and communities of color.</p> <p dir="ltr">On December 3, 2014, a Staten Island grand jury declined to issue an indictment of Pantaleo, or other officers on the scene.</p> <p dir="ltr">In January 2015, the DOI Office of Inspector General for the NYPD (OIG-NYPD) published its first-ever<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/downloads/pdf/jan2015/Comm-MGP-Chokehold-SIGNED-Letter-wReport-011215_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank"> report,</a> an investigation into the NYPD's management of improper use of force violations.</p> <p dir="ltr">OIG-NYPD aimed to shed light on how frequently officers were using chokeholds, why they were doing so, and what discipline was imposed on those who violated the prohibition. In order to review comparable use of force violations, OIG-NYPD conducted reviews of ten chokehold cases substantiated by The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) between 2009 at 2014. The CCRB is the civilian panel that reviews allegations against police officers in New York City.</p> <p dir="ltr">Use of force complaints are investigated by CCRB. Cases, if substantiated, would move, with recommendations, to the NYPD, which determines discipline. In DOI-reviewed incidents, CCRB recommended the most severe level of discipline in nine out of ten cases with a substantiated chokehold.</p> <p dir="ltr">Next, NYPD's Department Advocate's Office (DAO), responsible for prosecuting substantiated use of force cases, downgraded seven of CCRB's recommendations, proposing the least punitive disciplinary measure in four, and no discipline in another.</p> <p dir="ltr">Ray Kelly, police commissioner from 1992-1994 and 2002 through 2013, was tasked with making a final determination. Kelly sided with DAO and rejected six CCRB recommendations, opting each time for less severe penalties or no discipline at all. The commissioner provided no explanation for his decisions.</p> <p dir="ltr">In sum, DOI found that CCRB's input was barely heard, if at all. By the time cases reached the police commissioner's desk, CCRB disciplinary recommendations had been watered down substantially, if not completely.</p> <p dir="ltr">Peters summarized this point in the DOI report, citing “the extent to which the NYPD has disregarded disciplinary recommendations from the Civilian Complaint Review Board and thus minimized the role of the central body tasked with investigating individual cases of police misconduct.”&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">"There is no indication from the records reviewed that NYPD seriously contemplated CCRB's disciplinary recommendations or that CCRB's input added any value to the disciplinary process," another section of the DOI report reads.</p> <p dir="ltr">OIG-NYPD found that CCRB and NYPD measured accountability by different standards: CCRB, "an investigative agency," substantiated cases specifically on "credible evidence:" video footage, third-party witnesses and officer records indicated harmful contact. DAO, a “prosecutorial unit," defined chokeholds through “contextual” evaluations: circumstantial evidence, personnel history, and the viability of future prosecution.</p> <p dir="ltr">As a result, OIG-NYPD found that the two groups were operating with different guidelines, and, likely, agendas.</p> <p dir="ltr">OIG-NYPD evaluated NYPD's training for officer communication and de-escalation tactics. In several cases reviewed, OIG-NYPD found that NYPD officers had used chokeholds as a first act of physical force in response to "verbal resistance," making little attempt to resolve the encounter through nonviolent means.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the NYPD<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/oignypd/downloads/pdf/NYPD_Response_Chokehold_Report.pdf" target="_blank"> response</a> to OIG-NYPD recommendations, Deputy Commissioner Lawrence Byrne touted the new “Remand" process requiring NYPD to issue formal written requests for penalty reconsiderations, upon disagreement with CCRB. A 2016 OIG-NYPD assessment labeled this reform "partially implemented," citing that NYPD had yet to adopt a more transparent disciplinary process alongside CCRB.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the same response, Byrne announced that the NYPD had instituted a three-day refresher tactical training program to promote nonviolent resolution, designed to reach 20,000 officers out on patrol, and, “eventually,” all 35,000 uniformed service members.</p> <p dir="ltr">Citizens Union, a government reform group, recently released an <a href="https://echalk-slate-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/private/districts/466/resources/1d0cc10c-4223-4194-8e35-f069dec27777?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIZQPKIVDQVS7TUJA&amp;Expires=1790866192&amp;response-content-disposition=;filename=&quot;FINAL%20POLICE%20ACCOUNTABILITY%20PAPER%208%2015%20FRAMES.pdf&quot;&amp;response-content-type=application/pdf&amp;Signature=VxwU0n9R+gJJ7fhEceWFjsy6q5c=" target="_blank">agenda</a> for improved police accountability and included in it a more transparent process around the NYPD commissioner’s reaction to CCRB recommendations. Citizens Union also argues that CCRB should be the “primary finder of fact in cases it investigates, except in cases of clear error."</p> <p dir="ltr">Byrne emphasizes NYPD autonomy. “We agree with your observation that no definitive conclusions can or should be drawn from such a limited universe of cases, nor do we believe it is useful to revisit the factual circumstances,” Byrne wrote to DOI. “While we are fully committed to increasing the collaboration between the NYPD and the CCRB, as you note in your report, the Police Commissioner continues to retain the final authority and complete discretion to make all judgments about internal discipline,” he also said.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI successfully pressured the commissioner into providing public rationale for his decisions. In a 2015 annual <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/oignypd/downloads/pdf/OIGNYPD-Annual-Report-2015.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, OIG-NYPD said that the commissioner had agreed to write explanations to CCRB for any decisions that "deviate downward" from original recommendations. The recommendation was deemed “implemented.”</p> <p>While NYPD has met certain DOI timelines, there are also ongoing related concerns.</p> <p dir="ltr">On the day following the release of the inaugural 2015 OIG-NYPD report, Mayor de Blasio vowed to veto legislation that would make the use of chokeholds by officers a misdemeanor offense. However, according to a Daily News<a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lawmaker-nypd-secret-rule-allowing-banned-chokeholds-article-1.2665123" target="_blank"> report</a>, a new set of June patrol guidelines stipulate specific circumstances that a banned chokehold can be excused if the Use of Force Review board determines that the officer’s actions were "reasonable and justified.” The Daily News reported that City Hall claims the new guidelines are clarifying determinations of excessive force, and there is no change to the chokehold ban.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Rory Lancman, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Courts and Legal Services and sponsors the chokehold misdemeanor bill, thinks otherwise. In an interview, Lancman admonished de Blasio for liberalizing the previously absolute chokehold ban.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The mayor has made it clear that he is not going to push the police department to reform how it holds officers accountable to use chokeholds, and if anything the mayor allowed the NYPD to loosen the restriction on chokeholds, so I think it sends a signal to police officers that the chokehold ban is not really a ban,” Lancman said. “Even if a conclusion is reached that you use a chokehold improperly, the consequences are minimal.”</p> <p>The mayor’s office has pushed back on such characterizations, citing de Blasio’s effort to enforce new trainings for all NYPD officers, reduce the use of stop-and-frisk, and institute neighborhood policing.</p> <p>

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by Benjamin Jurney for Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/doi_ad_horizontal_trap.jpg" alt="doi ad horizontal trap" width="600" height="383" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Department of Investigation ad (photo via DOI)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Formed in the 1870s, the city’s Department of Investigation (DOI) is a law enforcement agency tasked with keeping city government honest. Run well, DOI acts as a safeguard against fraud, abuse, and neglect in municipal government, an advocate for taxpayers, and an enforcer of ethics.</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2013, then Mayor Michael Bloomberg<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/downloads/pdf/2013/jul13/fy2013_master.pdf" target="_blank"> described</a> the agency as a "vigilant watchdog," and a "national leader in promoting transparency, efficiency, and accountability in government."</p> <p dir="ltr">While DOI is often responsible for arresting bad actors in city government, its long-term impact is best seen in its investigative reports, policy recommendations, and follow through ensuring that agencies implement suggested reforms. As with many types of government reports, though, it is not always easily evident what type of oversight DOI provides to see that its recommendations are indeed implemented.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI has unlimited power to investigate any city agency, officer, elected employee, contractor, and those who receive city benefits: its jurisdiction spans 45 mayoral agencies and various other city entities, boards, and commissions. Through its subpoena power and by maintaining a working relationship with agencies under investigation, DOI has access to information and resources that can produce lasting reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">Often, DOI investigations result in criminal prosecution. In the 2015 calendar year, DOI made 569 arrests from over 1,500 investigations, and received over 700 criminal prosecution referrals, nearly double the number from the prior year, as previously<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/126-city/6212-government-investigator-explains-43-budget-bump" target="_blank"> reported</a> by Gotham Gazette. This data is from the tenure of DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters, who was nominated to the position by Mayor Bill de Blasio and confirmed by the City Council early in 2014 despite some concerns about the fact that Peters had worked on de Blasio’s campaign.</p> <p dir="ltr">Under Peters, DOI has focused less on arrests and more on investigations and reports to identify root causes of malfeasance or ineffectiveness and push comprehensive reform. "DOI, in the last two years, instead of being a reactive agency, which tended to react to complaints and react to tips coming in, has now become a proactive agency," Peters said at a March City Council budget<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/126-city/6212-government-investigator-explains-43-budget-bump" target="_blank"> hearing</a>. The office’s capacity and budget have expanded under Peters.</p> <p dir="ltr">The key feature of DOI reports are Policy and Procedure Recommendations (PPRs). PPRs identify relevant violations, neglect, and criminal activity, and propose solutions to the agency under investigation.</p> <p dir="ltr">A typical PPR recommends the sharing of data analytics or internal reports to ensure that recommendations are being met. Some task agencies to provide employee training to close loopholes that led to the infractions at hand. A PPR usually prompts an official response from the agency under investigation, which details steps taken to address DOI recommendations, and any areas of disagreement.</p> <p dir="ltr">Inspector generals, grouped by category (i.e. social services, uniform services) are responsible for monitoring PPRs; there are separate inspector generals for NYCHA, NYPD, the New York City Housing Development Corporation, and New York City Health + Hospitals. Commissioner Peters meets with his inspector generals for each agency every three weeks, according to comments made at a March hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations, which has oversight of DOI.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to DOI, in fiscal year 2016, which ended June 30, it issued 693 PPRs with an implementation rate of 81%, up from the 74% implementation rate in fiscal year 2015. The number of PPRs was a 87% increase from the year before, DOI said.</p> <p dir="ltr">"We have not, in the past, been as good at tracking compliance as I would like to be," Peters admitted at the same City Council hearing, noting that DOI was improving internal protocols.</p> <p dir="ltr">IGs are responsible for monitoring DOI-issued timelines and delivering regular reports to the commissioner. Data collection plays an important role in this process, as does more regular tracking. According to Nicole Turso, the DOI press secretary, data that tracked progress had been updated only once a year, resulting in a lower implementation rate.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI has no legal authority to force agencies to accept the terms of PPRs, however, DOI typically has city government on their side. In some cases, the Mayor's insistence pressures agencies to adopt PPRs. In others, the agency in question will adopt recommendations to avoid public backlash. DOI also relies on the fact that compliance typically benefits both parties: there is a strong mutual interest in enacting reform. Still, agency pushback to DOI is not uncommon, especially during the initial investigatory phase.</p> <p dir="ltr">"When you do the type of work that we do, there's always a certain amount of friction. But, having said that, we're all in it for the greater good,” said Turso, about city employees across agencies, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “We're all out for integrity and good government. We parse through the difficulties that we have and make it work."</p> <p dir="ltr">Turso pointed to the recent Rivington House investigation as a prominent exception to this rule.</p> <p dir="ltr">In March of 2016, the de Blasio administration was found to have signed off on a series of decisions that led to the conversion of a Lower East Side nursing home into a new apartment building of market-rate condominiums. A DOI investigation into the process had already begun, as de Blasio officials had recognized mistakes made and notified the agency.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI investigations include virtually unfettered access to government documents. But in July, the Daily News <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/mayor-lies-keeping-info-doi-rivington-house-probe-article-1.2731644" target="_blank">reported</a> that the mayor’s team withheld a memo revealing prior knowledge of the sale that appeared to compromise some of the accounting of how key decisions were made in removing deed restrictions from the Rivington House property and its subsequent sale. When DOI issued its initial report on the matter, it cited restrictions to its access to de Blasio administration documents and computers.</p> <p dir="ltr">After DOI threatened litigation against the Law Department, according to <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/downloads/pdf/2016/Jul16/25LawDept07-26-2016.pdf" target="_blank">DOI</a> only then did the Law Department produce documents previously classified as irrelevant.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Daily News reported that this refusal to cooperate was nearly unprecedented, citing that no DOI commissioner had been forced to threaten litigation under the Dinkins, Giuliani, and Bloomberg administrations.</p> <p dir="ltr">Outside of the Rivington case, which was a very public embarrassment for the de Blasio administration, DOI reports mostly strong communication and efficiency in their collaborations with city agencies.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI investigations vary in nature, and three 2015 cases show the scope of the agency’s oversight: the first involves fraud within the Human Resources Administration (HRA); the second, negligence by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS); and the third, lack of accountability at the New York Police Department (NYPD) around the use of chokeholds prior the death of Eric Garner.</p> <p dir="ltr">While DOI provided insights into the three case studies selected by Gotham Gazette for this article, it did not respond when asked for a variety of details about how DOI representatives ensure compliance with PPRs on a daily basis, or track them.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Human Resources Administration Fraud</strong><br />In December 2015, the Human Resources Administration alerted DOI of internal fraud, leading to the arrest of one current and one former HRA employee on charges of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The culprits exploited a vulnerable computerized case management system and used benefit issuance procedures to steer $2.4 million to themselves and associates using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards.</p> <p dir="ltr">In order to investigate and prosecute these cases, DOI joined forces with HRA, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, the FBI, the New York State Office of the Inspector General, and the Richmond County District Attorney’s Office.</p> <p dir="ltr">In October, DOI Commissioner Peters <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/downloads/pdf/2016/Oct16/pr32WatsonJackson_HRA_100716.pdf" target="_blank">announced</a> the sentencing of one former HRA employee to 23 months in federal prison for her role in schemes totaling approximately $1.8 million, including the purchase of $120,000 worth of Red Bull, later pawned off to small retail locations.</p> <p dir="ltr">Following its investigations, DOI issued a series of recommendations to HRA. These included the design and implementation of a secured, electronic, fraud report system. DOI also recommended an increased supervisory review of cases and frequency of training, and the design and implementation of a comprehensive EBT fraud identification training program.</p> <p dir="ltr">In its<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2015/Dec15/pr38hra_fraud_120115.pdf" target="_blank"> report</a>, DOI commended HRA for taking immediate action to implement recommendations, including an agreement to enhance controls to monitor program vulnerabilities. Most importantly, HRA would continue sharing data analytics with DOI and continue collaboration to develop new strategies.</p> <p dir="ltr">As of November, DOI reports that each reform timeline has been met.</p> <p dir="ltr">HRA spokesperson Lourdes Centeno emphasized the two agencies’ strong relationship to Gotham Gazette. "HRA has a long-standing partnership with the Department of Investigations,” Centeno said, “and we value their assistance in adjusting instances of potential staff misconduct interagency."</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Department of Homeless Services Shelter Conditions</strong><br />In March 2015, DOI<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/downloads/pdf/2015/mar15/pr08dhs_31215.pdf" target="_blank"> announced</a> that a year-long investigation of 25 DHS-operated shelters revealed serious health and safety violations, a lack of social service programs, and inadequate or missing certificates of occupancy. The shelters provided housing for approximately 2,000 homeless New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the report, Peters explained that the investigation was requested by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who came into office with about 51,000 people sleeping in city shelters (the number has since grown to about 60,000).</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI reached its conclusions by reviewing records, interviewing shelter residents, and collaborating with inspectors from the Department of Buildings, Fire Department, and Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Upon DOI review, 621 building, housing, and fire safety violations were issued, including accounts of vermin infestations, blocked or obstructed entrances and exits, and nonworking smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI also discovered that DHS had not, for years, used the city's contracting process to secure providers, and was not enforcing existing contracts, eroding an important check that holds providers accountable for failing to meet health and safety standards.</p> <p dir="ltr">Providers include faith-based non-profits like Volunteers of America, as well as organizations like the Women’s Prison Association, which serve groups like families affected by maternal incarceration, and others, including private landlords.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Dangerous living conditions, rat-and-roach infested residences. And fire violations are the stark reality facing too many homeless families and children in the City’s shelters,” Peters noted in the DOI report.</p> <p dir="ltr">Giselle Routhier, policy director at Coalition for the Homeless, said no one should underestimate the importance of building maintenance in providing shelter for homeless people and the role of shelter in helping people return to stable housing. "Poor conditions are problematic for very obvious reasons. There are health and safety issues—families are concerned whether roofs are caving in, versus actually being able to focus on getting the kids to school and getting out of shelter," Routhier said in an interview. "One of the best ways to make sure that you have a system that is capable of being operated with the proper oversight of conditions is to not always be concerned about having enough capacity," she said. "When capacity gets tight, everything else kind of false to the wayside."</p> <p dir="ltr">The de Blasio administration has consistently struggled with several elements of combatting homelessness, in part due to the city's affordable housing crisis that leads to shelters busting at the seams. There are challenges with not only the conditions at shelters, but with helping to keep people in their homes through rental assistance and working with those ready to leave shelters on using vouchers to help pay for rent in stable housing. The administration has also seen significant community pushback to its efforts to open new shelters.</p> <p dir="ltr">The essence of the DOI report, echoed in a damning December 2015 audit from city Comptroller Scott Stringer, was the deplorable shelter conditions. The two reports prompted significant city action, including the creation of a new shelter repair squad. The Department of Homeless Services’ Shelter Repair Squad has worked to aggressively address building violations, with significant progress, though many shelter issues remain.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Being homeless is tough enough – no one in shelters, particularly children, should have to endure poor or unsafe living conditions,” said Mayor de Blasio in a May 2015<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/303-15/mayor-de-blasio-launches-shelter-repair-squad-address-urgent-health-safety-conditions-in#/0" target="_blank"> announcement</a> of the shelter repair squad launch.</p> <p dir="ltr">DHS&nbsp;<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/downloads/pdf/2015/mar15/pr08dhs_31215.pdf" target="_blank">pledged</a> to bring in new shelter capacity through the city's procurement process. Lauren Gray, senior communications advisor at DHS, told Gotham Gazette that the agency has announced a commitment to increase the number of shelters city-wide as the administration transitions to a "borough approach" to help homeless individuals and families stay closer to their communities, jobs, and support networks. A more local approach is something de Blasio has recently promised as he has seen pushback to shelter siting plans in several neighborhoods.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI was especially critical of cluster sites, privately-owned residential buildings that the city has <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/manhattan/de-blasio-phase-cluster-sites-house-homeless-article-1.2484896" target="_blank">paid</a> up to $3,500 a month to maintain the notoriously inadequate shelters. In January, 2016, de Blasio <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dhs/downloads/pdf/press-releases/three-year-plan-clusters-press-release.pdf" target="_blank">announced</a> a three-year plan to phase out cluster sites completely, in coordination with DHS.</p> <p dir="ltr">As 2016 nears an end, Gray reports that approximately half of the more than 1,700 cluster units have already been brought under contract. She also said that, as of mid-October, the shelter repair squad has helped see to “a 75% reduction in cluster unit violations since January 2016."&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">As of November, DOI reports that each reform timeline has been met by DHS relative to the PPR from the March 2015 DOI investigation.&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>NYPD Chokeholds &amp; Accountability</strong><br />On July 17, 2014, NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo placed Eric Garner in a chokehold, a maneuver forbidden by section 203-11 of the NYPD patrol guide, leading to Garner’s death. The confrontation, caught on video, spurred public fury, fueling the national debate about excessive force by police officers, quality-of-life policing, and relations between law enforcement and communities of color.</p> <p dir="ltr">On December 3, 2014, a Staten Island grand jury declined to issue an indictment of Pantaleo, or other officers on the scene.</p> <p dir="ltr">In January 2015, the DOI Office of Inspector General for the NYPD (OIG-NYPD) published its first-ever<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doi/downloads/pdf/jan2015/Comm-MGP-Chokehold-SIGNED-Letter-wReport-011215_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank"> report,</a> an investigation into the NYPD's management of improper use of force violations.</p> <p dir="ltr">OIG-NYPD aimed to shed light on how frequently officers were using chokeholds, why they were doing so, and what discipline was imposed on those who violated the prohibition. In order to review comparable use of force violations, OIG-NYPD conducted reviews of ten chokehold cases substantiated by The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) between 2009 at 2014. The CCRB is the civilian panel that reviews allegations against police officers in New York City.</p> <p dir="ltr">Use of force complaints are investigated by CCRB. Cases, if substantiated, would move, with recommendations, to the NYPD, which determines discipline. In DOI-reviewed incidents, CCRB recommended the most severe level of discipline in nine out of ten cases with a substantiated chokehold.</p> <p dir="ltr">Next, NYPD's Department Advocate's Office (DAO), responsible for prosecuting substantiated use of force cases, downgraded seven of CCRB's recommendations, proposing the least punitive disciplinary measure in four, and no discipline in another.</p> <p dir="ltr">Ray Kelly, police commissioner from 1992-1994 and 2002 through 2013, was tasked with making a final determination. Kelly sided with DAO and rejected six CCRB recommendations, opting each time for less severe penalties or no discipline at all. The commissioner provided no explanation for his decisions.</p> <p dir="ltr">In sum, DOI found that CCRB's input was barely heard, if at all. By the time cases reached the police commissioner's desk, CCRB disciplinary recommendations had been watered down substantially, if not completely.</p> <p dir="ltr">Peters summarized this point in the DOI report, citing “the extent to which the NYPD has disregarded disciplinary recommendations from the Civilian Complaint Review Board and thus minimized the role of the central body tasked with investigating individual cases of police misconduct.”&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">"There is no indication from the records reviewed that NYPD seriously contemplated CCRB's disciplinary recommendations or that CCRB's input added any value to the disciplinary process," another section of the DOI report reads.</p> <p dir="ltr">OIG-NYPD found that CCRB and NYPD measured accountability by different standards: CCRB, "an investigative agency," substantiated cases specifically on "credible evidence:" video footage, third-party witnesses and officer records indicated harmful contact. DAO, a “prosecutorial unit," defined chokeholds through “contextual” evaluations: circumstantial evidence, personnel history, and the viability of future prosecution.</p> <p dir="ltr">As a result, OIG-NYPD found that the two groups were operating with different guidelines, and, likely, agendas.</p> <p dir="ltr">OIG-NYPD evaluated NYPD's training for officer communication and de-escalation tactics. In several cases reviewed, OIG-NYPD found that NYPD officers had used chokeholds as a first act of physical force in response to "verbal resistance," making little attempt to resolve the encounter through nonviolent means.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the NYPD<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/oignypd/downloads/pdf/NYPD_Response_Chokehold_Report.pdf" target="_blank"> response</a> to OIG-NYPD recommendations, Deputy Commissioner Lawrence Byrne touted the new “Remand" process requiring NYPD to issue formal written requests for penalty reconsiderations, upon disagreement with CCRB. A 2016 OIG-NYPD assessment labeled this reform "partially implemented," citing that NYPD had yet to adopt a more transparent disciplinary process alongside CCRB.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the same response, Byrne announced that the NYPD had instituted a three-day refresher tactical training program to promote nonviolent resolution, designed to reach 20,000 officers out on patrol, and, “eventually,” all 35,000 uniformed service members.</p> <p dir="ltr">Citizens Union, a government reform group, recently released an <a href="https://echalk-slate-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/private/districts/466/resources/1d0cc10c-4223-4194-8e35-f069dec27777?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIZQPKIVDQVS7TUJA&amp;Expires=1790866192&amp;response-content-disposition=;filename=&quot;FINAL%20POLICE%20ACCOUNTABILITY%20PAPER%208%2015%20FRAMES.pdf&quot;&amp;response-content-type=application/pdf&amp;Signature=VxwU0n9R+gJJ7fhEceWFjsy6q5c=" target="_blank">agenda</a> for improved police accountability and included in it a more transparent process around the NYPD commissioner’s reaction to CCRB recommendations. Citizens Union also argues that CCRB should be the “primary finder of fact in cases it investigates, except in cases of clear error."</p> <p dir="ltr">Byrne emphasizes NYPD autonomy. “We agree with your observation that no definitive conclusions can or should be drawn from such a limited universe of cases, nor do we believe it is useful to revisit the factual circumstances,” Byrne wrote to DOI. “While we are fully committed to increasing the collaboration between the NYPD and the CCRB, as you note in your report, the Police Commissioner continues to retain the final authority and complete discretion to make all judgments about internal discipline,” he also said.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI successfully pressured the commissioner into providing public rationale for his decisions. In a 2015 annual <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/oignypd/downloads/pdf/OIGNYPD-Annual-Report-2015.pdf" target="_blank">report</a>, OIG-NYPD said that the commissioner had agreed to write explanations to CCRB for any decisions that "deviate downward" from original recommendations. The recommendation was deemed “implemented.”</p> <p>While NYPD has met certain DOI timelines, there are also ongoing related concerns.</p> <p dir="ltr">On the day following the release of the inaugural 2015 OIG-NYPD report, Mayor de Blasio vowed to veto legislation that would make the use of chokeholds by officers a misdemeanor offense. However, according to a Daily News<a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lawmaker-nypd-secret-rule-allowing-banned-chokeholds-article-1.2665123" target="_blank"> report</a>, a new set of June patrol guidelines stipulate specific circumstances that a banned chokehold can be excused if the Use of Force Review board determines that the officer’s actions were "reasonable and justified.” The Daily News reported that City Hall claims the new guidelines are clarifying determinations of excessive force, and there is no change to the chokehold ban.</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Rory Lancman, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Courts and Legal Services and sponsors the chokehold misdemeanor bill, thinks otherwise. In an interview, Lancman admonished de Blasio for liberalizing the previously absolute chokehold ban.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The mayor has made it clear that he is not going to push the police department to reform how it holds officers accountable to use chokeholds, and if anything the mayor allowed the NYPD to loosen the restriction on chokeholds, so I think it sends a signal to police officers that the chokehold ban is not really a ban,” Lancman said. “Even if a conclusion is reached that you use a chokehold improperly, the consequences are minimal.”</p> <p>The mayor’s office has pushed back on such characterizations, citing de Blasio’s effort to enforce new trainings for all NYPD officers, reduce the use of stop-and-frisk, and institute neighborhood policing.</p> <p>

***
by Benjamin Jurney for Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Budget Allocations Measure Mayor’s Commitment to Ethics Agencies 2016-05-09T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-09T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6324:budget-allocations-indicate-mayor-s-commitment-to-ethics-agencies Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25042274459_082630ac14_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="bdb town hall mic crowd" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio at a town hall (photo:&nbsp;Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Over the last few weeks, facing the spectre of multiple investigations, Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly stressed that he, his administration, and his allies operate ethically. “We hold ourselves to the highest standards of integrity,” the mayor has said repeatedly as reporters have questioned him about allegations of impropriety in his fundraising operations.</p> <p dir="ltr">In support, the mayor has regularly referred to the city’s internal mechanisms for ensuring such behavior.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our Conflict of Interest Board, our Department of Investigation, all the different tools that we have here in the city that create accountability have gotten stronger and stronger, and we have the most rigorous campaign finance system in the country,” he told reporters at a press conference on April 13. It was not the only time the mayor has referenced the threesome in place to help keep government officials on the straight and narrow and reduce the influence of money in politics.</p> <p dir="ltr">As the mayor has cited the training the Conflict of Interest Board delivers to city employees and the guidance he and his team sought from it while engaging in their fundraising, as well as the work of the Department of Investigations, the city’s annual budget process has been unfolding.</p> <p dir="ltr">The season has shifted from the preliminary to the executive budget iterations, with a final deal between de Blasio and the City Council due by the July 1 start of the next fiscal year. As the mayor has touted both COIB and DOI, he has had an opportunity to put money where his mouth is, so to speak, while his administration has also had the chance to weigh in on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">pending tweaks</a> to the city’s campaign finance system that include reducing the impact of donation bundlers who have business before the city. There are currently limits on how much entities with business before the city can donate to candidates. (A federal investigation is reportedly focused on whether donors to a nonprofit aligned with the mayor received favorable city action. Nonprofits face no donation limits.)</p> <p dir="ltr">During <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6215-underfunded-conflicts-of-interest-board-struggles-to-meet-mandates" target="_blank">a preliminary budget hearing in March</a>, COIB representatives told City Council members that the agency was significantly underfunded and thus unable to retain good staff or complete its mandated trainings.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI on the other hand, had no complaints as its budget was already ballooning, with Commissioner Mark Peters simply left to explain how he is using the additional millions.</p> <p dir="ltr">When the mayor released his <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6304-de-blasio-releases-new-82b-budget-with-targeted-investments-and-additional-savings" target="_blank">executive budget</a> on April 27, both COIB and DOI saw bumps in funding, though for COIB funding is still not where board officials or City Council members want to see it.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Department of Investigation’s $47.4 million allocation in the executive budget is about $3.2 million more than the preliminary budget of $44.2 million. Over last year’s adopted budget of $30.9 million, that’s a 53.3 percent increase. During his preliminary budget hearing, DOI Commissioner Peters <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/126-city/6212-government-investigator-explains-43-budget-bump" target="_blank">justified</a> the agency’s budget increase, telling the City Council’s Committee on Investigations, chaired by Council Member Vincent Gentile, that the agency has become more proactive and has started to focus on overarching systemic issues that can lead to corruption and ineffectiveness.</p> <p dir="ltr">“As the City's workforce continues to expand,” said mayoral spokesperson Karen Hinton, “the funding provided in both financial plans will directly support the additional staff required for [DOI] to fulfill its Charter-mandated mission to eliminate fraud, corruption and mismanagement of public fund and policies.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Mike Bistreich, legislation and budget director for Gentile, said the additional funding would also help alleviate some of the lag in background checks that DOI is supposed to perform.</p> <p dir="ltr">However, DOI’s budget did not include significant savings, which was a cause for concern for Gentile at the preliminary budget hearing. In response, Peters proposed that 261 investigators at other agencies be moved to DOI’s payroll so their overtime could be paid through federal asset forfeiture funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">“As investigative staff from other agencies come onboard with DOI through the positions approved in the last financial plans, DOI will be able to cover their overtime with this funding stream,” said Hinton. “In effect, saving City Tax Levy that was previously dedicated to the overtime burden. This has not been fully implemented.” Hinton said that DOI will save at least $1.6 million over the next two years, though, by implementing this for current lease payments and employee overtime.</p> <p dir="ltr">Peters, it should be noted, has recused himself from one investigation DOI is undertaking into the de Blasio administration, over a suspect lifting of deed restrictions on a former health care facility that will become luxury housing. Peters was de Blasio’s 2013 campaign finance chair. His potential conflict of interest in leading the agency charged with investigating the mayor’s office and other city agencies was the subject of his 2014 City Council confirmation hearing when de Blasio nominated him for the job. He was voted through by a wide margin.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the Conflicts of Interest Board, which is largely focused on preventing corruption through education and guidance, the funding picture is a bit more grim. Although it receives a $2.32 million allocation in the new executive budget, about $90,000 more than last year’s adopted budget, it is not enough for an agency where the workload in recent years has skyrocketed and staffing has remained relatively flat.</p> <p dir="ltr">COIB representatives <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/126-city/6215-underfunded-conflicts-of-interest-board-struggles-to-meet-mandates" target="_blank">complained</a> at their preliminary budget hearing that the agency struggles to retain staff because of low salaries. Three proposals they made in 2015 for increased funding were rejected by the Office of Management and Budget, they said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Raising salaries across the board would’ve required less than $200,000, according to COIB officials who testified at the preliminary budget hearing. Instead, the executive budget outlines fiscal 2017 salary increases totaling $22,000, along with an additional $4,000 for training equipment, according to Hinton. Part of the total increase since last year’s adopted budget was due to collective bargaining agreements that have been settled. Hinton pointed out that during Mayor de Blasio’s tenure, COIB has received about $292,000 in additional funding over various budgets.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I wish it was more,” said Alan Maisel, chair of the Council’s Standards and Ethics Committee, which has oversight of COIB. “With more money, they could always do more -- more trainings in ethics rules, they could send teams out to site locations.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Since 2010, COIB has been mandated with training city employees in ethics rules every two years. The city has nearly 320,000 employees and COIB has only four full-time staffers, out of a total of 22, who conduct these trainings.</p> <p dir="ltr">Maisel agreed with the mayor’s assertion that the COIB is a strong accountability agency but insisted that it could do a better job with more staffing and resources. When Gotham Gazette asked if he’d push for more funding in the executive budget negotiations, Maisel said, “I’ve already done my pushing. I don’t know where it’s going to go...Hopefully we can get them to add more money. We’re not asking for a fortune here.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Brad Lander, a member of the ethics committee, agrees. “I think it’ll be great to give them a modest amount of additional resources,” he said, noting that COIB budget demands were relatively low, so the $90,000 increase already made this year was significant. But, he added, “I think it’ll be good to give them a little more.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Executive budget hearings began on Friday with the Committee on Finance, an opportunity for Council members to air any budget concerns with de Blasio’s budget director. The hearing included no mention of the Conflict of Interest Board. There is no specific executive budget hearing for the Committee on Standards and Ethics scheduled. This often happens when Council members decide there is little to discuss around agency allocations.</p> <p>There is also no executive budget hearing scheduled for the Committee on Oversight and Investigations.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/25042274459_082630ac14_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="bdb town hall mic crowd" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio at a town hall (photo:&nbsp;Demetrius Freeman/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Over the last few weeks, facing the spectre of multiple investigations, Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly stressed that he, his administration, and his allies operate ethically. “We hold ourselves to the highest standards of integrity,” the mayor has said repeatedly as reporters have questioned him about allegations of impropriety in his fundraising operations.</p> <p dir="ltr">In support, the mayor has regularly referred to the city’s internal mechanisms for ensuring such behavior.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our Conflict of Interest Board, our Department of Investigation, all the different tools that we have here in the city that create accountability have gotten stronger and stronger, and we have the most rigorous campaign finance system in the country,” he told reporters at a press conference on April 13. It was not the only time the mayor has referenced the threesome in place to help keep government officials on the straight and narrow and reduce the influence of money in politics.</p> <p dir="ltr">As the mayor has cited the training the Conflict of Interest Board delivers to city employees and the guidance he and his team sought from it while engaging in their fundraising, as well as the work of the Department of Investigations, the city’s annual budget process has been unfolding.</p> <p dir="ltr">The season has shifted from the preliminary to the executive budget iterations, with a final deal between de Blasio and the City Council due by the July 1 start of the next fiscal year. As the mayor has touted both COIB and DOI, he has had an opportunity to put money where his mouth is, so to speak, while his administration has also had the chance to weigh in on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">pending tweaks</a> to the city’s campaign finance system that include reducing the impact of donation bundlers who have business before the city. There are currently limits on how much entities with business before the city can donate to candidates. (A federal investigation is reportedly focused on whether donors to a nonprofit aligned with the mayor received favorable city action. Nonprofits face no donation limits.)</p> <p dir="ltr">During <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6215-underfunded-conflicts-of-interest-board-struggles-to-meet-mandates" target="_blank">a preliminary budget hearing in March</a>, COIB representatives told City Council members that the agency was significantly underfunded and thus unable to retain good staff or complete its mandated trainings.</p> <p dir="ltr">DOI on the other hand, had no complaints as its budget was already ballooning, with Commissioner Mark Peters simply left to explain how he is using the additional millions.</p> <p dir="ltr">When the mayor released his <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6304-de-blasio-releases-new-82b-budget-with-targeted-investments-and-additional-savings" target="_blank">executive budget</a> on April 27, both COIB and DOI saw bumps in funding, though for COIB funding is still not where board officials or City Council members want to see it.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Department of Investigation’s $47.4 million allocation in the executive budget is about $3.2 million more than the preliminary budget of $44.2 million. Over last year’s adopted budget of $30.9 million, that’s a 53.3 percent increase. During his preliminary budget hearing, DOI Commissioner Peters <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/126-city/6212-government-investigator-explains-43-budget-bump" target="_blank">justified</a> the agency’s budget increase, telling the City Council’s Committee on Investigations, chaired by Council Member Vincent Gentile, that the agency has become more proactive and has started to focus on overarching systemic issues that can lead to corruption and ineffectiveness.</p> <p dir="ltr">“As the City's workforce continues to expand,” said mayoral spokesperson Karen Hinton, “the funding provided in both financial plans will directly support the additional staff required for [DOI] to fulfill its Charter-mandated mission to eliminate fraud, corruption and mismanagement of public fund and policies.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Mike Bistreich, legislation and budget director for Gentile, said the additional funding would also help alleviate some of the lag in background checks that DOI is supposed to perform.</p> <p dir="ltr">However, DOI’s budget did not include significant savings, which was a cause for concern for Gentile at the preliminary budget hearing. In response, Peters proposed that 261 investigators at other agencies be moved to DOI’s payroll so their overtime could be paid through federal asset forfeiture funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">“As investigative staff from other agencies come onboard with DOI through the positions approved in the last financial plans, DOI will be able to cover their overtime with this funding stream,” said Hinton. “In effect, saving City Tax Levy that was previously dedicated to the overtime burden. This has not been fully implemented.” Hinton said that DOI will save at least $1.6 million over the next two years, though, by implementing this for current lease payments and employee overtime.</p> <p dir="ltr">Peters, it should be noted, has recused himself from one investigation DOI is undertaking into the de Blasio administration, over a suspect lifting of deed restrictions on a former health care facility that will become luxury housing. Peters was de Blasio’s 2013 campaign finance chair. His potential conflict of interest in leading the agency charged with investigating the mayor’s office and other city agencies was the subject of his 2014 City Council confirmation hearing when de Blasio nominated him for the job. He was voted through by a wide margin.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the Conflicts of Interest Board, which is largely focused on preventing corruption through education and guidance, the funding picture is a bit more grim. Although it receives a $2.32 million allocation in the new executive budget, about $90,000 more than last year’s adopted budget, it is not enough for an agency where the workload in recent years has skyrocketed and staffing has remained relatively flat.</p> <p dir="ltr">COIB representatives <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/126-city/6215-underfunded-conflicts-of-interest-board-struggles-to-meet-mandates" target="_blank">complained</a> at their preliminary budget hearing that the agency struggles to retain staff because of low salaries. Three proposals they made in 2015 for increased funding were rejected by the Office of Management and Budget, they said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Raising salaries across the board would’ve required less than $200,000, according to COIB officials who testified at the preliminary budget hearing. Instead, the executive budget outlines fiscal 2017 salary increases totaling $22,000, along with an additional $4,000 for training equipment, according to Hinton. Part of the total increase since last year’s adopted budget was due to collective bargaining agreements that have been settled. Hinton pointed out that during Mayor de Blasio’s tenure, COIB has received about $292,000 in additional funding over various budgets.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I wish it was more,” said Alan Maisel, chair of the Council’s Standards and Ethics Committee, which has oversight of COIB. “With more money, they could always do more -- more trainings in ethics rules, they could send teams out to site locations.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Since 2010, COIB has been mandated with training city employees in ethics rules every two years. The city has nearly 320,000 employees and COIB has only four full-time staffers, out of a total of 22, who conduct these trainings.</p> <p dir="ltr">Maisel agreed with the mayor’s assertion that the COIB is a strong accountability agency but insisted that it could do a better job with more staffing and resources. When Gotham Gazette asked if he’d push for more funding in the executive budget negotiations, Maisel said, “I’ve already done my pushing. I don’t know where it’s going to go...Hopefully we can get them to add more money. We’re not asking for a fortune here.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Brad Lander, a member of the ethics committee, agrees. “I think it’ll be great to give them a modest amount of additional resources,” he said, noting that COIB budget demands were relatively low, so the $90,000 increase already made this year was significant. But, he added, “I think it’ll be good to give them a little more.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Executive budget hearings began on Friday with the Committee on Finance, an opportunity for Council members to air any budget concerns with de Blasio’s budget director. The hearing included no mention of the Conflict of Interest Board. There is no specific executive budget hearing for the Committee on Standards and Ethics scheduled. This often happens when Council members decide there is little to discuss around agency allocations.</p> <p>There is also no executive budget hearing scheduled for the Committee on Oversight and Investigations.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
As Problems Persist, City Council to Examine Board of Elections 2016-04-24T23:53:26+00:00 2016-04-24T23:53:26+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6297:as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bdb_voting.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="bdb voting" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio voting (via The Mayor's Office @BilldeBlasio)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">On Tuesday, April 19, thousands of New Yorkers cried foul about how the city was running the state’s most consequential presidential primary elections in decades. Polling sites opened late. Ballot scanners failed. About 125,000 Democratic voters were purged from the Brooklyn rolls while others found their party affiliation had inexplicably changed. While many pointed to what is seen as typical city Board of Elections dysfunction, complaints from across the city prompted a strong official response.</p> <p dir="ltr">Comptroller Scott Stringer <a href="http://observer.com/2016/04/comptroller-will-audit-new-york-city-board-of-elections/">announced an audit</a> of the BOE, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to hold the BOE responsible, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman <a href="http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/statement-ag-schneiderman-voting-issues-during-new-york’s-primary-election">initiated an investigation</a> into the matter. On Thursday, City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, which has oversight of the BOE, joined the chorus, telling Gotham Gazette that he would hold an oversight hearing within the next two months to “get to the bottom of what happened.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think there are recurring problems that continue to happen despite our efforts,” Kallos said.</p> <p dir="ltr">For all the hand-wringing and accusations of incompetence around Tuesday’s election, New Yorkers had little cause for surprise. The problems at the BOE that made headlines across the country are far from new. For years, the body charged with running elections, maintaining the electoral rolls, educating and registering voters has been criticized for its functional inefficiencies, hiring practices, mistakes, and structure.</p> <p dir="ltr">Fundamental flaws at the BOE were identified in a comprehensive report from <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2013/dec%2013/BOE%20Unit%20Report12-30-2013.pdf">December 2013</a> by the city’s Department of Investigation, which recommended more than 40 reforms. At an oversight hearing of the City Council’s governmental operations committee in February 2014, new DOI Commissioner Mark Peters testified that his office found issues of gross nepotism, pressure on staff to engage in political activities, deficient voter rolls, poorly trained poll workers, and inadequate, inefficient, and outdated procedures.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The illegalities, misconduct, and antiquated operations detailed in the report are deeply corrosive and must end,” Peters said <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2014/Feb14/City%20Council%20BOE%20Testimony%2002-28-2014.pdf">at the hearing</a>. He called on the BOE to provide a corrective action plan to implement those reforms.</p> <p dir="ltr">A DOI spokesperson told Gotham Gazette that the BOE had implemented a small percentage of those reforms but did not provide an official corrective action plan, did not implement key reforms, or keep DOI updated on whether additional reforms have been put in place. BOE officials did not respond to requests for comment. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Many have praised BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan, who took over in 2013, while continuing to point to problems in both BOE function and the state laws that govern the BOE.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kallos said that many BOE issues had indeed been resolved over the past two years, but “I was disappointed that despite moving forward on a lot of improvements, the BOE still has a lot of problems.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The February 2014 hearing was Kallos’ first as chair of the governmental operations committee and he has since worked hard to impress upon the BOE the need for reform. In an interview, he was clear that to him the two main issues at the BOE are the political patronage in appointments and the lack of an efficient voter information portal.</p> <p dir="ltr">Recent history illustrates Kallos’ point. In October 2010, George Gonzalez, former BOE executive director, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/27/nyregion/27board.html">was fired</a> following the dismal management of primary elections that year and issues with ballots for the pending general election. Gonzalez had been acting executive director and was <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/george-gonzalez-chosen-new-city-board-elections-executive-director-6-to-4-vote-article-1.204257">officially selected</a> to the position that August. Then, in 2013, a Chinese translation error in ballots for the November election cost one employee their job while another resigned. In 2014, then-president of the BOE Jose Miguel Araujo was <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/conflicts-board-fines-board-elections-prez-hiring-kin-blog-entry-1.1993052">fined</a> by the Conflicts of Interest Board for temporarily hiring his wife to work for the board. Two other employees faced penalties for nepotism. Just last year, the president after Araujo, Michael Michel, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/president-embattled-city-board-elections-fined-10k-article-1.2355554">was fined</a> for helping his son-in-law get three different positions at the board. Michel is still a BOE commissioner.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even in the months leading up to Tuesday’s primary, tiny cracks were beginning to appear in the BOE’s handling of this year’s elections. It <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/01/nyregion/a-200000-ballot-error-and-other-misprints-at-new-york-citys-board-of-elections.html">misprinted</a> absentee ballots and sent vague and confusing election notices to voters. Then, just as people were heading to vote on April 19, <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/democratic-voter-rolls-drop-more-60000-brooklyn-presidential-primary/">WNYC radio discovered</a> that more than 60,000 Brooklyn Democrats had been removed from the electoral rolls in what turned out to be a major clerical error that has already led to one employee <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/after-board-elections-shrugged-criticism-one-brooklyn-official-suspended/">suspension</a> and helped prompt the launch of multiple investigations by government regulators. The number actually turned out to be 126,000 Brooklyn Democrats removed from the rolls.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kallos, who has long advocated for BOE reform, first brought up the online voter information portal in 2007, when more than a million voters were removed from the rolls ahead of the 2008 presidential elections. On Wednesday, he did his own analysis of the voter purge in Brooklyn, crunching the numbers from the state voter file and looking at how Kings County routinely purges thousands of people from the rolls every year. It is normal practice for the BOE’s different borough offices to remove inactive voters from the rolls based on people who have died or moved away. But, the extent of the purge is the question.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kallos intends to find out more once he gets BOE officials in front of him. “It’s a concern that eight years after I raised this, it continues to be a problem,” he said. “The issue is state law. If someone doesn’t vote and fails to respond to one letter (from the BOE), they get removed from the rolls. We really need Albany to do its job here.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A major concern for Kallos is the political structure of the BOE. The board is composed of ten commissioners, two each from New York’s five boroughs. The candidates are recommended by the political parties, typically the county chair of each party, and confirmed by the City Council to serve four-year terms. Staff is also hired on a partisan basis. Kallos believes the city should stop funding these “patronage positions” and hire qualified people through publicly advertised jobs.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The staff people who lack the competence to fix these problems need to be replaced with staff that can do the job,” he said, discussing the issue of the full-time BOE staff, which only begins to touch on the issue of the election day provisional staff who administer voting throughout the city and often commit mistakes.</p> <p dir="ltr">Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a good government group, shares Kallos’ views. “We pick people based on their party affiliation and who they know, and that means sometimes we get very capable people and sometimes we don’t, and that’s not a good way to choose people,” Lerner said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lerner compared New York’s flawed system with Los Angeles, which has a nonpartisan professional election administration that, she said, is responsive to voters and taxpayers. “Our Board of Elections is not responsive to either and that is a matter of state law,” she added. “The lines of accountability are completely unclear.” She did say that the BOE had improved to a degree under recent management.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another government reform group, the New York Public Interest Research Group, also bemoaned the administration of Tuesday’s election. In a press statement, NYPIRG called on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to establish automatic voter registration and updating of enrollment data and same-day registration (as in, on election day), and echoed calls for eliminating patronage in selection of BOE employees. The group also said the state should shrink its registration and change of enrollment deadlines to ten days prior to the election. For this year’s primary, the deadline for people to change their party affiliation was October 9 last year -- the earliest deadline of any state in the country.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some members of the state Legislature acknowledged these issues and the dire need for reform. Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, and State Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, have sponsored <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass">the Voter Empowerment Act</a>, which provides for automatic registration of eligible voters and online registration, and changes the deadlines for registration and party enrollment.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The system now generates a lot of obstacles to voting,” Kavanagh told Gotham Gazette. “And it’s important that we not get too focused on any one of them, and instead think about it as a broad, systematic set of problems with a series of solutions, all of which we should consider and many of which we should implement.”</p> <p>Among the issues Kavanagh raised are BOE staffing and poll worker training, long shifts for poll workers on election days, and simply “bad, outdated” election laws.</p> <p>Ryan downplayed people’s concerns about the primary election, <a href="http://www.fox5ny.com/news/127153757-video" target="_blank">telling Fox5’s Greg Kelly</a> on Wednesday morning that “No one was disenfranchised.” He attempted to deflect blame to certain voters themselves. “What we did see was a concerted effort by some folks to apparently, to protest New York’s closed primary process by showing up to vote when they weren’t registered to vote. We tracked down dozens who say they were disenfranchised and as it turns out, they weren’t registered in the parties that they were trying to vote for,” he said.</p> <p>Since then, however, the BOE changed it’s tune somewhat. A long-serving BOE official, chief clerk in Brooklyn Diane Haslett-Rudiano, was suspended over the purging of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls. Initial reports indicate that Haslett-Rudiano made a clerical mistake, but a series of investigations will seek to get to the bottom of what happened.</p> <p>Part of the problem is the BOE’s failure to communicate with the public, said Matt Sollars, press secretary for the New York City Campaign Finance Board. “It’s troubling that the BOE provided little notice to the public about its efforts to clean the voter rolls, or guidance on how to resolve the issue for voters who had been removed,” Sollars said. “Particularly in the run-up to a high-profile election, the BOE should do more to clearly communicate to voters about what it is doing and what actions they need to take, if any.”</p> <p>Many of the problems, Sollars said, would be resolved by updating the state’s “archaic” voting laws. The CFB, with its voter engagement arm, NYC Votes, and a broad coalition is putting forward a “Vote Better NY” platform, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">which includes several changes to voting rules</a>.</p> <p>On Wednesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito seemed to echo all these frustrations. “Obviously my interest, as everybody’s interest here, is to make sure that our Board of Elections conducts an election process that is thorough, fair, and as smooth as possible,” she said, responding to reporters at a news conference at City Hall. “Unfortunately, the reality is that every election we have problems and issues -- polls open late, etc., and those are things that we can’t tolerate.”</p> <p>“The concerns that were raised are ones that we’ve heard in other elections as well,” she added. “And we’ve gotta make sure that this just stops at some point.”</p> <p>Last week's was <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6081-concerns-of-voter-fatigue-as-new-york-schedules-four-2016-election-days" target="_blank">the first of four election days this year</a> in New York City, with congressional primaries coming up in June, state-level primaries in September, and Election Day in November.</p> <p>In a radio interview on Friday, Mayor de Blasio criticized long standing issues at the BOE. “The BOE is governed by state law, obviously with a partisan dynamic, in terms of the party structures play a role in it, and I think the whole thing needs to be reexamined now,” he <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/mayor-de-blasio-city-news/" target="_blank">told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer</a>. The mayor pledged to leverage the city’s budgetary power over the BOE and his own leadership position in the Democratic Party to make changes at the board. He also insisted that the voter purge in Brooklyn be reversed immediately, while calling on Albany to update New York laws governing the board and the wider administration of elections.</p> <p>“From my point of view,” he said, “we’ve seen it time and again with the BOE, an arcane structure that has to be modernized and has to be made efficient so people are encouraged to vote.”</p> <p>“A vote would have to happen in the Legislature to change the rules and change the structure,” de Blasio added. “But I’m going to work for it, because from my point of view I could not be more frustrated by the notion of people trying to exercise their right to vote and, time and time again, having a bad experience.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/bdb_voting.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="bdb voting" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio voting (via The Mayor's Office @BilldeBlasio)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">On Tuesday, April 19, thousands of New Yorkers cried foul about how the city was running the state’s most consequential presidential primary elections in decades. Polling sites opened late. Ballot scanners failed. About 125,000 Democratic voters were purged from the Brooklyn rolls while others found their party affiliation had inexplicably changed. While many pointed to what is seen as typical city Board of Elections dysfunction, complaints from across the city prompted a strong official response.</p> <p dir="ltr">Comptroller Scott Stringer <a href="http://observer.com/2016/04/comptroller-will-audit-new-york-city-board-of-elections/">announced an audit</a> of the BOE, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised to hold the BOE responsible, and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman <a href="http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/statement-ag-schneiderman-voting-issues-during-new-york’s-primary-election">initiated an investigation</a> into the matter. On Thursday, City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, which has oversight of the BOE, joined the chorus, telling Gotham Gazette that he would hold an oversight hearing within the next two months to “get to the bottom of what happened.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think there are recurring problems that continue to happen despite our efforts,” Kallos said.</p> <p dir="ltr">For all the hand-wringing and accusations of incompetence around Tuesday’s election, New Yorkers had little cause for surprise. The problems at the BOE that made headlines across the country are far from new. For years, the body charged with running elections, maintaining the electoral rolls, educating and registering voters has been criticized for its functional inefficiencies, hiring practices, mistakes, and structure.</p> <p dir="ltr">Fundamental flaws at the BOE were identified in a comprehensive report from <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2013/dec%2013/BOE%20Unit%20Report12-30-2013.pdf">December 2013</a> by the city’s Department of Investigation, which recommended more than 40 reforms. At an oversight hearing of the City Council’s governmental operations committee in February 2014, new DOI Commissioner Mark Peters testified that his office found issues of gross nepotism, pressure on staff to engage in political activities, deficient voter rolls, poorly trained poll workers, and inadequate, inefficient, and outdated procedures.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The illegalities, misconduct, and antiquated operations detailed in the report are deeply corrosive and must end,” Peters said <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2014/Feb14/City%20Council%20BOE%20Testimony%2002-28-2014.pdf">at the hearing</a>. He called on the BOE to provide a corrective action plan to implement those reforms.</p> <p dir="ltr">A DOI spokesperson told Gotham Gazette that the BOE had implemented a small percentage of those reforms but did not provide an official corrective action plan, did not implement key reforms, or keep DOI updated on whether additional reforms have been put in place. BOE officials did not respond to requests for comment. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Many have praised BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan, who took over in 2013, while continuing to point to problems in both BOE function and the state laws that govern the BOE.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kallos said that many BOE issues had indeed been resolved over the past two years, but “I was disappointed that despite moving forward on a lot of improvements, the BOE still has a lot of problems.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The February 2014 hearing was Kallos’ first as chair of the governmental operations committee and he has since worked hard to impress upon the BOE the need for reform. In an interview, he was clear that to him the two main issues at the BOE are the political patronage in appointments and the lack of an efficient voter information portal.</p> <p dir="ltr">Recent history illustrates Kallos’ point. In October 2010, George Gonzalez, former BOE executive director, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/27/nyregion/27board.html">was fired</a> following the dismal management of primary elections that year and issues with ballots for the pending general election. Gonzalez had been acting executive director and was <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/george-gonzalez-chosen-new-city-board-elections-executive-director-6-to-4-vote-article-1.204257">officially selected</a> to the position that August. Then, in 2013, a Chinese translation error in ballots for the November election cost one employee their job while another resigned. In 2014, then-president of the BOE Jose Miguel Araujo was <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/conflicts-board-fines-board-elections-prez-hiring-kin-blog-entry-1.1993052">fined</a> by the Conflicts of Interest Board for temporarily hiring his wife to work for the board. Two other employees faced penalties for nepotism. Just last year, the president after Araujo, Michael Michel, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/president-embattled-city-board-elections-fined-10k-article-1.2355554">was fined</a> for helping his son-in-law get three different positions at the board. Michel is still a BOE commissioner.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even in the months leading up to Tuesday’s primary, tiny cracks were beginning to appear in the BOE’s handling of this year’s elections. It <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/01/nyregion/a-200000-ballot-error-and-other-misprints-at-new-york-citys-board-of-elections.html">misprinted</a> absentee ballots and sent vague and confusing election notices to voters. Then, just as people were heading to vote on April 19, <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/democratic-voter-rolls-drop-more-60000-brooklyn-presidential-primary/">WNYC radio discovered</a> that more than 60,000 Brooklyn Democrats had been removed from the electoral rolls in what turned out to be a major clerical error that has already led to one employee <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/after-board-elections-shrugged-criticism-one-brooklyn-official-suspended/">suspension</a> and helped prompt the launch of multiple investigations by government regulators. The number actually turned out to be 126,000 Brooklyn Democrats removed from the rolls.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kallos, who has long advocated for BOE reform, first brought up the online voter information portal in 2007, when more than a million voters were removed from the rolls ahead of the 2008 presidential elections. On Wednesday, he did his own analysis of the voter purge in Brooklyn, crunching the numbers from the state voter file and looking at how Kings County routinely purges thousands of people from the rolls every year. It is normal practice for the BOE’s different borough offices to remove inactive voters from the rolls based on people who have died or moved away. But, the extent of the purge is the question.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kallos intends to find out more once he gets BOE officials in front of him. “It’s a concern that eight years after I raised this, it continues to be a problem,” he said. “The issue is state law. If someone doesn’t vote and fails to respond to one letter (from the BOE), they get removed from the rolls. We really need Albany to do its job here.”</p> <p dir="ltr">A major concern for Kallos is the political structure of the BOE. The board is composed of ten commissioners, two each from New York’s five boroughs. The candidates are recommended by the political parties, typically the county chair of each party, and confirmed by the City Council to serve four-year terms. Staff is also hired on a partisan basis. Kallos believes the city should stop funding these “patronage positions” and hire qualified people through publicly advertised jobs.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The staff people who lack the competence to fix these problems need to be replaced with staff that can do the job,” he said, discussing the issue of the full-time BOE staff, which only begins to touch on the issue of the election day provisional staff who administer voting throughout the city and often commit mistakes.</p> <p dir="ltr">Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a good government group, shares Kallos’ views. “We pick people based on their party affiliation and who they know, and that means sometimes we get very capable people and sometimes we don’t, and that’s not a good way to choose people,” Lerner said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lerner compared New York’s flawed system with Los Angeles, which has a nonpartisan professional election administration that, she said, is responsive to voters and taxpayers. “Our Board of Elections is not responsive to either and that is a matter of state law,” she added. “The lines of accountability are completely unclear.” She did say that the BOE had improved to a degree under recent management.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another government reform group, the New York Public Interest Research Group, also bemoaned the administration of Tuesday’s election. In a press statement, NYPIRG called on Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to establish automatic voter registration and updating of enrollment data and same-day registration (as in, on election day), and echoed calls for eliminating patronage in selection of BOE employees. The group also said the state should shrink its registration and change of enrollment deadlines to ten days prior to the election. For this year’s primary, the deadline for people to change their party affiliation was October 9 last year -- the earliest deadline of any state in the country.</p> <p dir="ltr">Some members of the state Legislature acknowledged these issues and the dire need for reform. Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a Manhattan Democrat, and State Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, have sponsored <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass">the Voter Empowerment Act</a>, which provides for automatic registration of eligible voters and online registration, and changes the deadlines for registration and party enrollment.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The system now generates a lot of obstacles to voting,” Kavanagh told Gotham Gazette. “And it’s important that we not get too focused on any one of them, and instead think about it as a broad, systematic set of problems with a series of solutions, all of which we should consider and many of which we should implement.”</p> <p>Among the issues Kavanagh raised are BOE staffing and poll worker training, long shifts for poll workers on election days, and simply “bad, outdated” election laws.</p> <p>Ryan downplayed people’s concerns about the primary election, <a href="http://www.fox5ny.com/news/127153757-video" target="_blank">telling Fox5’s Greg Kelly</a> on Wednesday morning that “No one was disenfranchised.” He attempted to deflect blame to certain voters themselves. “What we did see was a concerted effort by some folks to apparently, to protest New York’s closed primary process by showing up to vote when they weren’t registered to vote. We tracked down dozens who say they were disenfranchised and as it turns out, they weren’t registered in the parties that they were trying to vote for,” he said.</p> <p>Since then, however, the BOE changed it’s tune somewhat. A long-serving BOE official, chief clerk in Brooklyn Diane Haslett-Rudiano, was suspended over the purging of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls. Initial reports indicate that Haslett-Rudiano made a clerical mistake, but a series of investigations will seek to get to the bottom of what happened.</p> <p>Part of the problem is the BOE’s failure to communicate with the public, said Matt Sollars, press secretary for the New York City Campaign Finance Board. “It’s troubling that the BOE provided little notice to the public about its efforts to clean the voter rolls, or guidance on how to resolve the issue for voters who had been removed,” Sollars said. “Particularly in the run-up to a high-profile election, the BOE should do more to clearly communicate to voters about what it is doing and what actions they need to take, if any.”</p> <p>Many of the problems, Sollars said, would be resolved by updating the state’s “archaic” voting laws. The CFB, with its voter engagement arm, NYC Votes, and a broad coalition is putting forward a “Vote Better NY” platform, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">which includes several changes to voting rules</a>.</p> <p>On Wednesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito seemed to echo all these frustrations. “Obviously my interest, as everybody’s interest here, is to make sure that our Board of Elections conducts an election process that is thorough, fair, and as smooth as possible,” she said, responding to reporters at a news conference at City Hall. “Unfortunately, the reality is that every election we have problems and issues -- polls open late, etc., and those are things that we can’t tolerate.”</p> <p>“The concerns that were raised are ones that we’ve heard in other elections as well,” she added. “And we’ve gotta make sure that this just stops at some point.”</p> <p>Last week's was <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6081-concerns-of-voter-fatigue-as-new-york-schedules-four-2016-election-days" target="_blank">the first of four election days this year</a> in New York City, with congressional primaries coming up in June, state-level primaries in September, and Election Day in November.</p> <p>In a radio interview on Friday, Mayor de Blasio criticized long standing issues at the BOE. “The BOE is governed by state law, obviously with a partisan dynamic, in terms of the party structures play a role in it, and I think the whole thing needs to be reexamined now,” he <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/mayor-de-blasio-city-news/" target="_blank">told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer</a>. The mayor pledged to leverage the city’s budgetary power over the BOE and his own leadership position in the Democratic Party to make changes at the board. He also insisted that the voter purge in Brooklyn be reversed immediately, while calling on Albany to update New York laws governing the board and the wider administration of elections.</p> <p>“From my point of view,” he said, “we’ve seen it time and again with the BOE, an arcane structure that has to be modernized and has to be made efficient so people are encouraged to vote.”</p> <p>“A vote would have to happen in the Legislature to change the rules and change the structure,” de Blasio added. “But I’m going to work for it, because from my point of view I could not be more frustrated by the notion of people trying to exercise their right to vote and, time and time again, having a bad experience.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Government Investigator Explains 43% Budget Bump 2016-03-08T05:01:59+00:00 2016-03-08T05:01:59+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6212:government-investigator-explains-43-budget-bump Carmen Russo <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/peters_doi.jpg" alt="peters doi" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>DOI Commissioner Mark Peters (photo: @DOInews)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Department of Investigation has become a more proactive body focusing on systemic problems at city agencies, said Commissioner Mark Peters at a City Council budget hearing on Monday afternoon. Peters explained his office's increased productivity and impact in attempting to justify a nearly 43 percent increase in the department's budget for fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1.</p> <p>The City Council's evaluation of Mayor Bill de Blasio's $82 billion preliminary budget is now in its second week and administration officials continue to testify before committees on their agency expenses and programs. On Monday, the Committee on Investigations, chaired by City Council Member Vincent Gentile, heard testimony from Peters on how DOI has changed its procedures and added responsibility, and why it requires a significant increase in funding.</p> <p>De Blasio's preliminary budget allocates $44.2 million to DOI, a $13.2 million, or 42.7 percent, increase over last year's adopted budget. The increase is largely due to a major agency expansion, adding 59 new staff members, for $4.5 million, bringing the total staffing to 361. Much of the workforce addition, at least 25 employees, will go to the Inspector General unit for the Department of Buildings. (DOI also oversees another 261 employees in oversight roles at city agencies, but those are not budgeted under DOI).</p> <p>Of the 59 new personnel, 38 positions were baselined in the November financial plan for a total of $1.5 million, which will grow to $2.9 million in fiscal 2017.</p> <p>"DOI, in the last two years, instead of being a reactive agency, which tended to react to complaints and react to tips coming in, has now become a proactive agency," Peters said in response to Council Member Gentile inquiries about the increased budget and shift in approach. Concerns were raised in prior hearings that DOI was not arresting as many city employees as the agency had under prior commissioners.</p> <p>Peters reiterated that he had moved the department to focus more on macro issues to prevent the type of misconduct that can often result in an arrest, but he also pointed out that DOI has been making more arrests. In the 2015 calendar year, DOI made 569 arrests, an 83 percent increase from 2014, based on more than 1500 investigations, and received over 700 criminal prosecution referrals, nearly double from the prior year. Peters did again caution against using arrests as an efficient metric, a point he repeated when questioned by Council Member Rory Lancman later in the hearing, saying that his office has become fairly prolific in writing insightful investigative reports.</p> <p>Peters and the Council members seemed to agree that there is a good balance for DOI to strike in making arrests for theft and graft and issuing more sweeping reports. Council members indicated that with DOI's increase in arrests, it appeared to be finding the sweet spot of rooting out corruption and, through <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/html/doireports/public.shtml" target="_blank">its reports</a>, influencing preventative change.</p> <p>Reports that Peters cited include a comprehensive examination of the Department of Homeless Services, which necessitated an overhaul of the city's homeless shelter policies; a report on the failure of the NYPD and NYCHA to share information about the arrest and removal of criminal offenders from NYCHA housing, which resulted in changes in both departments; and an analysis of the use of force by NYPD officers, which led the department to announce that it would track all uses of force.</p> <p>"In total we have issued 25 reports of this type," Peters said, "that collectively mean that children will not live in homeless shelters with decaying rats on the floor, that we are less likely to have bricks fall off buildings and kill two-year-olds, that police are less likely to use improper force." In comparison, DOI only issued 10 reports in the four years before Peters' leadership, he said.</p> <p>DOI's jurisdiction has also expanded in recent years. In 2013, the NYPD came under its ambit and in December 2015, NYC Health + Hospitals was also included.</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, the issue of agency savings, which has underscored the entire budget process, came up when Gentile noted that the preliminary budget didn't mention any savings for DOI. Peters responded with a proposal, which he said he had presented to the city's Office of Management and Budget as well. Accordingly, overtime for DOI employees is paid through federal forfeiture funds and if the city were to formally transfer the payroll of 261 investigators in other city agencies to DOI, it would keep the city from spending some of its own money, replaced by federal funds.</p> <p>"We run a remarkably lean shop," added Peters.</p> <p>Peters did note in <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2016/Mar16/doi_testimony_prelimbudgethearing_30716.pdf" target="_blank">his opening testimony</a> that DOI had indefinitely lost an important stream of funding. In accordance with a recent change in federal law, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in December 2015 that equitable sharing payments that are made to state and local law enforcement from federal asset forfeiture programs will come to an end. These payments, separate from overtime payments, facilitated funding for equipment, renovations, vehicles, and training, to name a few. In fiscal 2015, DOI received about $27 million in these funds. Peters estimated the fiscal 2016 amount at $12,000. (DOI has roughly three years to spend this money). But he also reassured Council Member Helen Rosenthal that this would not affect the current budget under consideration.</p> <p>Council Member Lancman and Commissioner Peters did "quibble" back and forth, albeit congenially, about DOI's lack of focus on the "nuts and bolts" that led to lower arrests two years ago and then a substantial increase in arrests last year. Peters said many cases only "paid dividends" in 2015 after being carried over from the previous year.</p> <p>"Let me quibble with your quibble, a little bit," Lancman said in response to Peters at one point. His concerns were that run-of-the-mill corruption cases may be getting overlooked compared to larger investigations that the department was conducting. "Something must be different at the department if the only reason that you're back to a pre-de Blasio era arrest level is significant investigations that you've started that have reached fruition," Lancman said, asking Peters if DOI recognized this issue.</p> <p>Peters, cognizant of the issue, called it a "philosophical question" about the best use of finite resources. He stressed that he had heeded the Council's feedback from last year and tried to stick to a "middle course" of ensuring that systemic investigations as well as low-level corruption were handled adequately and that the agency portrayed a message of zero tolerance.</p> <p>"That is a valid, legitimate conversation," Peters said, "and it's one I have with myself and with my staff almost daily."</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/peters_doi.jpg" alt="peters doi" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p>DOI Commissioner Mark Peters (photo: @DOInews)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Department of Investigation has become a more proactive body focusing on systemic problems at city agencies, said Commissioner Mark Peters at a City Council budget hearing on Monday afternoon. Peters explained his office's increased productivity and impact in attempting to justify a nearly 43 percent increase in the department's budget for fiscal year 2017, which begins July 1.</p> <p>The City Council's evaluation of Mayor Bill de Blasio's $82 billion preliminary budget is now in its second week and administration officials continue to testify before committees on their agency expenses and programs. On Monday, the Committee on Investigations, chaired by City Council Member Vincent Gentile, heard testimony from Peters on how DOI has changed its procedures and added responsibility, and why it requires a significant increase in funding.</p> <p>De Blasio's preliminary budget allocates $44.2 million to DOI, a $13.2 million, or 42.7 percent, increase over last year's adopted budget. The increase is largely due to a major agency expansion, adding 59 new staff members, for $4.5 million, bringing the total staffing to 361. Much of the workforce addition, at least 25 employees, will go to the Inspector General unit for the Department of Buildings. (DOI also oversees another 261 employees in oversight roles at city agencies, but those are not budgeted under DOI).</p> <p>Of the 59 new personnel, 38 positions were baselined in the November financial plan for a total of $1.5 million, which will grow to $2.9 million in fiscal 2017.</p> <p>"DOI, in the last two years, instead of being a reactive agency, which tended to react to complaints and react to tips coming in, has now become a proactive agency," Peters said in response to Council Member Gentile inquiries about the increased budget and shift in approach. Concerns were raised in prior hearings that DOI was not arresting as many city employees as the agency had under prior commissioners.</p> <p>Peters reiterated that he had moved the department to focus more on macro issues to prevent the type of misconduct that can often result in an arrest, but he also pointed out that DOI has been making more arrests. In the 2015 calendar year, DOI made 569 arrests, an 83 percent increase from 2014, based on more than 1500 investigations, and received over 700 criminal prosecution referrals, nearly double from the prior year. Peters did again caution against using arrests as an efficient metric, a point he repeated when questioned by Council Member Rory Lancman later in the hearing, saying that his office has become fairly prolific in writing insightful investigative reports.</p> <p>Peters and the Council members seemed to agree that there is a good balance for DOI to strike in making arrests for theft and graft and issuing more sweeping reports. Council members indicated that with DOI's increase in arrests, it appeared to be finding the sweet spot of rooting out corruption and, through <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/html/doireports/public.shtml" target="_blank">its reports</a>, influencing preventative change.</p> <p>Reports that Peters cited include a comprehensive examination of the Department of Homeless Services, which necessitated an overhaul of the city's homeless shelter policies; a report on the failure of the NYPD and NYCHA to share information about the arrest and removal of criminal offenders from NYCHA housing, which resulted in changes in both departments; and an analysis of the use of force by NYPD officers, which led the department to announce that it would track all uses of force.</p> <p>"In total we have issued 25 reports of this type," Peters said, "that collectively mean that children will not live in homeless shelters with decaying rats on the floor, that we are less likely to have bricks fall off buildings and kill two-year-olds, that police are less likely to use improper force." In comparison, DOI only issued 10 reports in the four years before Peters' leadership, he said.</p> <p>DOI's jurisdiction has also expanded in recent years. In 2013, the NYPD came under its ambit and in December 2015, NYC Health + Hospitals was also included.</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, the issue of agency savings, which has underscored the entire budget process, came up when Gentile noted that the preliminary budget didn't mention any savings for DOI. Peters responded with a proposal, which he said he had presented to the city's Office of Management and Budget as well. Accordingly, overtime for DOI employees is paid through federal forfeiture funds and if the city were to formally transfer the payroll of 261 investigators in other city agencies to DOI, it would keep the city from spending some of its own money, replaced by federal funds.</p> <p>"We run a remarkably lean shop," added Peters.</p> <p>Peters did note in <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2016/Mar16/doi_testimony_prelimbudgethearing_30716.pdf" target="_blank">his opening testimony</a> that DOI had indefinitely lost an important stream of funding. In accordance with a recent change in federal law, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in December 2015 that equitable sharing payments that are made to state and local law enforcement from federal asset forfeiture programs will come to an end. These payments, separate from overtime payments, facilitated funding for equipment, renovations, vehicles, and training, to name a few. In fiscal 2015, DOI received about $27 million in these funds. Peters estimated the fiscal 2016 amount at $12,000. (DOI has roughly three years to spend this money). But he also reassured Council Member Helen Rosenthal that this would not affect the current budget under consideration.</p> <p>Council Member Lancman and Commissioner Peters did "quibble" back and forth, albeit congenially, about DOI's lack of focus on the "nuts and bolts" that led to lower arrests two years ago and then a substantial increase in arrests last year. Peters said many cases only "paid dividends" in 2015 after being carried over from the previous year.</p> <p>"Let me quibble with your quibble, a little bit," Lancman said in response to Peters at one point. His concerns were that run-of-the-mill corruption cases may be getting overlooked compared to larger investigations that the department was conducting. "Something must be different at the department if the only reason that you're back to a pre-de Blasio era arrest level is significant investigations that you've started that have reached fruition," Lancman said, asking Peters if DOI recognized this issue.</p> <p>Peters, cognizant of the issue, called it a "philosophical question" about the best use of finite resources. He stressed that he had heeded the Council's feedback from last year and tried to stick to a "middle course" of ensuring that systemic investigations as well as low-level corruption were handled adequately and that the agency portrayed a message of zero tolerance.</p> <p>"That is a valid, legitimate conversation," Peters said, "and it's one I have with myself and with my staff almost daily."</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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