Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1638 Tue, 12 Dec 2017 10:07:52 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Cuomo’s Minimum Wage Nonprofit Through the Lens of His New Regulatory Scheme http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6498:cuomo-s-minimum-wage-nonprofit-through-the-lens-of-his-new-regulatory-scheme http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6498:cuomo-s-minimum-wage-nonprofit-through-the-lens-of-his-new-regulatory-scheme mario cuomo campaign for economic justice bus capitol

photos via The Governor's Office on Flickr


Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo successfully advocated for the passage of a $15 minimum wage plan with the help of major labor unions and a nonprofit they created called The Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice. Teaming with 1199-SEIU, the health care workers union, and 32BJ-SEIU, the buildings workers union, Cuomo made campaign stops in an RV paid for by the nonprofit, which was funded largely by unions.

In a complicated confluence of relationships, Cuomo’s government office notified the press about the events and streamed the governor’s appearances at rallies organized by the group; while his reelection campaign spokesperson served in that role for MCCEJ. Cuomo’s office and the MCCEJ at times appeared to be one.

After the state budget agreement reached at the start of April included the $15 wage phase-in, the campaign celebrated success and closed up shop.

Later in the legislative session, in June, Cuomo created and won passage of a package of reforms that define new restrictions on coordination among candidate campaigns, former government employees, and Super PACs; and stricter reporting requirements of donors to Super PACs. Another aspect of the legislation, which Cuomo signed into law on Wednesday, requires more reporting of donors to nonprofit advocacy groups and reporting of some of their previously private communications.

Cuomo calls the bill an historic stand against dark money, the influence of Super PACs, and the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened up the floodgates for major, secretive political donations.

“New York is taking aggressive action to restore the people’s faith in government and increase accountability and transparency in the electoral process,” Cuomo said in a statement announcing his signing of the bill. “These actions roll back the disastrous influence of Citizens United and prohibit coordination between candidates and independent expenditure committees. Through enhanced enforcement and increased penalties for political consultants who flout the law, this new legislation will root out bad actors and shine a spotlight on the sordid influence of dark money in politics. With this legislation, New York is raising the bar once again – and now it’s time for the rest of the nation to follow suit.”

On the other hand, many reform advocates believe the bill is both a strange mix of regulations and ones that do very little to address areas where there has been real corruption in New York, namely among state legislators.

Robert Perry, legislative director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, says Cuomo has pushed through a confusing bag of proposals and that the way it was presented belies the ways in which the bill will impact small issue-based nonprofits.

“This legislation was touted and marketed as an attempt to address corruption in campaign expenditures - secretly collaborating with candidates in violation of the law - but the bill goes far beyond campaign and coordination,” said Perry. “Context is important. Look at the bill, it is full of broad sweeping provisions and disclosure requirements that have nothing to do with campaign expenditures that include organizations that aren’t even involved in lobbying, but pure issue advocacy. This bill will have a chilling impact on their donors.”

Perry points out that the bill is further confusing because the areas of law regarding political spending by groups like Super PACs and nonprofit advocacy groups are completely separate and yet the bill puts them side by side.

In Cuomo’s not-too-distant past, he aligned himself with a nonprofit formed by business interests to advocate for his agenda, the Committee to Save New York. Like Mayor Bill de Blasio’s more recent Campaign for One New York, Cuomo’s group was shut down amid criticism and controversy. The new regulations would apply to these types of groups in terms of donor disclosure. Cuomo’s group did not disclose its donors; de Blasio’s group did so voluntarily. The Committee to Save New York was not the subject of federal investigation whereas the Campaign for One New York is as authorities probe whether government favors were promised or delivered in exchange for donations to the nonprofit.

Critics have said that the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice, like de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York, created a shadow government apparatus, in this case where government employees did work for lobbying groups and consultants were paid for their efforts by the MCCEJ while also representing Cuomo’s campaign.

“Clearly the governor is coordinating with this outside entity, and the governor's political operatives seem to have basically been set up and guiding it,” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, told Politico New York in February. “This is setting up a shadow government and it blurs the line between private campaigning and public policy. The goal is an admirable one, but the way it is being done gives us pause.”

Cuomo appeared to criticize de Blasio’s relationship with the Campaign for One New York while unveiling his reform plan in June. “The collusion, the coordination, the subterfuge, the fraud in the current political system is rampant,” Cuomo said, according to The Observer, without naming de Blasio’s group. When speaking with reporters after the event, Gotham Gazette twice asked the governor for examples of the types of groups he was targeting, but Cuomo declined to name any, saying that he did not want to accuse anyone of illegality at that time.

The new restrictions on coordination would have no impact on the MCCEJ or even the Campaign for One New York - both are nonprofit 501(c)(4) advocacy groups and thus only subject to the additional donor transparency requirements.

Political action committees, or PACs, are tied to candidates, while independent expenditure campaigns, commonly referred to as Super PACs, are not allowed to coordinate with candidate campaigns. Both operate during elections to influence their outcomes - those groups register and report their fundraising to the Board of Elections. New restrictions on coordination and additional reporting requirements will apply to Super PACs.

“The members of 1199SEIU have been proud to be a part of raising the minimum wage to $15 for nearly three million working New Yorkers, and passing the strongest paid family leave law in the nation. We hope that similar efforts are successful throughout the country, so that working people can provide a better future for their families and we can rebuild the middle-class.” said Mark Riley, press secretary for 1199SEIU, in a statement. The union declined to make its president, George Gresham, who served as chair of the MCCEJ, available to discuss how the campaign was coordinated.

Cuomo mario cuomo campaign economic justice speechSources close to the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice told Gotham Gazette that the new rules on nonprofit donor disclosure would have had no impact on the MCCEJ as they lower the thresholds for nonprofits to report donors, but donations to the MCCEJ were already covered by the old lobbying law.

Now, more disclosure is required of smaller donors after nonprofits spend smaller amounts of total money on lobbying. The MCCEJ’s donations appear to mostly have come in large sums. But, it will be impossible to know until the MCCEJ’s final disclosure documents are made public by the state regulatory agency they must report to: JCOPE, the Joint Committee on Public Ethics.

So far, all of the reported donations to MCCEJ far exceed the new reporting requirements and therefore were covered by the old law. The SEIU Labor Management Initiative donated $637,781 in February and then gave the same amount again in April; Service Employees International gave $212,594 in January; in March, RWDSU Realty Group donated $63,778 in March; The New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council gave $85,038; and the SEIU1199 New York State Political Action Fund gave $85,038.

New York’s previous lobbying act requires nonprofits that fit under the 501(C)(4) designation of the IRS tax code to disclose donations of over $5,000 and the personal information of those who make such donations if the group has spent more than $50,000 on lobbying in a calendar year. The new bill sets the total lobbying disclosure threshold at $15,000, while requiring disclosure of donations of more than $2,500, as well as those donors’ personal information. The MCCEJ is expected to have spent around $2 million from January to July.

Sources told Gotham Gazette that MCCEJ disclosed its donors to JCOPE in July but the filing has yet to be made public. Most MCCEJ activity occurred in the early months of 2016 when Cuomo and company traveled the state on the $15 minimum wage campaign. The group’s final filing should be available in September.

The new law also requires 501(C)(4) groups to disclose to the Attorney General any communications, whether written, broadcast or otherwise, having to do with legislation, votes on legislation, pending legislation, government action on rules, regulations or the decisions of any legislative or executive administrative body.

A number of issue-focused nonprofits, some that lobby and some that do not, are opposed to the new rules because, unlike the MCCEJ, they do not enjoy a close relationship with the Cuomo administration or other parts of state government.

The MCCEJ would likely have been subject to and impacted by this communication disclosure rule, but the group existed in that fairly unique position - its communications were already likely privy to the Cuomo administration and its donors were not likely to ever fear political reprisal for their support of the group’s lobbying efforts.

“The problem becomes when the law applies to groups that are not sponsored and created by the chief executive of the state,” said Perry.

The NYCLU urged Cuomo to veto the bill, saying that it violates freedom of speech and will temper donations to small issue-advocacy groups because donors will fear being exposed and possible reprisals. “This will have a chilling effect,” said Perry. “This intrusive, burdensome, regulatory scheme where you have to provide a donor's name and address will intimidate donors and reduce their willingness to engage due to the prospect of retaliation from the government, or someone else who disagrees with them.”

Mike Durant, New York State director of the National Federation of Independent Business, a group that lobbied against the minimum wage hike said he found it quite challenging to go up against the combination of Cuomo and well-funded labor groups. Durant’s organization, a national nonprofit, is still reviewing what, if any, impact the new regulations will have on it.

Durant said he is concerned about the new laws and how they might affect dissent and perhaps earn political retribution. “It’s always been a concern with any governor, but with this governor it’s a bit heightened,” he said. “You can't stifle opposition. Government is supposed to be an argument between various sides about an issue and you see where that argument goes. Stifling dissent is not doing the public any favors.”

Doug Kellogg of Reclaim New York, a group focused on government transparency that has been critical of Cuomo in general and this legislation specifically, said that it's almost impossible to gauge how groups will be impacted because it is still uncertain how JCOPE will administer the law.

Kellogg noted that JCOPE can set exemptions for certain groups. “They get to determine whether a donor has legitimate fear of retaliation, and thus does not have to have their name released,” he said. “It's completely twisted to have a government spinoff that's not fully subject to basic transparency law deciding which citizens that fear retaliation for their speech get to stay private, and which have their names published. Until we see it in practice, we can't be sure how awful the law will truly be, but it’s definitely going to be ugly.”

JCOPE approved a set of regulations having to do with the law earlier this month. Many groups are anxiously waiting to see how the new regulations are actually enforced.

Perry of NYCLU and a host of good government groups including Citizens Union, the New York Public Interest Research Group, and Common Cause New York say that the governor has given no evidence that these new disclosure rules for nonprofits will do anything to impact corruption.

They say unlike the convictions of Dean Skelos and Sheldon Silver and the dozens of other legislators who have been removed from their seats, a trend that demonstrates a corruption epidemic in the Legislature, there is no indicator that nonprofits need more regulation.

“As you know, non-profit charities are already tightly regulated by the Internal Revenue Service,” the groups wrote Cuomo in a letter urging him to veto the bill. “These organizations, known as 501(c)(3)s have strict limits on their lobbying involvement – limitations that amount to a small fraction of their budgets. They are forbidden from intervening in political campaigns on penalty of being disqualified as a charity. Yet, with no demonstrated evidence of a problem and no evidence of any meaningful problems in New York State (evidence, which if it existed, you could have brought to light in a public debate) you assert that such a problem exists. As a result, these parts generally harm charitable organizations in the state through their lack of clarity and astoundingly broad reach. Rather than being targeted, the bill would impose onerous requirements on many nonprofits and inhibit contributions to nonprofits seeking to carry out charitable work, and could jeopardize the ability of many nonprofit organizations to operate in New York.”

Asked whether Cuomo had evidence there was corruption or malfeasance among these groups, Cuomo spokesperson Dani Lever forwarded a Times Union article titled “Who Funds New York’s Good Government Groups?” The article says that some groups are not always forthright about their donors, but that on the whole most are; while also noting that at times a group has released a report related to a donor with a particular interest.

Lever also provided a comment that the administration has widely circulated in response to criticism of the new legislation, which Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi has also tweeted in response to recent articles on the matter: “Everyone is all for transparency, except when it comes to them. We are just surprised to learn that applies to self-appointed good-government groups, too.”

A lawsuit challenging the bill is expected in the coming months - the suit will likely argue the law is an overreach and violates the First Amendment.

Lever did not respond to a question regarding whether Cuomo is concerned about the blurring of the lines between government and nonprofit lobbying as in the case of the Campaign for One New York and the Mario Cuomo Campaign for Economic Justice.

Asked about the new ethics laws on Thursday, Cuomo told reporters that it wasn’t everything he was hoping for, but still important. “The ethics bill is a major step forward,” Cuomo said, according to State of Politics. “Is it everything? No. Ethics in many ways is like other activities in life, right? That old line — you can never be too rich, you can never be too thin. Well, you can never be too ethical. So, you get everything done that you can get done. But you stay at it and you work at. More and more disclosure, more trust.”

Blair Horner, of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said that the law has served as a distraction in a year when Albany has been rocked by the conviction of two former legislative leaders and a federal investigation into Cuomo’s economic development projects. “This is classic Albany misdirection,” said Horner. “Here we are all talking about (C)(4)s and nonprofits and it's distracting us from discussing corruption in the Legislature and Executive. It is absolutely cynical, but it's effective.”

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization fo Citizens Union.

]]>
Cuomo’s Minimum Wage Nonprofit Through the Lens of His New Regulatory Scheme Mon, 29 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Bill Bratton Announces Retirement from NYPD, to be Replaced by James O'Neill http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6465:bratton-announces-retirement-from-nypd-to-be-replaced-by-o-neill http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6465:bratton-announces-retirement-from-nypd-to-be-replaced-by-o-neill de blasio bratton o'neill gomez nypd

De Blasio, Bratton, O'Neill, & Gomez (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office)


Bill Bratton, commissioner of the New York Police Department, announced his retirement from the NYPD on Tuesday, ushering in new leadership at the department he has shaped over the course of several decades. At a City Hall press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that Bratton will be replaced by Chief of Department James O’Neill, who has been a long-time member of the NYPD, rising through its ranks to now fill the top uniformed position under Bratton.

Bratton, who first served as NYPD commissioner under former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani between 1994 and 1996, is leaving his post next month for the private sector. The outgoing commissioner is joining Teneo Holdings a “global CEO advisory firm,” where, according to a news release from the company, he will be “Senior Managing Director and Executive Chairman of Teneo Risk,” “a new division of the firm focused on advising clients on key risk identification, prevention and response.”

Although Bratton had indicated at earlier occasions that he would step down at or before the end of the mayor’s current term in office, Tuesday’s announcement just halfway through the third year of that term came as somewhat of a surprise. His retirement comes as crime in New York City is at or near record lows and amid continued calls for reform of NYPD practices and a federal investigation into corruption at upper levels of the department, although the investigation does not appear to directly involve Bratton. United States Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office has recently brought charges against high-ranking NYPD officials, issued a statement congratulating Bratton on his public service.

At the news conference, de Blasio called Bratton an “extraordinary partner” and said his “contributions to our city and to law enforcement not only here, but across the nation are literally inestimable and extraordinary.”

He added, “I know this is a job for a strong man. I know it is a job for someone with a real vision – a vision of change and reform and progress. Like I always said about Bill Bratton, who never has ever rested on his laurels to the benefit of all is, [Chief of Department] Jimmy O’Neill burns with a passion to keep making things betters, to keep finding the next innovation. And he is going to be an extraordinary leader for this Department.”

While it is a “bittersweet moment” for him, Bratton said, he explained he is leaving the NYPD in capable hands. “I worked very hard for these last couple of years with the Mayor...recognizing there would be a point in time, whether it’s now or a year from now, that I would leave,” he said. “Policing is never done, it’s always unfinished business, and the issues that we’re facing now are going to require years to resolve. There’s no quick fixes to them. So, recognizing that, better to leave at this juncture where there is a team that is capable, that is energetic, that is creative, and that wants to engage, and you’ve met them, you know them, you’ve been exposed to them over these last 30 months.”

Bratton’s career as a police officer began in 1970 in the Boston Police Department. In 1990, he became chief of the New York City Transit Police and two years later he returned to Boston to serve as commissioner. Between 2002 and 2009, he led the Los Angeles Police Department. Bratton worked in the private sector before returning to lead the NYPD upon de Blasio’s election.

Often viewed as the face of modern policing in the country, Bratton is also a polarizing figure. In his first tenure as NYPD commissioner, under Giuliani, he introduced the CompStat system to statistically track and target crime, and was widely credited with a drastic drop in the city’s crime rate. His policies have also defined by the aggressive policing of low-level offenses, a system known as Broken Windows policing, which targets low-level crime and disorder with the belief that such enforcement prevents more serious crime. The practice has earned Bratton criticism from police reform advocates who say Broken Windows disproportionately and unfairly targets communities of color.

Under de Blasio, Bratton has overseen a number of changes at the police department, including to how Broken Windows is practiced - both Bratton and de Blasio have described it as an evolving system. Bratton has explained that because of the significant crime drops ushered in by Broken Windows policing, the NYPD has recently been able to reduce the number of “negative interactions” with civilians. He has called it the “peace dividend” and also compared the need for aggressive policing to treating cancer with chemotherapy.

Bratton has also implemented new use of force guidelines, reduced enforcement of low-level marijuana arrests, and instituted training in implicit bias and de-escalation tactics. He also spearheaded a neighborhood policing program, crafted by Chief O’Neill, designed to repair and build police-community relationships. Crime has been consistently dropping and has been at historic lows while police encounters with civilians have also decreased significantly.

The Speaker of the City Council, Melissa Mark-Viverito, in a statement on Tuesday commended Bratton for “working hard to keep crime low and our city safe.” She added, “The City Council looks forward to partnering with incoming Commissioner O’Neill as we work to improve police community-relations, reform practices and strive to create a more fair and just city.” In the last two-and-a-half years, Bratton has had a complex and at times combative relationship with the City Council, which has pushed numerous police and criminal justice reforms under Mark-Viverito’s leadership. There has often been eventual compromise between Bratton and Mark-Viverito, though, which Bratton mentioned during his remarks on Tuesday.

The City Council also pushed for the hire of 1,300 additional police officers, which de Blasio originally opposed but eventually agreed to and Bratton appreciated. There have also been major funding increases for the NYPD under Bratton, de Blasio, and the Council.

On several occasions, though, Bratton took issue with reforms being sought by the Council, often in harshly worded public statements.

Bronx City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the Council’s public safety committee, acknowledged the challenges of the Council-Bratton relationship on Tuesday and said she expects O’Neill to bring a more conciliatory approach to the top cop position. “I believe that he is someone that we can actually reach and talk to on an everyday basis,” Gibson told reporters shortly after the news conference. Gibson said that Bratton was not always easy to talk with and often oppositional to the Council’s efforts. She has known O’Neill for years, she said, as he has risen through the NYPD ranks, including as a local commander in the Bronx.

"It was frustrating because I think when you look at a comparison of what we’ve done at the Council in terms of budget or hiring of more officers," Gibson said about the Council's dealings with Bratton, adding that Bratton "refused to understand why legislation was proposed...because after our administration and after our term, we want the good practices of the department to remain in local law for future commissioners and future Council members."

With O'Neill, she said, "I think he understands the role that we play and the fact that, you know, we introduce legislation for a reason."

While O’Neill has been working directly under Bratton and they go back decades, the new commissioner will bring his own personality and leadership to the position. He does not come into it with the fame that Bratton did when de Blasio hired him for this run, and he is not known for the type of blunt public comments that Bratton often makes.

“Even though O’Neill comes out of the Bratton administration,” said Dr. Christina Greer, political science professor at Fordham University, “I still think it’s an opportunity to establish his own style of governance and establish his own relationships with communities of color.” Like Bratton, O’Neill is white. It was also announced Tuesday that First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, who is black, will stay on under O’Neill, and that Housing Bureau Chief Carlos Gomez, who is Cuban, will replace O’Neill as chief of department.

"I love being a cop, I love this uniform, I love what it stands for and want to help make this a better city," O'Neill said in his remarks on Tuesday, during which he was at times emotional as he ascended to his dream job. O'Neill also recognized the need for continued reform at the NYPD.

Bratton said on Tuesday that on July 8 he told de Blasio of his intention to retire from the NYPD and pursue a public sector job. The Mayor’s Office told Gotham Gazette that no external search for a replacement was conducted and that only O’Neill and Tucker were considered, with O’Neill getting the nod.

In a statement, the New York Civil Liberties Union praised certain policies under Bratton but criticized his commitment to Broken Windows policing, calling it an “outmoded policing model of the 1990s” and “not effective.” The NYCLU wants O’Neill to embrace de-escalation tactics and community-based policing. “We need a new era of policing in New York,” the organization contends.

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

Read more by this writer.

 

]]>
Bill Bratton Announces Retirement from NYPD, to be Replaced by James O'Neill Tue, 02 Aug 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Council to Hear One of Two Police Accountability Bills http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6381:city-council-to-hear-one-of-two-police-accountability-bills http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6381:city-council-to-hear-one-of-two-police-accountability-bills NYPD training

photo via @NYPDNews


NOTE: this article was originally published June 7, but the hearing discussed was postponed to June 28; it has been edited to refllect the new date and other recent news

Following on the heels of passing the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which diverts the prosecution of a number of low-level nonviolent offenses to civil rather than criminal avenues, the City Council will hear a bill on Tuesday that also addresses criminal justice reform, but this time by targeting bad actors within the NYPD.

The bill, Intro. 119, is sponsored by Council Member Jumaane Williams and was first heard in May 2014 by the Council’s Committee on Oversight and Investigations. Tweaked ahead of this second hearing, the bill would require the inspector general for the NYPD to review police misconduct, including civil cases against police officers, to identify systemic issues in the department. With input from the Law Department, the NYPD and its Internal Affairs Bureau, the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and the Commission to Combat Police Corruption, the IG would then recommend systemic changes in discipline, training and monitoring of officers.

Williams, along with Council Member Brad Lander, was one of the two lead sponsors of the Community Safety Act, which established the NYPD Inspector General and was passed in 2013 over a veto by then Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His new police accountability bill currently has eight sponsors in the 51-member Council. The NYPD IG was in the news last week after the office released a new report discrediting the claim that broken windows policing, which relies on rigorous enforcement of low-level crimes to prevent larger ones, does indeed prevent felonies. A war of words ensued between the Department of Investigations, which includes the NYPD IG, and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, the leading proponent of broken windows policing, which he is credited with implementing.

At one time, Tuesday’s hearing was to be held earlier this month and jointly with the Committee on Public Safety to consider another bill, Intro. 927, which is sponsored by Council Member Daniel Garodnick. That bill, which mandates that the NYPD create an early intervention system to identify aggressive police officers for enhanced training or monitoring, was taken off the docket for this hearing, which itself was postponed. A representative for Garodnick said the bill was still being worked on and would be rescheduled for a hearing. The two bills are seen as complementary, but Garodnick’s is newer, having been introduced in September, and has not had a hearing yet.

For police reform advocates, these bills show efforts in the right direction. Michael Sisitzky, policy counsel at the New York Civil Liberties Union, said Williams’ bill is “a good way to exercise the inspector general’s ability to look into abuses of power” and identify systemic problems that can be addressed through systemic changes in the department. The NYCLU has also long advocated for an early warning system to identify potentially abusive police officers, he said.

Other advocates, while supportive of the bills, shared a lukewarm sentiment for the Council’s effort by large. “The kind of reforms being proposed and that have been enacted are not going to make much difference in terms of day-to-day practices on the ground,” said Robert Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP). He said meaningful reform could only come from abandoning Broken Windows policing, abolishing quota systems for tickets, and taking strong executive action against errant officers. He likened the Council’s “superficial effort” to a house in a state of collapse being slapped with a single coat of paint.

“It might help policy-makers claim they’ve made significant changes,” Gangi said, “but might actually fool some segments of the public that meaningful change has happened.”

Mark Winston Griffith, executive director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, shared the same concern. BMC is a member of the Communities United for Police Reform coalition, which has been pushing for more extensive legislative reform, particularly the Right to Know Act. Under that act, police officers would be required to identify themselves, let people know the reason for stopping or questioning them, and inform them of their right to deny a search where probably cause does not exist. Griffith believes that should be the priority rather than the Williams and Garodnick bills, which are politically “easier and safer,” but not necessarily designed to have a critical impact. In spirit, Griffith supports the two bills, but worries that there seems to be significant discretion involved. “It seems good on paper but it’s only as good as it’s execution,” he said.

Neither Williams nor Garodnick was made available for an interview for this article.

When Garodnick introduced his bill last year, he told WNYC at the time that the bill was in part a response to the case of James Blake, a professional tennis star who was forcefully arrested by NYPD officers when at least one mistook him for a suspect in an investigation. The officer who arrested Blake was facing two federal lawsuits for the use of excessive force. In late 2014, WNYC reported extensively on issues related to officers’ use of force.

NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton was particularly emphatic in pushing back against Garodnick’s proposal. “It’s exactly what the cops resent about the City Council,” he said after speaking at an event on September 22. “These continual efforts. They say they want to support the cops, and then they keep coming up with new ways to try and effectively micromanage the police department. It’s not needed. It’s a waste of time and energy, and it’s grandstanding, being quite frank with you.”

Bratton stressed that the NYPD was already implementing its own risk assessment system. Garodnick responded, telling the Daily News that if the commissioner was supportive of the concept of his bill, he should work with the Council to "strike the right balance for the sake of the NYPD and the public." Discussions between the parties may ongoing and appear to have led to the delay in the hearing on Garodnick's bill.

Eugene O’Donnell, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former NYPD officer, believes the Council is overstepping. “The City Council has to knock it off,” he said. “It’s getting ridiculous. The cops are totally risk-averse at this point. Recruitment is destroyed and [the Council is] still going.”

The hearing comes as a federal investigation into corruption in the NYPD continues and several high-ranking officers have been arrested and others disciplined, while some are filing retirement paperwork, seemingly to secure their pensions before other indictments are handed down. None of the allegations involved appear to be related to use of force. There continue to be questions of low morale at the NYPD, dating to well before news of the federal probe, something Commissioner Bratton has discussed on several occasions and Mayor Bill de Blasio has sought to downplay.

O’Donnell said the Council was “beating a dead horse” and would create a less proactive police force that would be too concerned about civil and criminal liability to do their jobs effectively. Noting that there are already numerous oversight entities -- the Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney, the District Attorney, the Internal Affairs Bureau -- he said there was no need for additional cumbersome oversight legislation. “The net effect is that anyone who thinks of becoming a New York City cop should be disqualified,” he said, “because you’d have to be insane to consider joining the NYPD.”

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

Read more by this writer.

]]>
Council to Hear One of Two Police Accountability Bills Sun, 26 Jun 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Council Bills Aimed at Clarity, Improvement Around School Discipline and Support http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5681:council-bills-aimed-at-clarity-improvement-around-school-discipline-and-support http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5681:council-bills-aimed-at-clarity-improvement-around-school-discipline-and-support torres alatriste

CM Ritchie Torres at a recent event (photo: William Alatriste)


At a joint hearing of the City Council's Committees on Public Safety and Education on Tuesday, council members will discuss and hear testimony on three bills addressing school safety.

One bill, sponsored by Council Member Ritchie Torres, would require the city Department of Education (DOE) to report the ratio of school safety officers to guidance counselors in each school.

The bill, Torres said, has the support of the Council's Coalition of Young Men of Color, which includes Torres and his colleagues Council Members Antonio Reynoso, Donovan Richards, Rafael Espinal and Carlos Menchaca.

The legislation is an attempt to gauge the "imbalance of resources" in the education system, Torres told Gotham Gazette. "In order to solve the problem, we need to diagnose the problem," he said, indicating concern over there being too many police agents and not enough counselors in the city's schools.

The information gleaned from the DOE will help determine how resources are allocated toward punitive or restorative practices. Torres said he wants to address the "school-to-prison pipeline" created by disciplinary policies where suspensions lead to dropouts; with both leading young people to the criminal justice system. "Our public education system is defeating it's own purpose instead of putting [youth] on a path to a career," he said.

"The people to blame are not the teachers and administrators, but the politicians and bureaucrats who create these policies," Torres said.

Torres does commend Mayor Bill de Blasio for making a genuine effort toward reform. In February, the administration revised the school discipline code and established more careful punishments for certain student behavior, including the new requirement of approval from the Department of Education for student suspensions. "But it's important to match changes in policy with the investment of resources," said Torres. "A key part of the equation is access to restorative resources. It's about reforming the criminal justice system. If ever there was a time for reform, it's now."

A second bill to be discussed on Tuesday, introduced by Council Member David Greenfield, requires the police department to assign school safety agents to public and nonpublic schools that request them. And the third bill, sponsored by Council Member Vanessa Gibson, requires the schools chancellor to submit an annual report to the Council, also made available on the DOE website, on the discipline of students and the referral to emergency medical services for incidents related to disruptive behavior.

For advocates of reform, the package of bills is a move in the right direction. A number of groups including Make the Road New York and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) are expected to testify at the hearing to show their support for both Torres' and Gibson's bills.

"[Council Member Torres' bill] gets at the heart of where schools are allocating resources," said Karen Farkas, senior staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services. Farkas deals with issues related to education and counsels students between 16- and 19-years-old.

"It's a knee-jerk reaction in communities and among lawmakers that safety is equated with the presence of safety agents," she said. "But my clients and students of color don't equate that with safety. It detracts from a positive community and school culture. It makes it harder for schools to be schools."

Many of her clients, Farkas said, come from communities that are already over-policed. "Schools should be a place where kids are given the benefit of the doubt, not considered bad or criminal."

Farkas believes Torres' bill could reveal the effects that fewer police agents and more positive counseling would have. She also praised the administration's recent steps for laying the groundwork and initiating discussions on restorative justice practices, whereby instead of being suspended from school, students work to make damaged relationships whole again. But, Farkas insisted that "Unless there's a whole school reform model, and it's done well, little piecemeal measures won't change the whole problem."

Shoshi Chowdhury, coordinator of the Dignity in Schools Campaign, said the bills would help provide more data and transparency, shedding light on school discipline. "The Student Safety Act of 2010 was the first time in New York City history that we started getting data on suspensions. But there was some data missing," she said. The amendments proposed in Gibson's bill are aimed to address these. At the hearing, members of Chowdhury's organization will testify along with students, parents, and educators.

Nick Sheehan, staff attorney at Advocates for Children, shares Chowdhury's view. Torres' bill, he said, would increase transparency "about how the City chooses to allocate its resources."

He went further, saying the bill should also add ratios of social workers and school psychologists to school safety agents, and the ratio of those staff members to students. He also agreed that Gibson's bill would address the limitations in the Student Safety Act. "They're technical tweaks, but they're important," he said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid

]]>
Council Bills Aimed at Clarity, Improvement Around School Discipline and Support Mon, 13 Apr 2015 17:31:04 +0000
Outside Experts, Inside Employees Agree: Cuomo's Email Purge Misguided http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5618:outside-experts-inside-employees-agree-cuomos-email-purge-misguided http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5618:outside-experts-inside-employees-agree-cuomos-email-purge-misguided Cuomo

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


Governor Andrew Cuomo's new 90-day email deletion policy for all state agencies is being met with widespread disapproval. Experts say it is terrible for transparency; the people who have to abide by the mandate say they don't feel qualified to implement it and that it isn't good for their productivity.

According to a number of state workers who spoke to Gotham Gazette on the condition of anonymity, regular work habits have been disrupted by the policy that sees emails purged after three months. They say that the policy costs them time because to abide by it they are forced to weigh the State's monumentally large email retention policy against the purge policy, and then ferret out and save important emails.

There is also concern that losing emails will disrupt workflow because employees won't be able to refer back to previous conversations by searching their inboxes, as people often do.

The State began the program after consolidating a myriad of email systems into Microsoft Office 365. Capital New York reported the start of the program last week. The program actually gives the administrator the ability to purge employee emails after one day. A coalition of technology- and transparency-minded groups including Reinvent Albany and the NYCLU wrote the governor last month to oppose implementation of the program, arguing that it would cripple Freedom of Information Act laws (FOIL).

"This policy was adopted without public notice or comment," reads the letter. "Furthermore, we are extremely concerned that the inevitable destruction of email records under your 90-day automatic deletion policy directly undermines other public accountability laws like the False Claims Act."

Cuomo's IT chief Maggie Miller was grilled about the policy during a budget hearing last week. She defended the policy, saying in part, "It's also a matter of, actually, encouraging good behavior, prudent and responsible use of state resources." In terms of concern over space issues and expense, Microsoft Office 365 offers decades worth of email retention.

The Cuomo administration has billed the deletion program as a way to improve efficiency, but workers say it's a hinderance and that they don't feel qualified to decide which emails should be saved in case of lawsuits or FOIL requests. "This just isn't my job," said one employee.

State rules pertaining to what emails should be saved are extensive - they take up 118 pages and 215 separate categories.

State Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan, told Gotham Gazette that she learned of the policy during that budget hearing and was "horrified."

"How many state employees understand the language in the policy about what should be preserved?" Kruger asked. "I asked three FOIL lawyers how complicated it is and whether a layman could interpret the rules and they laughed."

Krueger has a bill in the works that would overturn the 90-day policy and establish retention timelines for different areas of government. The bill would add electronic communication to the state's archive laws. She says her legislation will be complicated because it covers so many areas, but takes some inspiration from the Federal Capstone Email Management Policy. It would also make all branches of government, including the Legislature, subject to FOIL. Krueger said she expects bill drafting to be complete in about a week.

There is concern among some legislators and advocates who want to stop Cuomo's policy that Krueger's bill is too far-reaching to actually pass. One legislator told Gotham Gazette with condition of anonymity that they felt making the Legislature subject to FOIL is actually a "poison pill," and virtually guarantees it will not pass.

Krueger said that her bill is not designed as an attack on Cuomo. "I hope this is a situation where the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. Maybe the governor made a mistake. This isn't a spat. I'm not here to go 'Ha, ha! I caught you screwing up!' I am here to repair [the situation] because I care about the democratic process."

Although the uproar over the policy has been sudden and sharp it isn't exactly surprising that the Cuomo administration implemented it. The administration is known for being extremely secretive, and has been working on the implementation of the program for years.

Zephyr Teachout, Cuomo's primary opponent from last year and author of a book on political corruption, has slammed the policy and pointed out that Cuomo is under federal investigation for tampering with The Moreland Commission on Public Corruption.

"Everyone knows that Albany - all of it, executive and legislative - has a corruption problem. Some of it's legal, some of it's illegal," Teachout told Gotham Gazette. " At this particular moment, with such low trust in Albany, there's no excuse for an email deletion policy. He should be opening the books, not burning them after three months. Transparency isn't the full answer. X-rays don't cure patients. But you need them to figure out what's going on."

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

]]>
Outside Experts, Inside Employees Agree: Cuomo's Email Purge Misguided Fri, 06 Mar 2015 00:45:01 +0000