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/michael-ryan 2017-12-12T02:41:37+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Pushing Back, Board of Elections Head Insists on ‘Personal Responsibility’ for Voters 2017-05-15T11:14:28+00:00 2017-05-15T11:14:28+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6933:pushing-back-board-of-elections-head-insists-on-personal-responsibility-for-voters Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/vote_here_long_line.jpeg" alt="vote here long line" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Long line of voters (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The executive director of the New York City Board of Elections said at a City Council budget hearing on Friday that recent failings by the board, revealed in a <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/your-vote-didnt-count-and-board-didnt-tell-you-time-do-anything-about-it/">WNYC report</a>, were not entirely the BOE’s responsibility and that voters in New York needed to step up their participation and involvement in ensuring that their votes count.</p> <p>WNYC radio’s Brigid Bergin reported last week that more than 78,000 affidavit ballots, out of 168,000 cast by voters whose names were not listed in voter rolls in last year’s presidential election, were disqualified by the BOE and the board did not notify those voters in time for them to challenge those decisions in court and possibly have their vote count. Voters fill out affidavit ballots when they believe there is a mistake about their enrollment status, typically when their name is not in the sign-in book when they show up to cast a ballot.</p> <p>If it is not counting an affidavit vote, the law requires the board to notify affidavit voters immediately by mail and those voters have 20 days to appeal. But, as WNYC found, the board only began sending notifications two days after that deadline passed and was still sending some as of last week -- six months after the election.</p> <p>Friday’s City Council hearing of the Committee on Governmental Operations was part of the ongoing round of hearings on Mayor bill de Blasio’s executive budget proposal. A new fiscal year 2018 budget is due by July 1, with the mayor and the Council needing to agree on a spending plan by then. While the BOE is governed by state law, it is funded through the city budget and the City Council has oversight. The mayor and Council have virtually no control, though, over BOE operations and personnel.</p> <p>The government operations committee, chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos, met to discuss the BOE’s $136.5 million proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Council members sought answers from the board about the latest WNYC report, which came after <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/people/brigid-bergin/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series of reports by Bergin</a> exposing problems at the BOE, including tens of thousands of voters purged from the rolls ahead of the presidential election. Kallos said his wife was one of those voters whose vote did not count, and that she received a notice from the BOE just last month.</p> <p>“There is a quasi-manual, quasi-automated process,” said Michael Ryan, BOE executive director, insisting that the board could not send notices to voters who aren’t in the system until they provide relevant missing information to the board.</p> <p>Referring to a specific voter highlighted by WNYC, who shuttled numerous times between two poll sites in attempting to cast her vote, which eventually was not counted, Ryan said the voter’s actions on Election Day seemed “suspicious” and also said WNYC’s report, “simplistically analyzed a complex process.”</p> <p>He also said the affidavit counting process is open and voters concerned about their votes could, and should, approach the board in the days after the election to ensure their vote was valid. “The fact that there is this burden shift to any Board of Elections...that we have to take all of the responsibility and the voters don’t have to take any of the responsibility, which seems to be the argument that’s being made here, is quite simply not fair to any government agency.”</p> <p>He insisted that notifications could not be sent out to voters until the election was certified, which was done December 6 last year, nearly a month after Election Day. And the 20-day deadline to challenge a decision on a vote, he said, was a state legislative matter rather than one for the board.</p> <p>“No amount of money is going to suspend the time-space continuum,” Ryan said, when Kallos asked what the board could do to give people enough time to take a decision to court. “That is something that we all must live with. That is a law of nature.”</p> <p>Kallos suggested perhaps the BOE could use new technology to read voter addresses. But Ryan refuted that as well, insisting, somewhat contrary to his earlier testimony, that the process was an “entirely manual” one. “It’s the 20 days for the court challenge that is the issue, not the technology, not the process,” he added. “Again, that having been said, this is an open process and people are free a week after the election to come to the Board of Elections and challenge their affidavit if they think it’s an issue.”</p> <p>He reiterated that voters must accept their part in the process as well. “There is something in this society that I think is somewhat missing and that is personal responsibility,” he said. “And it doesn't all fall to the government to fix that.”</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/vote_here_long_line.jpeg" alt="vote here long line" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Long line of voters (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The executive director of the New York City Board of Elections said at a City Council budget hearing on Friday that recent failings by the board, revealed in a <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/your-vote-didnt-count-and-board-didnt-tell-you-time-do-anything-about-it/">WNYC report</a>, were not entirely the BOE’s responsibility and that voters in New York needed to step up their participation and involvement in ensuring that their votes count.</p> <p>WNYC radio’s Brigid Bergin reported last week that more than 78,000 affidavit ballots, out of 168,000 cast by voters whose names were not listed in voter rolls in last year’s presidential election, were disqualified by the BOE and the board did not notify those voters in time for them to challenge those decisions in court and possibly have their vote count. Voters fill out affidavit ballots when they believe there is a mistake about their enrollment status, typically when their name is not in the sign-in book when they show up to cast a ballot.</p> <p>If it is not counting an affidavit vote, the law requires the board to notify affidavit voters immediately by mail and those voters have 20 days to appeal. But, as WNYC found, the board only began sending notifications two days after that deadline passed and was still sending some as of last week -- six months after the election.</p> <p>Friday’s City Council hearing of the Committee on Governmental Operations was part of the ongoing round of hearings on Mayor bill de Blasio’s executive budget proposal. A new fiscal year 2018 budget is due by July 1, with the mayor and the Council needing to agree on a spending plan by then. While the BOE is governed by state law, it is funded through the city budget and the City Council has oversight. The mayor and Council have virtually no control, though, over BOE operations and personnel.</p> <p>The government operations committee, chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos, met to discuss the BOE’s $136.5 million proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Council members sought answers from the board about the latest WNYC report, which came after <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/people/brigid-bergin/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series of reports by Bergin</a> exposing problems at the BOE, including tens of thousands of voters purged from the rolls ahead of the presidential election. Kallos said his wife was one of those voters whose vote did not count, and that she received a notice from the BOE just last month.</p> <p>“There is a quasi-manual, quasi-automated process,” said Michael Ryan, BOE executive director, insisting that the board could not send notices to voters who aren’t in the system until they provide relevant missing information to the board.</p> <p>Referring to a specific voter highlighted by WNYC, who shuttled numerous times between two poll sites in attempting to cast her vote, which eventually was not counted, Ryan said the voter’s actions on Election Day seemed “suspicious” and also said WNYC’s report, “simplistically analyzed a complex process.”</p> <p>He also said the affidavit counting process is open and voters concerned about their votes could, and should, approach the board in the days after the election to ensure their vote was valid. “The fact that there is this burden shift to any Board of Elections...that we have to take all of the responsibility and the voters don’t have to take any of the responsibility, which seems to be the argument that’s being made here, is quite simply not fair to any government agency.”</p> <p>He insisted that notifications could not be sent out to voters until the election was certified, which was done December 6 last year, nearly a month after Election Day. And the 20-day deadline to challenge a decision on a vote, he said, was a state legislative matter rather than one for the board.</p> <p>“No amount of money is going to suspend the time-space continuum,” Ryan said, when Kallos asked what the board could do to give people enough time to take a decision to court. “That is something that we all must live with. That is a law of nature.”</p> <p>Kallos suggested perhaps the BOE could use new technology to read voter addresses. But Ryan refuted that as well, insisting, somewhat contrary to his earlier testimony, that the process was an “entirely manual” one. “It’s the 20 days for the court challenge that is the issue, not the technology, not the process,” he added. “Again, that having been said, this is an open process and people are free a week after the election to come to the Board of Elections and challenge their affidavit if they think it’s an issue.”</p> <p>He reiterated that voters must accept their part in the process as well. “There is something in this society that I think is somewhat missing and that is personal responsibility,” he said. “And it doesn't all fall to the government to fix that.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Fixing City's 'Non-Functioning' Board of Elections Relies on State 2016-06-26T04:00:00+00:00 2016-06-26T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6414:fix-for-city-s-non-functioning-board-of-elections-relies-on-state Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/26253307060_9101faf4b4_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="de Blasio voting 2016" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio votes (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Many eyes will be on the New York City Board of Elections come Tuesday as New Yorkers head to the polls for the second time this year, casting their&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6380-new-yorkers-vote-in-congressional-primaries-june-28" target="_blank">votes in congressional primaries</a>. The first election, April&rsquo;s presidential primaries, was so problematic it prompted multiple city and state authorities to launch investigations into the city BOE and caused Mayor Bill de Blasio to offer an extra $20 million in funding for the agency, conditional upon the enactment of certain reforms.</p> <p dir="ltr">Because of the structure of the law, the Mayor cannot make structural reforms at the BOE. &ldquo;We need a state law change,&rdquo; de Blasio said during a June 23 <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/askthemayor-bill-de-blasio-brooklyn-voter-purge" target="_blank">appearance on WNYC&rsquo;s The Brian Lehrer Show</a> when asked by a caller how to get rid of the &ldquo;corrupt system&rdquo; at the BOE. &ldquo;We can no longer have a BOE that is run unprofessionally and in an outdated way&hellip;this is a non-functioning part of our democracy.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE is comprised of ten commissioners, five from each of the two major political parties, two from each borough, who are (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5324-now-in-control-city-council-opens-boe-appointment-process">traditionally</a>) appointed by the county party chairs and approved by the City Council. The commissioners then appoint staff to the city&rsquo;s BOE and have authority over all city BOE employees, including the executive director, currently Michael Ryan.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I wish it was a pure city agency. If it was under my power, I would tear it down the current reality and start over,&rdquo; de Blasio added on WNYC, calling the failures of the April 19 primary &ldquo;pure incompetence&rdquo; on the part of the BOE. &ldquo;We literally need to make the BOE closer to other city agencies so the executive director should run it and have the power to put in modern management approaches and have accountability.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">As of June 7, the 120,000 Democratic voters in Brooklyn who were mistakenly purged from the voter rolls&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/board-elections-returns-purged-brooklyn-voters-rolls/" target="_blank">have been restored</a> in an attempt to avoid again disenfranchising those who had been turned away or forced to sign affidavit ballots during the primary (90,000 of 121,000&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6332-board-of-elections-to-face-city-council-questioning" target="_blank">affidavit ballots were rejected</a> and will not be counted). Two employees at the Brooklyn BOE office have been&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/second-brooklyn-elex-official-suspended-after-primary-foul/" target="_blank">suspended without pay</a> pending an investigation into why the names were incorrectly removed from the voter rolls in the first place.</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE has yet to accept de Blasio&rsquo;s $20 million offer, likely out of reluctance to adopt the reform plan attached to the funds, which includes improving poll worker training and hiring an outside consultant. The BOE did not respond to requests for comment for this article.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Given all of what&rsquo;s swirling around this particular election event, our singular focus is making sure that the votes are counted and that the certification is accurate, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6332-board-of-elections-to-face-city-council-questioning" target="_blank">said</a> BOE executive director Michael Ryan at an April 27 BOE meeting, one day after the mayor announced his offer. &ldquo;Once we complete that process, I&rsquo;m sure we&rsquo;re going to have time to pick our heads up and focus in other areas and we will get to that at the appropriate time. We&rsquo;re just not in a position to speak either intelligently or publicly on any proposals that are made by anyone right now because we have to, like a laser, focus on getting this election certified and certified properly.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor and the City Council&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6385-de-blasio-city-council-shake-on-82-billion-budget" target="_blank">reached a deal</a> on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year June 8 - one that did not include added funding for the BOE - which de Blasio addressed after announcing the deal by&nbsp;<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/523-16/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-fiscal-year-2017-budget-agreement-speaker-melissa" target="_blank">saying</a>, &ldquo;that discussion is not over, to be fair. I am not thrilled that it hasn&rsquo;t been agreed to&hellip;I would have thought that answer would have been a very fast yes.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We can restart that conversation any time,&rdquo; de Blasio added, though it&rsquo;s a conversation the city BOE seems unlikely to &ldquo;restart.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">As evidence of BOE incompetence, cronyism, and corruption has mounted over the years, few seem to know where to direct their ire. The changes in state law that de Blasio referenced were not part of the discussion in Albany as state legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo negotiated end-of-session deals earlier this month.</p> <p dir="ltr">Since the presidential primaries, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has opened an investigation into the BOE and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has launched an audit into the agency&rsquo;s operations and management,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">calling</a> the BOE &ldquo;consistently disorganized, chaotic, and ineffective.&rdquo; City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Council&rsquo;s government operations committee, has promised to hold an oversight hearing on the BOE, though he also&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6332-board-of-elections-to-face-city-council-questioning" target="_blank">grilled BOE officials</a> at the agency&rsquo;s executive budget hearing May 13.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Hope springs eternal,&rdquo; Kallos replied dryly when asked if he believed the heightened scrutiny the BOE is currently facing would help to bring about any changes to the way the agency operates. &ldquo;I hope that by bringing the commissioners to the City Council to be held personally accountable, we may get the change we are seeking,&rdquo; Kallos said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Tensions have remained high since April's primaries, with voters consistently attending weekly meetings held by the BOE to express their frustrations and demand answers. Dozens of angry voters showed up at the Voter Assistance Advisory Committee&rsquo;s May 17&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/media/videos/vaac-meeting-public-hearing" target="_blank">hearing</a> on issues with the primaries, and many who testified were livid, speaking in loud and frustrated tones about the obstacles they encountered trying to cast their votes, as well as the treatment they faced from BOE officials during a hearing held by the BOE on May 3.</p> <p dir="ltr">Many who testified were irate that they had been forced to sign affidavit ballots - they knew they were registered to vote, having previously voted in New York city and state elections, they said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Issues at the BOE aren&rsquo;t just about the recent Brooklyn voter purge, which was <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/democratic-voter-rolls-drop-more-60000-brooklyn-presidential-primary/" target="_blank">discovered by WNYC</a>. Other primary day problems were indicative of long-standing BOE problems: missing ballots, missing voter rolls, broken ballot machines, poll workers showing up late or giving incorrect instructions. The BOE also sent tens of thousands of newly registered voters&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/16/nyregion/citys-elections-board-corrects-primary-gaffe-with-another-postcard.html" target="_blank">notices with the incorrect date</a> for upcoming state and local primary elections.</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE performance around the April primaries reinforced its reputation for dysfunction. Key questions now linger more forcefully ahead of Tuesday&rsquo;s congressional primaries, September&rsquo;s state-level primaries, November&rsquo;s Election Day, and the 2017 city-level elections. Chief among them are who actually holds the BOE accountable and how must the BOE be reformed?</p> <p dir="ltr">Before Michael Ryan was <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/08/staten_islander_mike_ryan_to_t.html" target="_blank">just barely appointed</a> in 2013, the city BOE went without an executive director for three years, as the party-split commissioners were unable to agree upon a replacement for the former executive director, George Gonzalez, who was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/27/nyregion/27board.html?_r=0" target="_blank">fired</a> after a series of failures administering the 2010 September primary and additional mistakes leading up to the general election.</p> <p dir="ltr">A number of city and state agencies and offices have some authority over the New York City Board of Elections, yet ultimately, the power to change it lies with the state Legislature. &ldquo;The most important decisions about the Board of Elections occur in Albany,&rdquo; de Blasio said, speaking with press after announcing the budget deal. &ldquo;We need fundamental change, and one of the things we most need from Albany is legislation that will empower the executive director and the professional staff of the Board of Elections, rather than what is the traditional power structure.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The Mayor can use his budget powers to try to force change at the BOE. The City Council can hold oversight hearings examining how the BOE operates. The city&rsquo;s Department of Investigation can investigate the BOE and recommend reforms, which it did in 2013 when it issued a&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2013/dec%2013/BOE%20Unit%20Report12-30-2013.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> identifying fundamental flaws and recommending over 40 reforms to improve the agency (which the BOE largely&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections" target="_blank">ignored</a>). The city&rsquo;s Conflicts of Interest Board also has some oversight, and has fined BOE employees for hiring members of their own family in the past.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, the city Comptroller&rsquo;s office has the power to audit and investigate the BOE, which can make the agency&rsquo;s operations and finances more transparent and accountable, since the BOE is funded by the city (though the laws that mandate its structure and duties are controlled by the state). Stringer&rsquo;s office released an audit on June 6 of&nbsp;<a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/audit/?r=06-06-16_SR15-127A" target="_blank">BOE inventory practices</a> for office equipment and voting machines, and is currently conducting another audit of BOE operations and management. The June 6 audit revealed that the BOE's inventory records for both voting and office equipment "were incomplete and inaccurate," as well as "numerous instances of noncompliance" with other inventory practices, including "the existence of duplicate serial numbers" and "more than 1,000 items" on-site that had been omitted from the BOE's inventory records.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Assistance Advisory Commission, which advises the city&rsquo;s Campaign Finance Board on voter engagement efforts and recommends changes to improve elections, passed a resolution at its May 17 hearing to compile election irregularities and systemic problems and relay them to BOE, to everyone currently investigating the agency, and to the City Council. Yet, true to it&rsquo;s name, VAAC can only serve in an advisory capacity, and can take actions to facilitate voter registration, but, like the DOI and other agencies with oversight capacities, is essentially powerless to bring about any meaningful structural reform at the BOE.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;At the end of the day, what really has to change is state law,&rdquo; said Eric Friedman, assistant executive director for public affairs at the CFB.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The problem is, it&rsquo;s all reactive,&rdquo; State Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;Something has gone wrong, and then the appropriate government agencies act - entities that fund the board can try to extract reforms.&rdquo; Yet &ldquo;what is really needed is to reform the structure of the board,&rdquo; Gianaris added, referring to the patronage system at the BOE through which employees are appointed by the board&rsquo;s ten commissioners, who themselves are selected based on their affiliation with the two major political parties (one Democratic commissioner and one Republican commissioner from each borough, appointed by the county party chairs).</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve been asking them to end patronage since I got into office,&rdquo; Kallos said.&ldquo;State lawmakers need to amend the state law that allows BOE to have a patronage system and replace it with a civil service system - the same system that we used to root out patronage from Tammany Hall."</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Having patronage codified in the law is the problem,&rdquo; Kallos added. The State Senate and Assembly have &ldquo;created the laws governing the BOE in every county, and many of these reforms could happen there quite easily.&rdquo; &nbsp;For example, the <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/law/2015NYElectionLaw.pdf" target="_blank">New York State Constitution</a> currently mandates that &ldquo;Party recommendations for election commissioner shall be made by the county committee or by such other committee as the rules of the party may provide, by a majority of the votes cast at a meeting of the members of such committee at which a quorum is present.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">But it&rsquo;s not all that easy to bring about this sort of change in Albany, says Susan Lerner, executive director of the government reform group Common Cause NY, because &ldquo;the people who could make change are our state representatives, some of whom are actually county chairs&hellip;so long as the county chairs regard the BOE as a place to park people who couldn&rsquo;t get jobs otherwise and who are party loyalists, we will continue to have a problem.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">What&rsquo;s needed, Lerner says, is a system that chooses people to administer elections based on their experience administering elections or managing complex systems, not a system in which local political parties use patronage to reward party loyalists.</p> <p dir="ltr">BOE commissioners, Kallos says ruefully, are &ldquo;accountable to the county party chairs who appoint them under state law.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Ultimately, one would hope that the executive director would be where the buck stops,&rdquo; Kallos said. Yet, at an executive budget hearing in May, Kallos was &ldquo;disappointed to learn that the executive director can&rsquo;t fire his employees, and despite the problems of the last election,&rdquo; two of the people who were responsible &ldquo;remain suspended without pay, but not terminated.&rdquo; Since the executive director doesn&rsquo;t have the power to terminate employees, the &ldquo;ten commissioners need to be held accountable, if they refuse, then it goes to the County Chair who appointed them,&rdquo; Kallos said.</p> <p dir="ltr">While Kallos sees &ldquo;overlapping responsibility for the BOE,&rdquo; Lerner believes &ldquo;there isn&rsquo;t actually any real authority,&rdquo; as &ldquo;the BOE is a highly politicized body and election law has deliberately set it up so that it really isn&rsquo;t clear who it is answerable to.&rdquo; The chairs of the election law committees in the Senate and the Assembly are Senator Fred Ashkar and Assemblymember Michael Cusick, neither of whom responded to requests for comment for this article.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It appears that the party county chairs could hold their appointees accountable, but there isn&rsquo;t any clear line of authority in that regard,&rdquo; Lerner said. &ldquo;From a taxpayer's point of view, from good election administration point of view, this is not a good system - there should not be any agency which does not have clear oversight, and certainly you should not have a taxpayer-funded entity that doesn&rsquo;t have to be responsive to the taxpayers.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio, Gianaris, Kallos, Lerner, and others view the patronage system as the root of the problem and the cause of the BOE&rsquo;s persistent failures when it comes to administering elections and performing its other duties. There is a strong sense among those who spoke with Gotham Gazette that the city BOE is not accountable to the voters; that it is accountable to the county party chairs; and that the people who could improve the structure of the BOE don&rsquo;t have any incentive to do so. A number of city officials and agencies, like the City Council and the DOI, have repeatedly recommended replacing this patronage system with merit-based employees, which would require changing state election laws and amending the state constitution.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the meantime, people like Gianaris, Friedman, Kallos, and others are looking to get other changes to state law passed that would also improve the way elections are administered.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">Bills have been introduced</a> in the Senate and the Assembly to make voter registration automatic, expand online voter registration, allow early voting, extend registration deadlines, consolidate the state and federal primary election dates, improve New York&rsquo;s confusing ballot design, and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">more</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">One of the more comprehensive pieces of voting reform legislation currently introduced in Albany is the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/S2538" target="_blank">Voter Empowerment Act</a> (introduced by Gianaris in the Senate and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh in the Assembly (Kavanagh was not made available for comment). Kallos has introduced a&nbsp;<a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/t-2015-2726/" target="_blank">resolution</a> in the City Council calling on the state to pass the act). The Voter Empowerment Act seeks to update New York&rsquo;s registration process by expanding online registration and modernizing the way voter information is collected, processed, stored, and shared.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gianaris calls the VEA an attempt to improve the way elections are administered, &ldquo;getting at it from the point of view of not really tackling the structure - which is a huge can of worms - but just trying to get at some of the specific ways we can change the laws to make it easier&rdquo; to register to vote and to maintain accurate voter rolls.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The Voter Empowerment Act would actually address a lot of the problems that people were talking about from the April 19 primary,&rdquo; said Friedman, of the CFB. &ldquo;It would create universal online registration, so that voters could literally take ownership of their voter registration in a way that is impossible with the current pen and paper system.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Should the Voter Empowerment Act pass, the legislation would improve the accuracy of New York&rsquo;s voter rolls by reducing the number of outdated or duplicate registration records. Ryan has&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/brooklyn-voter-purge-hit-hispanics-hardest/" target="_blank">said</a> that the purge carried out by the Brooklyn BOE office was a response to the DOI&rsquo;s 2013 report slamming the board for failing to remove ineligible voters from the rolls.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Better elections start with better election laws,&rdquo; says Friedman, who&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6323-lobbying-in-albany-for-better-voting-laws" target="_blank">traveled to Albany in May</a> along with other members of the CFB and VAAC for the third year in a row to persuade lawmakers to pass the VEA and two other voting reforms:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6323-lobbying-in-albany-for-better-voting-laws" target="_blank">better ballot design and early voting</a>. &ldquo;The Voter Empowerment Act would make a real difference - devolving power from the administrators to the voters by giving them ownership of the voter records through online registration would make a big difference.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">For now, Lerner, Friedman, and others say the voters should stay mad, keep attending BOE weekly meetings, and keep the pressure on those who have the ability to make a difference: the BOE commissioners and state lawmakers.</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE could easily choose to improve its own operations by changing hiring policies or providing better training for poll workers. &ldquo;I think what we&rsquo;ve seen in practical, immediate terms, is that the BOE is responsive to public outrage,&rdquo; Lerner said. &ldquo;I think if the county chairs and members of the Legislature said to the BOE, &lsquo;you&rsquo;re making us all look bad,&rsquo; there is more potential for the board to improve its procedures.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Since the last NYC Votes trip to Albany lobbying for better voting laws,<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/media/blog/vote-better-ny-advances-2015-16-state-legislative-session" target="_blank">19 more sponsors</a> have signed on to the VEA, and 17 new sponsors signed on to the Voter Friendly Ballot Act. Thirty-seven additional sponsors signed on to early voting bills, which have now passed in both the Senate and the Assembly election committees.</p> <p dir="ltr">The fact that the BOE Brooklyn voter purge &ldquo;happened to begin with points out a fundamental reality,&rdquo; de Blasio said after the budget handshake. &ldquo;A managerial dynamic that is not modern, not up-to-date, not professional enough, and must be updated, or we&rsquo;ll just keep having this problem.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;New Yorkers should be pressing all of their leaders, including in Albany,&rdquo; de Blasio said. &rdquo;We call ourselves a progressive state but when it comes to electoral reform we are fundamentally backwards. I think the people are going to rise up on this one."</p> <p>

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/26253307060_9101faf4b4_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="de Blasio voting 2016" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio votes (photo:&nbsp;Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Many eyes will be on the New York City Board of Elections come Tuesday as New Yorkers head to the polls for the second time this year, casting their&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6380-new-yorkers-vote-in-congressional-primaries-june-28" target="_blank">votes in congressional primaries</a>. The first election, April&rsquo;s presidential primaries, was so problematic it prompted multiple city and state authorities to launch investigations into the city BOE and caused Mayor Bill de Blasio to offer an extra $20 million in funding for the agency, conditional upon the enactment of certain reforms.</p> <p dir="ltr">Because of the structure of the law, the Mayor cannot make structural reforms at the BOE. &ldquo;We need a state law change,&rdquo; de Blasio said during a June 23 <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/askthemayor-bill-de-blasio-brooklyn-voter-purge" target="_blank">appearance on WNYC&rsquo;s The Brian Lehrer Show</a> when asked by a caller how to get rid of the &ldquo;corrupt system&rdquo; at the BOE. &ldquo;We can no longer have a BOE that is run unprofessionally and in an outdated way&hellip;this is a non-functioning part of our democracy.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE is comprised of ten commissioners, five from each of the two major political parties, two from each borough, who are (<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5324-now-in-control-city-council-opens-boe-appointment-process">traditionally</a>) appointed by the county party chairs and approved by the City Council. The commissioners then appoint staff to the city&rsquo;s BOE and have authority over all city BOE employees, including the executive director, currently Michael Ryan.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;I wish it was a pure city agency. If it was under my power, I would tear it down the current reality and start over,&rdquo; de Blasio added on WNYC, calling the failures of the April 19 primary &ldquo;pure incompetence&rdquo; on the part of the BOE. &ldquo;We literally need to make the BOE closer to other city agencies so the executive director should run it and have the power to put in modern management approaches and have accountability.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">As of June 7, the 120,000 Democratic voters in Brooklyn who were mistakenly purged from the voter rolls&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/board-elections-returns-purged-brooklyn-voters-rolls/" target="_blank">have been restored</a> in an attempt to avoid again disenfranchising those who had been turned away or forced to sign affidavit ballots during the primary (90,000 of 121,000&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6332-board-of-elections-to-face-city-council-questioning" target="_blank">affidavit ballots were rejected</a> and will not be counted). Two employees at the Brooklyn BOE office have been&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/second-brooklyn-elex-official-suspended-after-primary-foul/" target="_blank">suspended without pay</a> pending an investigation into why the names were incorrectly removed from the voter rolls in the first place.</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE has yet to accept de Blasio&rsquo;s $20 million offer, likely out of reluctance to adopt the reform plan attached to the funds, which includes improving poll worker training and hiring an outside consultant. The BOE did not respond to requests for comment for this article.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Given all of what&rsquo;s swirling around this particular election event, our singular focus is making sure that the votes are counted and that the certification is accurate, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6332-board-of-elections-to-face-city-council-questioning" target="_blank">said</a> BOE executive director Michael Ryan at an April 27 BOE meeting, one day after the mayor announced his offer. &ldquo;Once we complete that process, I&rsquo;m sure we&rsquo;re going to have time to pick our heads up and focus in other areas and we will get to that at the appropriate time. We&rsquo;re just not in a position to speak either intelligently or publicly on any proposals that are made by anyone right now because we have to, like a laser, focus on getting this election certified and certified properly.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor and the City Council&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6385-de-blasio-city-council-shake-on-82-billion-budget" target="_blank">reached a deal</a> on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year June 8 - one that did not include added funding for the BOE - which de Blasio addressed after announcing the deal by&nbsp;<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/523-16/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-fiscal-year-2017-budget-agreement-speaker-melissa" target="_blank">saying</a>, &ldquo;that discussion is not over, to be fair. I am not thrilled that it hasn&rsquo;t been agreed to&hellip;I would have thought that answer would have been a very fast yes.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We can restart that conversation any time,&rdquo; de Blasio added, though it&rsquo;s a conversation the city BOE seems unlikely to &ldquo;restart.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">As evidence of BOE incompetence, cronyism, and corruption has mounted over the years, few seem to know where to direct their ire. The changes in state law that de Blasio referenced were not part of the discussion in Albany as state legislators and Gov. Andrew Cuomo negotiated end-of-session deals earlier this month.</p> <p dir="ltr">Since the presidential primaries, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has opened an investigation into the BOE and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has launched an audit into the agency&rsquo;s operations and management,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">calling</a> the BOE &ldquo;consistently disorganized, chaotic, and ineffective.&rdquo; City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the Council&rsquo;s government operations committee, has promised to hold an oversight hearing on the BOE, though he also&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6332-board-of-elections-to-face-city-council-questioning" target="_blank">grilled BOE officials</a> at the agency&rsquo;s executive budget hearing May 13.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Hope springs eternal,&rdquo; Kallos replied dryly when asked if he believed the heightened scrutiny the BOE is currently facing would help to bring about any changes to the way the agency operates. &ldquo;I hope that by bringing the commissioners to the City Council to be held personally accountable, we may get the change we are seeking,&rdquo; Kallos said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Tensions have remained high since April's primaries, with voters consistently attending weekly meetings held by the BOE to express their frustrations and demand answers. Dozens of angry voters showed up at the Voter Assistance Advisory Committee&rsquo;s May 17&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/media/videos/vaac-meeting-public-hearing" target="_blank">hearing</a> on issues with the primaries, and many who testified were livid, speaking in loud and frustrated tones about the obstacles they encountered trying to cast their votes, as well as the treatment they faced from BOE officials during a hearing held by the BOE on May 3.</p> <p dir="ltr">Many who testified were irate that they had been forced to sign affidavit ballots - they knew they were registered to vote, having previously voted in New York city and state elections, they said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Issues at the BOE aren&rsquo;t just about the recent Brooklyn voter purge, which was <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/democratic-voter-rolls-drop-more-60000-brooklyn-presidential-primary/" target="_blank">discovered by WNYC</a>. Other primary day problems were indicative of long-standing BOE problems: missing ballots, missing voter rolls, broken ballot machines, poll workers showing up late or giving incorrect instructions. The BOE also sent tens of thousands of newly registered voters&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/16/nyregion/citys-elections-board-corrects-primary-gaffe-with-another-postcard.html" target="_blank">notices with the incorrect date</a> for upcoming state and local primary elections.</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE performance around the April primaries reinforced its reputation for dysfunction. Key questions now linger more forcefully ahead of Tuesday&rsquo;s congressional primaries, September&rsquo;s state-level primaries, November&rsquo;s Election Day, and the 2017 city-level elections. Chief among them are who actually holds the BOE accountable and how must the BOE be reformed?</p> <p dir="ltr">Before Michael Ryan was <a href="http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/08/staten_islander_mike_ryan_to_t.html" target="_blank">just barely appointed</a> in 2013, the city BOE went without an executive director for three years, as the party-split commissioners were unable to agree upon a replacement for the former executive director, George Gonzalez, who was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/27/nyregion/27board.html?_r=0" target="_blank">fired</a> after a series of failures administering the 2010 September primary and additional mistakes leading up to the general election.</p> <p dir="ltr">A number of city and state agencies and offices have some authority over the New York City Board of Elections, yet ultimately, the power to change it lies with the state Legislature. &ldquo;The most important decisions about the Board of Elections occur in Albany,&rdquo; de Blasio said, speaking with press after announcing the budget deal. &ldquo;We need fundamental change, and one of the things we most need from Albany is legislation that will empower the executive director and the professional staff of the Board of Elections, rather than what is the traditional power structure.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">The Mayor can use his budget powers to try to force change at the BOE. The City Council can hold oversight hearings examining how the BOE operates. The city&rsquo;s Department of Investigation can investigate the BOE and recommend reforms, which it did in 2013 when it issued a&nbsp;<a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/doi/downloads/pdf/2013/dec%2013/BOE%20Unit%20Report12-30-2013.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> identifying fundamental flaws and recommending over 40 reforms to improve the agency (which the BOE largely&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections" target="_blank">ignored</a>). The city&rsquo;s Conflicts of Interest Board also has some oversight, and has fined BOE employees for hiring members of their own family in the past.</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, the city Comptroller&rsquo;s office has the power to audit and investigate the BOE, which can make the agency&rsquo;s operations and finances more transparent and accountable, since the BOE is funded by the city (though the laws that mandate its structure and duties are controlled by the state). Stringer&rsquo;s office released an audit on June 6 of&nbsp;<a href="http://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/audit/?r=06-06-16_SR15-127A" target="_blank">BOE inventory practices</a> for office equipment and voting machines, and is currently conducting another audit of BOE operations and management. The June 6 audit revealed that the BOE's inventory records for both voting and office equipment "were incomplete and inaccurate," as well as "numerous instances of noncompliance" with other inventory practices, including "the existence of duplicate serial numbers" and "more than 1,000 items" on-site that had been omitted from the BOE's inventory records.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Voter Assistance Advisory Commission, which advises the city&rsquo;s Campaign Finance Board on voter engagement efforts and recommends changes to improve elections, passed a resolution at its May 17 hearing to compile election irregularities and systemic problems and relay them to BOE, to everyone currently investigating the agency, and to the City Council. Yet, true to it&rsquo;s name, VAAC can only serve in an advisory capacity, and can take actions to facilitate voter registration, but, like the DOI and other agencies with oversight capacities, is essentially powerless to bring about any meaningful structural reform at the BOE.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;At the end of the day, what really has to change is state law,&rdquo; said Eric Friedman, assistant executive director for public affairs at the CFB.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The problem is, it&rsquo;s all reactive,&rdquo; State Senator Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;Something has gone wrong, and then the appropriate government agencies act - entities that fund the board can try to extract reforms.&rdquo; Yet &ldquo;what is really needed is to reform the structure of the board,&rdquo; Gianaris added, referring to the patronage system at the BOE through which employees are appointed by the board&rsquo;s ten commissioners, who themselves are selected based on their affiliation with the two major political parties (one Democratic commissioner and one Republican commissioner from each borough, appointed by the county party chairs).</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve been asking them to end patronage since I got into office,&rdquo; Kallos said.&ldquo;State lawmakers need to amend the state law that allows BOE to have a patronage system and replace it with a civil service system - the same system that we used to root out patronage from Tammany Hall."</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Having patronage codified in the law is the problem,&rdquo; Kallos added. The State Senate and Assembly have &ldquo;created the laws governing the BOE in every county, and many of these reforms could happen there quite easily.&rdquo; &nbsp;For example, the <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/law/2015NYElectionLaw.pdf" target="_blank">New York State Constitution</a> currently mandates that &ldquo;Party recommendations for election commissioner shall be made by the county committee or by such other committee as the rules of the party may provide, by a majority of the votes cast at a meeting of the members of such committee at which a quorum is present.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">But it&rsquo;s not all that easy to bring about this sort of change in Albany, says Susan Lerner, executive director of the government reform group Common Cause NY, because &ldquo;the people who could make change are our state representatives, some of whom are actually county chairs&hellip;so long as the county chairs regard the BOE as a place to park people who couldn&rsquo;t get jobs otherwise and who are party loyalists, we will continue to have a problem.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">What&rsquo;s needed, Lerner says, is a system that chooses people to administer elections based on their experience administering elections or managing complex systems, not a system in which local political parties use patronage to reward party loyalists.</p> <p dir="ltr">BOE commissioners, Kallos says ruefully, are &ldquo;accountable to the county party chairs who appoint them under state law.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Ultimately, one would hope that the executive director would be where the buck stops,&rdquo; Kallos said. Yet, at an executive budget hearing in May, Kallos was &ldquo;disappointed to learn that the executive director can&rsquo;t fire his employees, and despite the problems of the last election,&rdquo; two of the people who were responsible &ldquo;remain suspended without pay, but not terminated.&rdquo; Since the executive director doesn&rsquo;t have the power to terminate employees, the &ldquo;ten commissioners need to be held accountable, if they refuse, then it goes to the County Chair who appointed them,&rdquo; Kallos said.</p> <p dir="ltr">While Kallos sees &ldquo;overlapping responsibility for the BOE,&rdquo; Lerner believes &ldquo;there isn&rsquo;t actually any real authority,&rdquo; as &ldquo;the BOE is a highly politicized body and election law has deliberately set it up so that it really isn&rsquo;t clear who it is answerable to.&rdquo; The chairs of the election law committees in the Senate and the Assembly are Senator Fred Ashkar and Assemblymember Michael Cusick, neither of whom responded to requests for comment for this article.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;It appears that the party county chairs could hold their appointees accountable, but there isn&rsquo;t any clear line of authority in that regard,&rdquo; Lerner said. &ldquo;From a taxpayer's point of view, from good election administration point of view, this is not a good system - there should not be any agency which does not have clear oversight, and certainly you should not have a taxpayer-funded entity that doesn&rsquo;t have to be responsive to the taxpayers.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio, Gianaris, Kallos, Lerner, and others view the patronage system as the root of the problem and the cause of the BOE&rsquo;s persistent failures when it comes to administering elections and performing its other duties. There is a strong sense among those who spoke with Gotham Gazette that the city BOE is not accountable to the voters; that it is accountable to the county party chairs; and that the people who could improve the structure of the BOE don&rsquo;t have any incentive to do so. A number of city officials and agencies, like the City Council and the DOI, have repeatedly recommended replacing this patronage system with merit-based employees, which would require changing state election laws and amending the state constitution.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the meantime, people like Gianaris, Friedman, Kallos, and others are looking to get other changes to state law passed that would also improve the way elections are administered.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">Bills have been introduced</a> in the Senate and the Assembly to make voter registration automatic, expand online voter registration, allow early voting, extend registration deadlines, consolidate the state and federal primary election dates, improve New York&rsquo;s confusing ballot design, and&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6295-there-is-a-long-list-of-voting-reforms-new-york-can-pass" target="_blank">more</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">One of the more comprehensive pieces of voting reform legislation currently introduced in Albany is the&nbsp;<a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2015/S2538" target="_blank">Voter Empowerment Act</a> (introduced by Gianaris in the Senate and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh in the Assembly (Kavanagh was not made available for comment). Kallos has introduced a&nbsp;<a href="https://nyc.councilmatic.org/legislation/t-2015-2726/" target="_blank">resolution</a> in the City Council calling on the state to pass the act). The Voter Empowerment Act seeks to update New York&rsquo;s registration process by expanding online registration and modernizing the way voter information is collected, processed, stored, and shared.</p> <p dir="ltr">Gianaris calls the VEA an attempt to improve the way elections are administered, &ldquo;getting at it from the point of view of not really tackling the structure - which is a huge can of worms - but just trying to get at some of the specific ways we can change the laws to make it easier&rdquo; to register to vote and to maintain accurate voter rolls.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;The Voter Empowerment Act would actually address a lot of the problems that people were talking about from the April 19 primary,&rdquo; said Friedman, of the CFB. &ldquo;It would create universal online registration, so that voters could literally take ownership of their voter registration in a way that is impossible with the current pen and paper system.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Should the Voter Empowerment Act pass, the legislation would improve the accuracy of New York&rsquo;s voter rolls by reducing the number of outdated or duplicate registration records. Ryan has&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/brooklyn-voter-purge-hit-hispanics-hardest/" target="_blank">said</a> that the purge carried out by the Brooklyn BOE office was a response to the DOI&rsquo;s 2013 report slamming the board for failing to remove ineligible voters from the rolls.</p> <p dir="ltr">&ldquo;Better elections start with better election laws,&rdquo; says Friedman, who&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6323-lobbying-in-albany-for-better-voting-laws" target="_blank">traveled to Albany in May</a> along with other members of the CFB and VAAC for the third year in a row to persuade lawmakers to pass the VEA and two other voting reforms:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6323-lobbying-in-albany-for-better-voting-laws" target="_blank">better ballot design and early voting</a>. &ldquo;The Voter Empowerment Act would make a real difference - devolving power from the administrators to the voters by giving them ownership of the voter records through online registration would make a big difference.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">For now, Lerner, Friedman, and others say the voters should stay mad, keep attending BOE weekly meetings, and keep the pressure on those who have the ability to make a difference: the BOE commissioners and state lawmakers.</p> <p dir="ltr">The BOE could easily choose to improve its own operations by changing hiring policies or providing better training for poll workers. &ldquo;I think what we&rsquo;ve seen in practical, immediate terms, is that the BOE is responsive to public outrage,&rdquo; Lerner said. &ldquo;I think if the county chairs and members of the Legislature said to the BOE, &lsquo;you&rsquo;re making us all look bad,&rsquo; there is more potential for the board to improve its procedures.&rdquo;</p> <p dir="ltr">Since the last NYC Votes trip to Albany lobbying for better voting laws,<a href="http://www.nyccfb.info/media/blog/vote-better-ny-advances-2015-16-state-legislative-session" target="_blank">19 more sponsors</a> have signed on to the VEA, and 17 new sponsors signed on to the Voter Friendly Ballot Act. Thirty-seven additional sponsors signed on to early voting bills, which have now passed in both the Senate and the Assembly election committees.</p> <p dir="ltr">The fact that the BOE Brooklyn voter purge &ldquo;happened to begin with points out a fundamental reality,&rdquo; de Blasio said after the budget handshake. &ldquo;A managerial dynamic that is not modern, not up-to-date, not professional enough, and must be updated, or we&rsquo;ll just keep having this problem.&rdquo;</p> <p>&ldquo;New Yorkers should be pressing all of their leaders, including in Albany,&rdquo; de Blasio said. &rdquo;We call ourselves a progressive state but when it comes to electoral reform we are fundamentally backwards. I think the people are going to rise up on this one."</p> <p>

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by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Government Operations Budget Hearing Leaves Several Questions Unanswered 2016-05-16T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-16T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6336:government-operations-budget-hearing-leaves-several-questions-unanswered Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/DCAS_testimony_May_13.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="DCAS testimony May 13" /></p> <p>DCAS testimony (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>With four agencies testifying over the course of several hours, a Friday executive budget hearing held by the City Council’s governmental operations committee, along with the finance committee, had a lot of ground to cover on important issues like election administration and law department function. Two of the agencies testifying have even been sources of controversy in recent months and the hearing was an opportunity for Council members to air their concerns and get some answers. At many points during the hearing, however, agency officials had little to offer and major questions were left unanswered.</p> <p>The hearing included testimony from the city Board of Elections, the Campaign Finance Board, the Law Department, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, in that order. Leading the hearing from the Council side were City Council Members Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chair of the finance committee, and Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee.</p> <p>Perhaps most crucial were BOE and DCAS, two agencies which have dominated headlines in recent months -- the BOE for its shoddy handling of the April 19 presidential primary election and massive, inappropriate voter purges in Brooklyn; DCAS for lifting a land-use restriction that allowed a nursing home owner to sell property to a luxury real estate developer. Both those incidents are being investigated and the City Council will soon hold dedicated oversight hearings. Friday’s budget hearing still provided Council members, and others, the opportunity to ask important questions, even if answers were not always provided.</p> <p><strong>Board of Elections</strong><br />Following the April primary, the BOE has been the target of much criticism. Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to use his budgetary power to bring about change and followed through with an offer of $20 million in additional funding on the condition that the BOE agrees to a structured plan of reform by June 1. Of this, $1.5 million was included in the mayor’s executive budget with $18.5 to follow if BOE signs the deal. A budget deal between the Mayor and the Council is due before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.</p> <p>At Friday’s hearing, BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan couldn’t say where BOE commissioners stood on the proposal since they had yet to analyze it in detail. “Once the details of the proposals have been fleshed out, they will be shared with the commissioners and, ultimately in a quasi-legislative process, the commissioners will have to pass on that either in totality or in part,” he said.</p> <p>Ryan also couldn’t say whether the BOE would consider replacing patronage positions with professional employees selected through an open-hiring process, a top priority for Council Member Kallos and several of his colleagues (it is also something de Blasio has called for). This authority, Ryan insisted, lies with the BOE commissioners, who are borough-based. The structure of the BOE is also dictated by state law, which de Blasio and others say they want to see changed.</p> <p>Kallos was less than satisfied with Ryan’s testimony overall. “I got the answers I have learned to expect, but not the answers that I wanted or needed,” he told Gotham Gazette during a break in the hearing.</p> <p><strong>Law Department</strong><br />The Council’s three major issues with the Law Department budget are the projected cost savings in the judgement and claims budget; the financial implications of a recently settled lawsuit against the city; and the department’s contracting with two outside law firms to represent the city in two investigations into Mayor de Blasio.</p> <p>Law Department officials couldn’t explain how their judgements and claims budget included $430 million in reductions over the next five years. In the preliminary budget, it was projected to increase from $746 million in Fiscal 2017 to $855 million by Fiscal 2020. They also couldn’t say if a recent $140 million judgement against the city in a case concluded in February 2016 was included in this year’s budget.</p> <p>When Council Member Ferreras-Copeland asked about the calculations that went into these figures, managing attorney Muriel Goode-Trufant said, “We do not know.” She said these decisions were made by the Office of Management and Budget after considering input from the Law Department. “You do not know? That’s awesome,” Ferreras-Copeland responded sarcastically, promising to follow up with OMB director Dean Fuleihan.</p> <p>Kallos was also interested in knowing how much it would cost the city to contract with the two law firms to defend the mayor and the city. Again, agency officials were scant on details, insisting that the process was ongoing and they had yet to assess the final costs.</p> <p>“The taxpayers could be on the hook for millions?” Kallos asked.</p> <p>“We, at this point, don’t know,” said Georgia Pestana, first assistant corporation counsel.</p> <p><strong>Department of Citywide Administrative Services</strong><br />DCAS is a little-known city agency that manages the city workforce, property and buildings, and fleet of vehicles. Last year, the agency lifted a deed restriction on Rivington House, a nursing home in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which allowed its new owner to make millions in a sale to a real estate developer. Essentially, the property was flipped and in the process, what had been a nursing home was to become luxury housing. As expected, many questions from Council members to DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo revolved around the way DCAS handles deed restrictions.</p> <p>Camillo would not address the Rivington deal directly, since it is under investigation (several entities at various levels of government are investigating the deal). “In order to protect the integrity of the investigation, I’m not going to be able to answer questions specific to that,” Camillo said. But she did explain how deed restriction payments are evaluated and where DCAS revenue is reflected in the budget.</p> <p>Naturally, a similar deed restriction sale in Harlem, <a href="http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/05/14/nyregion/builder-acquires-valuable-harlem-plot-after-deed-change.html?smid=tw-nytmetro&amp;smtyp=cur&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">reported by the New York Times</a> on Friday morning before the hearing, raised more questions about how many deed restrictions the city is considering and how many it had lifted in the last few years. Camillo told Council members that current requests for changes in deed restriction had been put on hold, about 14 in all, and the process was being reviewed.</p> <p><strong>The Campaign Finance Board</strong>&nbsp;testimony was quick and included the least drama, though there are reforms to the city’s system being considered - the bills were the focus of a recent Council hearing - <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">read about those here</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/DCAS_testimony_May_13.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="DCAS testimony May 13" /></p> <p>DCAS testimony (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>With four agencies testifying over the course of several hours, a Friday executive budget hearing held by the City Council’s governmental operations committee, along with the finance committee, had a lot of ground to cover on important issues like election administration and law department function. Two of the agencies testifying have even been sources of controversy in recent months and the hearing was an opportunity for Council members to air their concerns and get some answers. At many points during the hearing, however, agency officials had little to offer and major questions were left unanswered.</p> <p>The hearing included testimony from the city Board of Elections, the Campaign Finance Board, the Law Department, and the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, in that order. Leading the hearing from the Council side were City Council Members Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, chair of the finance committee, and Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee.</p> <p>Perhaps most crucial were BOE and DCAS, two agencies which have dominated headlines in recent months -- the BOE for its shoddy handling of the April 19 presidential primary election and massive, inappropriate voter purges in Brooklyn; DCAS for lifting a land-use restriction that allowed a nursing home owner to sell property to a luxury real estate developer. Both those incidents are being investigated and the City Council will soon hold dedicated oversight hearings. Friday’s budget hearing still provided Council members, and others, the opportunity to ask important questions, even if answers were not always provided.</p> <p><strong>Board of Elections</strong><br />Following the April primary, the BOE has been the target of much criticism. Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to use his budgetary power to bring about change and followed through with an offer of $20 million in additional funding on the condition that the BOE agrees to a structured plan of reform by June 1. Of this, $1.5 million was included in the mayor’s executive budget with $18.5 to follow if BOE signs the deal. A budget deal between the Mayor and the Council is due before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.</p> <p>At Friday’s hearing, BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan couldn’t say where BOE commissioners stood on the proposal since they had yet to analyze it in detail. “Once the details of the proposals have been fleshed out, they will be shared with the commissioners and, ultimately in a quasi-legislative process, the commissioners will have to pass on that either in totality or in part,” he said.</p> <p>Ryan also couldn’t say whether the BOE would consider replacing patronage positions with professional employees selected through an open-hiring process, a top priority for Council Member Kallos and several of his colleagues (it is also something de Blasio has called for). This authority, Ryan insisted, lies with the BOE commissioners, who are borough-based. The structure of the BOE is also dictated by state law, which de Blasio and others say they want to see changed.</p> <p>Kallos was less than satisfied with Ryan’s testimony overall. “I got the answers I have learned to expect, but not the answers that I wanted or needed,” he told Gotham Gazette during a break in the hearing.</p> <p><strong>Law Department</strong><br />The Council’s three major issues with the Law Department budget are the projected cost savings in the judgement and claims budget; the financial implications of a recently settled lawsuit against the city; and the department’s contracting with two outside law firms to represent the city in two investigations into Mayor de Blasio.</p> <p>Law Department officials couldn’t explain how their judgements and claims budget included $430 million in reductions over the next five years. In the preliminary budget, it was projected to increase from $746 million in Fiscal 2017 to $855 million by Fiscal 2020. They also couldn’t say if a recent $140 million judgement against the city in a case concluded in February 2016 was included in this year’s budget.</p> <p>When Council Member Ferreras-Copeland asked about the calculations that went into these figures, managing attorney Muriel Goode-Trufant said, “We do not know.” She said these decisions were made by the Office of Management and Budget after considering input from the Law Department. “You do not know? That’s awesome,” Ferreras-Copeland responded sarcastically, promising to follow up with OMB director Dean Fuleihan.</p> <p>Kallos was also interested in knowing how much it would cost the city to contract with the two law firms to defend the mayor and the city. Again, agency officials were scant on details, insisting that the process was ongoing and they had yet to assess the final costs.</p> <p>“The taxpayers could be on the hook for millions?” Kallos asked.</p> <p>“We, at this point, don’t know,” said Georgia Pestana, first assistant corporation counsel.</p> <p><strong>Department of Citywide Administrative Services</strong><br />DCAS is a little-known city agency that manages the city workforce, property and buildings, and fleet of vehicles. Last year, the agency lifted a deed restriction on Rivington House, a nursing home in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, which allowed its new owner to make millions in a sale to a real estate developer. Essentially, the property was flipped and in the process, what had been a nursing home was to become luxury housing. As expected, many questions from Council members to DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo revolved around the way DCAS handles deed restrictions.</p> <p>Camillo would not address the Rivington deal directly, since it is under investigation (several entities at various levels of government are investigating the deal). “In order to protect the integrity of the investigation, I’m not going to be able to answer questions specific to that,” Camillo said. But she did explain how deed restriction payments are evaluated and where DCAS revenue is reflected in the budget.</p> <p>Naturally, a similar deed restriction sale in Harlem, <a href="http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/05/14/nyregion/builder-acquires-valuable-harlem-plot-after-deed-change.html?smid=tw-nytmetro&amp;smtyp=cur&amp;_r=0" target="_blank">reported by the New York Times</a> on Friday morning before the hearing, raised more questions about how many deed restrictions the city is considering and how many it had lifted in the last few years. Camillo told Council members that current requests for changes in deed restriction had been put on hold, about 14 in all, and the process was being reviewed.</p> <p><strong>The Campaign Finance Board</strong>&nbsp;testimony was quick and included the least drama, though there are reforms to the city’s system being considered - the bills were the focus of a recent Council hearing - <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6315-hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system" target="_blank">read about those here</a>.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>