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/vanessa-gibson 2019-04-21T18:55:49+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Preliminary Budget Hearings End with City Council Clamor for More Detail on Agency Cuts 2019-03-29T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8410-preliminary-city-budget-hearings-end-with-council-clamor-for-more-detail-on-agency-cuts Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/council-holds-prelim.jpg" alt="council holds prelim" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>OMB Director Hartzog testifies (photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)</p> <hr /> <p>As usual, the City Council’s March agenda was mostly dominated by preliminary budget hearings, evaluating the mayor’s initial spending plan for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. This stage of the city budget process started and finished with a general hearing held by the Council’s Finance Committee, along with its Capital Budget Subcommittee, with a series of more specific agency- and service-related hearings in between.</p> <p>The preliminary budget hearings finished where they began, with Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, and other Council members looking for more details about cuts and efficiencies the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to make across city agencies. When he presented a $92.2 billion preliminary budget in early February, de Blasio said he was instituting a $750 million PEG (program to eliminate the (budget) gap), the first PEG of de Blasio’s tenure, during which a very healthy economy has allowed the mayor and Council to increase spending very quickly, while also keeping reserves fairly high.</p> <p>But where will that $750 million come from? De Blasio and his top budget officials said they would give each agency, from the NYPD to the Department of Education, targets to meet and there would be more detail by the mayor’s executive budget, which is due toward the end of April. Yet City Council members want more detail now.</p> <p>The PEG was brought on, the mayor said, because the city’s recent revenue collections have not met the Office of Management and Budget’s growth projections. The city collected $46.5 billion in revenue for the previous fiscal year, which was a 1.2% increase from the year before. However, OMB had forecasted a 2.6% growth rate.</p> <p>At the City Council’s final preliminary budget hearing, Jacques Jiha, the commissioner of the Department of Finance (DOF), attributed this to the “weakness” in personal income tax collection (especially senior payments) and the “softness” of unincorporated business tax collection. Jiha also noted the recent inversion of the bond yield curve, which could signal a potential recession, as another sign that “the budget should be approached with caution.”</p> <p>City budget director Melanie Hartzog later echoed Jiha’s cautionary tone, highlighting three “economic risks” that led to the PEG. She clarified -- and repeatedly stressed -- that OMB and economists are forecasting an “economic slow-down,” not a recession, amid a national economy that has appeared vulnerable in recent years. Still, she called such a slow-down “a substantial threat to the budget.” Second, she also attributed the slowing of city revenue growth to a decline in income tax collections, noting recent changes to the federal tax code.</p> <p>Finally, Hartzog also discussed OMB’s expectations that state and federal contributions to the city budget would decline. According to Hartzog, the mayor’s executive budget will include cuts to health care and education programs unless the city can secure additional funding from the state. Also, while President Trump’s budget proposal would be detrimental to the city, OMB does not believe that it will pass through Congress. Hartzog said OMB would work with the city’s congressional representatives to secure federal funding.</p> <p>Council Finance Chair Danny Dromm, a Queens Democrat, said that he hoped Hartzog’s testimony would answer questions that came up in previous budget hearings over the past month. Speaker Johnson summarized the previous month’s hearings by saying that “most agency heads were unwilling or unable” to discuss what would be affected by the city’s $750 million PEG. When Hartzog said that these details would appear in de Blasio’s executive budget, Johnson said that he was “incredibly frustrated to be stonewalled.”</p> <p>Many questions that Council members had at the first preliminary budget hearing still went unanswered at the final preliminary budget hearing. Hartzog said that it was “too early in the process” for the Council to be given details about what particular cuts will be made at each agency. Agencies have submitted their preliminary drafts for savings, but the OMB still has to review those proposals. Similarly, Hartzog could not yet answer what percentage of the cuts would affect services and programs.</p> <p>Dromm said that cuts to programs such as summer employment for students and adult literacy “will be a non-starter.” Johnson agreed that the Council would not support cuts that would affect “vulnerable New Yorkers.” He warned Hartzog, “I don’t want a level of game-playing” over cuts and said that it would “be a big waste of time.” Hartzog said that “neither I nor the mayor want to play that budget dance.”</p> <p>When asked if she was confident that the city’s reserves would be able to prevent budget cuts to programs during a potential recession, Hartzog reiterated that economists were forecasting an economic slow-down not an economic recession and that she had confidence in the city “weathering an economic slow down” without programmatic cuts.</p> <p>Hartzog appeared less concerned about the potential for a recession than Johnson. Like Jiha previously stated, Johnson noted that an inversion of the bond yield curve is usually an indicator of an approaching recession. Hartzog conceded that a recession was “certainly possible,” but said that economists were forecasting a slow down, which would not be as severe. She also took the opportunity to state that the city has “built up our reserves and continued to have savings plans” during economic growth periods.</p> <p>Johnson brought up a Citizens Budget Commission report, which said that a recession could cause revenue shortfalls of $15-20 billion over three years. This would use up the entirety of the city’s reserves. When asked if the administration thought that more should be added to the reserves, Hartzog reiterated that the reserves were sufficient to weather an economic slow down and said that the city was planning to add to the reserves moving forward.</p> <p>Johnson also called out a <a href="https://nypost.com/2019/03/09/new-york-city-is-edging-toward-financial-disaster-experts-warn/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post article</a> that claimed the city “is careening closer to all-out financial bankruptcy.” Johnson called the article “irresponsible” and Hartzog concurred. “We think there does need to be a level of improvement in transparency,” Johnson said, suggesting that OMB should provide “best estimates” of future revenue reserves because of OMB’s tendency towards conservative estimates. Hartzog said she does not believe that would be necessary.</p> <p>Between the testimonies of Jiha and Hartzog, Lorraine Grillo made her first appearance before a City Council committee as commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction (DDC). Grillo has also retained her role as head of the School Construction Authority (SCA), therefore leading the two main city agencies responsible for construction projects. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the Capital Budget Subcommittee, praised the SCA under Grillo’s leadership for its “strong capital delivery.”</p> <p>Grillo told the committee that the varied scale of projects, which include everything from sewers to playgrounds, presented a challenge for the DDC, which she said “should not neglect smaller projects,” because many affect New Yorkers’ quality of life. She also expressed frustration that the state has not granted “blanket design-build authority” for the city’s capital projects, saying that it would streamline the capital delivery process.</p> <p>Jamie Torres-Springer, the first deputy DDC Commissioner, said that the state’s granting of design-build authority for the construction of four community-based jails, which are planned to replace the Rikers Island jails is “a really important opportunity for the city “to demonstrate the effectiveness” of design-build. Grillo added, “but imagine if we could use it for all projects?”</p> <p>Grillo also noted that there are “layers of policy and red tape” at DDC that SCA does not have. She has ordered an agency-wide review. She also pointed to the DDC’s Strategic Blueprint, which she labeled a “far-reaching plan” and “broad outline of improvements” with “common-sense fixes.” One area of improvement that she highlighted was front-end planning. The DDC has expanded its front-end planning unit and now works with agencies before they submit their project initiation requests. According to Grillo, “we are beginning to see a difference.”</p> <p>With preliminary budget hearings over, the next steps in the city budget process are seeing the results of the new state budget, due by April 1, followed by the City Council releasing its formal preliminary budget response. Soon after, the mayor will release his executive budget plan, setting off another round of Council hearings as well as public and private negotiations.</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/council-holds-prelim.jpg" alt="council holds prelim" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>OMB Director Hartzog testifies (photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)</p> <hr /> <p>As usual, the City Council’s March agenda was mostly dominated by preliminary budget hearings, evaluating the mayor’s initial spending plan for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. This stage of the city budget process started and finished with a general hearing held by the Council’s Finance Committee, along with its Capital Budget Subcommittee, with a series of more specific agency- and service-related hearings in between.</p> <p>The preliminary budget hearings finished where they began, with Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, and other Council members looking for more details about cuts and efficiencies the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to make across city agencies. When he presented a $92.2 billion preliminary budget in early February, de Blasio said he was instituting a $750 million PEG (program to eliminate the (budget) gap), the first PEG of de Blasio’s tenure, during which a very healthy economy has allowed the mayor and Council to increase spending very quickly, while also keeping reserves fairly high.</p> <p>But where will that $750 million come from? De Blasio and his top budget officials said they would give each agency, from the NYPD to the Department of Education, targets to meet and there would be more detail by the mayor’s executive budget, which is due toward the end of April. Yet City Council members want more detail now.</p> <p>The PEG was brought on, the mayor said, because the city’s recent revenue collections have not met the Office of Management and Budget’s growth projections. The city collected $46.5 billion in revenue for the previous fiscal year, which was a 1.2% increase from the year before. However, OMB had forecasted a 2.6% growth rate.</p> <p>At the City Council’s final preliminary budget hearing, Jacques Jiha, the commissioner of the Department of Finance (DOF), attributed this to the “weakness” in personal income tax collection (especially senior payments) and the “softness” of unincorporated business tax collection. Jiha also noted the recent inversion of the bond yield curve, which could signal a potential recession, as another sign that “the budget should be approached with caution.”</p> <p>City budget director Melanie Hartzog later echoed Jiha’s cautionary tone, highlighting three “economic risks” that led to the PEG. She clarified -- and repeatedly stressed -- that OMB and economists are forecasting an “economic slow-down,” not a recession, amid a national economy that has appeared vulnerable in recent years. Still, she called such a slow-down “a substantial threat to the budget.” Second, she also attributed the slowing of city revenue growth to a decline in income tax collections, noting recent changes to the federal tax code.</p> <p>Finally, Hartzog also discussed OMB’s expectations that state and federal contributions to the city budget would decline. According to Hartzog, the mayor’s executive budget will include cuts to health care and education programs unless the city can secure additional funding from the state. Also, while President Trump’s budget proposal would be detrimental to the city, OMB does not believe that it will pass through Congress. Hartzog said OMB would work with the city’s congressional representatives to secure federal funding.</p> <p>Council Finance Chair Danny Dromm, a Queens Democrat, said that he hoped Hartzog’s testimony would answer questions that came up in previous budget hearings over the past month. Speaker Johnson summarized the previous month’s hearings by saying that “most agency heads were unwilling or unable” to discuss what would be affected by the city’s $750 million PEG. When Hartzog said that these details would appear in de Blasio’s executive budget, Johnson said that he was “incredibly frustrated to be stonewalled.”</p> <p>Many questions that Council members had at the first preliminary budget hearing still went unanswered at the final preliminary budget hearing. Hartzog said that it was “too early in the process” for the Council to be given details about what particular cuts will be made at each agency. Agencies have submitted their preliminary drafts for savings, but the OMB still has to review those proposals. Similarly, Hartzog could not yet answer what percentage of the cuts would affect services and programs.</p> <p>Dromm said that cuts to programs such as summer employment for students and adult literacy “will be a non-starter.” Johnson agreed that the Council would not support cuts that would affect “vulnerable New Yorkers.” He warned Hartzog, “I don’t want a level of game-playing” over cuts and said that it would “be a big waste of time.” Hartzog said that “neither I nor the mayor want to play that budget dance.”</p> <p>When asked if she was confident that the city’s reserves would be able to prevent budget cuts to programs during a potential recession, Hartzog reiterated that economists were forecasting an economic slow-down not an economic recession and that she had confidence in the city “weathering an economic slow down” without programmatic cuts.</p> <p>Hartzog appeared less concerned about the potential for a recession than Johnson. Like Jiha previously stated, Johnson noted that an inversion of the bond yield curve is usually an indicator of an approaching recession. Hartzog conceded that a recession was “certainly possible,” but said that economists were forecasting a slow down, which would not be as severe. She also took the opportunity to state that the city has “built up our reserves and continued to have savings plans” during economic growth periods.</p> <p>Johnson brought up a Citizens Budget Commission report, which said that a recession could cause revenue shortfalls of $15-20 billion over three years. This would use up the entirety of the city’s reserves. When asked if the administration thought that more should be added to the reserves, Hartzog reiterated that the reserves were sufficient to weather an economic slow down and said that the city was planning to add to the reserves moving forward.</p> <p>Johnson also called out a <a href="https://nypost.com/2019/03/09/new-york-city-is-edging-toward-financial-disaster-experts-warn/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York Post article</a> that claimed the city “is careening closer to all-out financial bankruptcy.” Johnson called the article “irresponsible” and Hartzog concurred. “We think there does need to be a level of improvement in transparency,” Johnson said, suggesting that OMB should provide “best estimates” of future revenue reserves because of OMB’s tendency towards conservative estimates. Hartzog said she does not believe that would be necessary.</p> <p>Between the testimonies of Jiha and Hartzog, Lorraine Grillo made her first appearance before a City Council committee as commissioner of the Department of Design and Construction (DDC). Grillo has also retained her role as head of the School Construction Authority (SCA), therefore leading the two main city agencies responsible for construction projects. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the Capital Budget Subcommittee, praised the SCA under Grillo’s leadership for its “strong capital delivery.”</p> <p>Grillo told the committee that the varied scale of projects, which include everything from sewers to playgrounds, presented a challenge for the DDC, which she said “should not neglect smaller projects,” because many affect New Yorkers’ quality of life. She also expressed frustration that the state has not granted “blanket design-build authority” for the city’s capital projects, saying that it would streamline the capital delivery process.</p> <p>Jamie Torres-Springer, the first deputy DDC Commissioner, said that the state’s granting of design-build authority for the construction of four community-based jails, which are planned to replace the Rikers Island jails is “a really important opportunity for the city “to demonstrate the effectiveness” of design-build. Grillo added, “but imagine if we could use it for all projects?”</p> <p>Grillo also noted that there are “layers of policy and red tape” at DDC that SCA does not have. She has ordered an agency-wide review. She also pointed to the DDC’s Strategic Blueprint, which she labeled a “far-reaching plan” and “broad outline of improvements” with “common-sense fixes.” One area of improvement that she highlighted was front-end planning. The DDC has expanded its front-end planning unit and now works with agencies before they submit their project initiation requests. According to Grillo, “we are beginning to see a difference.”</p> <p>With preliminary budget hearings over, the next steps in the city budget process are seeing the results of the new state budget, due by April 1, followed by the City Council releasing its formal preliminary budget response. Soon after, the mayor will release his executive budget plan, setting off another round of Council hearings as well as public and private negotiations.</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City’s Flawed Capital Project Process the Subject of Renewed Scrutiny, and Some Reform 2019-03-21T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-21T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8381-city-s-flawed-capital-project-process-the-subject-of-renewed-scrutiny-and-some-reform Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-bdb-200.jpg" alt="mayor bdb 200" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Many New Yorkers know the city has trouble completing construction projects on time and under budget. Projects like school renovations and the build-out of park facilities are capital projects, the subject of increasing scrutiny and some reform, with more promised, as frustrations persist and residents, watchdogs, lawmakers, and other city leaders seek answers.</p> <p>Top officials from the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to Comptroller Scott Stringer have taken a fresh interest in improving the capital projects budgeting and delivery processes. The mayor’s office has released several plans promising to do just that. After forming a new subcommittee on the capital budget last year, the City Council has proposed reforms and Council members have been critical of the city’s handling of capital spending during this month’s annual budget hearings.</p> <p>Stringer has proposed three city charter revisions to improve accountability, recommendations to a charter revision commission that will soon propose changes to the city’s central governing document.</p> <p>There are some areas of agreement among the parties involved, but it is currently unclear if there will be any major substantive changes to the current system, wherein the city’s long-term capital budget planning is lacking in transparency and widely seen as unrealistic, and projects are consistently falling behind schedule and over budget.</p> <p>Much of the recent attention has come through this year’s city budget process. As part of the reviewing the preliminary expense budget put forward by Mayor de Blasio, the City Council also assesses the preliminary capital budget for next fiscal year as well as the ten-year capital strategy.</p> <p>At the first preliminary budget hearing of this cycle, Melanie Hartzog, the city’s budget director, said that the top priorities for capital projects over the next decade would be education, environmental protection, housing, and transportation.</p> <p>In two recent hearings and several recently-released plans, city officials have promised to address many of the long-standing issues associated with capital project delivery, including planning, process, and transparency.</p> <p>“We have doubts,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, at the Council’s initial budget hearing. Johnson and other Council members raised several issues about the capital budget and the ten-year plan. He said that the latter half of the ten-year plan “does not take into account the city’s needs,” including both its current commitments and new needs that will arise.</p> <p>Multiple Council members brought up that the ten-year plan does not include any new school construction after fiscal year 2024. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the capital budget subcommittee, called this “unrealistic planning” and noted the city’s history of frontloading its ten-year capital plans.</p> <p>Gibson specifically cited the budget planning for the NYPD’s capital needs. The current proposal allocates $850 million in capital spending for the first three years of the plan, and only $160 million in the next seven. Hartzog acknowledged the history and said that the city is working to improve. Council members did acknowledge some progress in clarity for what is outlined.</p> <p>In addition to problems with planning, capital delivery from conception to completion has its own set of obstacles. Recognizing the past-due and over-budget trend, the city’s Department of Design and Construction earlier this year released a <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ddc/images/content/pages/press-releases/2019/2019_DDC_Strategic_Plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">strategic blueprint</a> that promises to “fundamentally reevaluate the status quo in City capital project delivery.”</p> <p>As of the time of the report’s release, DDC was managing 834 active projects valued at $13.5 billion. Since 2004, the annual capital budget has grown by $1 billion to $3 billion each year to keep pace with a growing city, which has also added nearly a million jobs in the same period. DDC deals with most city capital projects outside of the School Construction Authority, which is its own entity dealing with its eponymous subject matter. SCA is known to be far more successful in its planning and delivery than DDC.</p> <p>The blueprint identifies three internal and external impediments within the delivery process, including DDC’s own business practices, burdensome procurement process rules, and the engineering challenges that come with underground infrastructure that “all complicate efficient delivery of capital projects” in the city.</p> <p>The report also identifies climate change as a necessary factor to consider in all future planning. Capital projects need to both protect the city from rising sea levels and natural disasters as well as minimize the city’s contributions to global warming, according to the report. The agency is under relatively new leadership as it embarks on this ambitious plan. Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Lorraine Grillo, who has also continued leading the School Construction Authority, as the new DDC commissioner last July. Grillo has been widely praised for her leadership of SCA, including by City Council members, though the city continues to struggle with school space in many neighborhoods.</p> <p>DDC is currently undergoing an agency-wide review of its practices and external challenges. Through this review, DDC promises to “modernize how we do business.” These modernizing reforms include standardizing project initiation, managing projects more effectively, enhancing management capacity, and updating internal systems and technology. The plan promises to better identify and prioritize needs, streamline procurement, and restructure contracts to promote meeting deadlines, among other improvements.</p> <p>Contracts and contractor diversity are also a primary concern for the mayor’s office and the Council, they say. DDC wants to get more out of its contracts and diversify and expand the pool of applicants. Daniel Steinberg, the Senior Advisor to the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said that many minority- and women-owned business do not apply for contracts because of the city’s history of untimely payments. This can also dissuade newer and smaller businesses from participating in the bidding process. Timely payment of contracts is a larger issue that DDC is also seeking to address.</p> <p>During a February joint hearing, the City Council’s finance committee and capital budget subcommittee considered two bills that aim to improve transparency in the capital projects process.</p> <p>The City Charter mandates certain reporting on the process to the Council and the public, but Council Member Gibson said these reports “often do not relate to one another or the city’s real spending in a meaningful way.” The two bills, which had the support of the Council members present at the hearing, are intended to address these issues. Gibson said that the proposals would give the Council and public “a wholistic and detailed look at all capital projects that are in progress throughout the city.”</p> <p>The first, Intro. 32, sponsored by Council Member Andrew Cohen, a Bronx Democrat, would require city agencies to provide electronic notification of any delays or cost changes for capital projects. This is very similar to one of the charter revisions that Comptroller Stringer is proposing. The second, Intro. 113, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, would create a database to track citywide capital projects. Finance committee chair Daniel Dromm, a Queens Democrat, said that “transparency in the capital process is key to providing assurances to the public that city resources are being put into good use in an efficient and effective manner.”</p> <p>While most of the hearing focused on these two bills, it was clear that the Council members had larger issues in mind and thought of the bills as first steps to larger-scale reform and improvements.</p> <p>Steinberg, of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said during the hearing that his office agreed with the two bills “in spirit,” but was concerned with components of each bill that he would consider to be “impractical.”</p> <p>He voiced concern that Intro. 32 would require reporting for all capital projects, which includes everything from equipment acquisition (such as of paper shredders) to building or repairing massive water tunnels. In regards to Intro. 113, he said that it “would be incredibly burdensome to implement while providing little new information.”</p> <p>Intro. 32 currently has ten Council sponsors, while Intro. 113 has 35 sponsors, well above the threshold required for passage in the 51-seat Council.</p> <p>Nonprofit watchdog Citizens Budget Commission submitted testimony in support of Intro. 113 at the February hearing, saying that “the capital budget is just as important as the operating budget and should be subject to the same monitoring and scrutiny.” Gibson brought up the bills again at the initial preliminary budget hearing.</p> <p>The two bills are focused on transparency in the capital projects process, but the sponsors and other Council members also contextualized the proposals as necessary for the eventual improvement of the entire system and not a distinct issue of bureaucratic transparency. During the hearing, Cohen said that “the inability of the city to deliver on capital projects is an epidemic.”</p> <p>Council members frequently expressed their personal frustration with the process and the length it takes for many capital projects to be completed, some spanning multiple Council member terms. Cohen, who is in his second term, said that he “spends a significant amount of my time on projects that were funded by my predecessor.” Gibson similarly expressed frustration over parks projects commonly taking as long as eight years to complete, which presents an oversight challenge to Council members, who are term-limited to eight years in office over two terms.</p> <p>A source of frustration for Council members was that only capital projects costing $25 million or more are required to be reported on the capital projects dashboard, a publicly-available transparency tool on the city’s website. Capital projects of that size account for only 300 of the over 10,000 ongoing projects for a year. Steinberg said that the Mayor’s Office of Operations would be open to expanding the scope of the dashboard’s reporting to be more inclusive than the current threshold. After learning that the city does not have an employee assigned specifically to data entry for the dashboard, Gibson said that it was evidence that capital projects transparency “is not a priority in this city.”</p> <p>Another area of agreement between the Council and Comptroller is the need for individual budget line items for each capital project. This proposal was one of Stringer’s suggested charter revisions and Gibson brought it up at both recent Council hearings pertaining to the capital budget. Stringer is also proposing that the city regularly report on the condition of capital assets, a requirement he wants added to the charter.</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-bdb-200.jpg" alt="mayor bdb 200" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Many New Yorkers know the city has trouble completing construction projects on time and under budget. Projects like school renovations and the build-out of park facilities are capital projects, the subject of increasing scrutiny and some reform, with more promised, as frustrations persist and residents, watchdogs, lawmakers, and other city leaders seek answers.</p> <p>Top officials from the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson to Comptroller Scott Stringer have taken a fresh interest in improving the capital projects budgeting and delivery processes. The mayor’s office has released several plans promising to do just that. After forming a new subcommittee on the capital budget last year, the City Council has proposed reforms and Council members have been critical of the city’s handling of capital spending during this month’s annual budget hearings.</p> <p>Stringer has proposed three city charter revisions to improve accountability, recommendations to a charter revision commission that will soon propose changes to the city’s central governing document.</p> <p>There are some areas of agreement among the parties involved, but it is currently unclear if there will be any major substantive changes to the current system, wherein the city’s long-term capital budget planning is lacking in transparency and widely seen as unrealistic, and projects are consistently falling behind schedule and over budget.</p> <p>Much of the recent attention has come through this year’s city budget process. As part of the reviewing the preliminary expense budget put forward by Mayor de Blasio, the City Council also assesses the preliminary capital budget for next fiscal year as well as the ten-year capital strategy.</p> <p>At the first preliminary budget hearing of this cycle, Melanie Hartzog, the city’s budget director, said that the top priorities for capital projects over the next decade would be education, environmental protection, housing, and transportation.</p> <p>In two recent hearings and several recently-released plans, city officials have promised to address many of the long-standing issues associated with capital project delivery, including planning, process, and transparency.</p> <p>“We have doubts,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, at the Council’s initial budget hearing. Johnson and other Council members raised several issues about the capital budget and the ten-year plan. He said that the latter half of the ten-year plan “does not take into account the city’s needs,” including both its current commitments and new needs that will arise.</p> <p>Multiple Council members brought up that the ten-year plan does not include any new school construction after fiscal year 2024. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, a Bronx Democrat and chair of the capital budget subcommittee, called this “unrealistic planning” and noted the city’s history of frontloading its ten-year capital plans.</p> <p>Gibson specifically cited the budget planning for the NYPD’s capital needs. The current proposal allocates $850 million in capital spending for the first three years of the plan, and only $160 million in the next seven. Hartzog acknowledged the history and said that the city is working to improve. Council members did acknowledge some progress in clarity for what is outlined.</p> <p>In addition to problems with planning, capital delivery from conception to completion has its own set of obstacles. Recognizing the past-due and over-budget trend, the city’s Department of Design and Construction earlier this year released a <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/ddc/images/content/pages/press-releases/2019/2019_DDC_Strategic_Plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">strategic blueprint</a> that promises to “fundamentally reevaluate the status quo in City capital project delivery.”</p> <p>As of the time of the report’s release, DDC was managing 834 active projects valued at $13.5 billion. Since 2004, the annual capital budget has grown by $1 billion to $3 billion each year to keep pace with a growing city, which has also added nearly a million jobs in the same period. DDC deals with most city capital projects outside of the School Construction Authority, which is its own entity dealing with its eponymous subject matter. SCA is known to be far more successful in its planning and delivery than DDC.</p> <p>The blueprint identifies three internal and external impediments within the delivery process, including DDC’s own business practices, burdensome procurement process rules, and the engineering challenges that come with underground infrastructure that “all complicate efficient delivery of capital projects” in the city.</p> <p>The report also identifies climate change as a necessary factor to consider in all future planning. Capital projects need to both protect the city from rising sea levels and natural disasters as well as minimize the city’s contributions to global warming, according to the report. The agency is under relatively new leadership as it embarks on this ambitious plan. Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed Lorraine Grillo, who has also continued leading the School Construction Authority, as the new DDC commissioner last July. Grillo has been widely praised for her leadership of SCA, including by City Council members, though the city continues to struggle with school space in many neighborhoods.</p> <p>DDC is currently undergoing an agency-wide review of its practices and external challenges. Through this review, DDC promises to “modernize how we do business.” These modernizing reforms include standardizing project initiation, managing projects more effectively, enhancing management capacity, and updating internal systems and technology. The plan promises to better identify and prioritize needs, streamline procurement, and restructure contracts to promote meeting deadlines, among other improvements.</p> <p>Contracts and contractor diversity are also a primary concern for the mayor’s office and the Council, they say. DDC wants to get more out of its contracts and diversify and expand the pool of applicants. Daniel Steinberg, the Senior Advisor to the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said that many minority- and women-owned business do not apply for contracts because of the city’s history of untimely payments. This can also dissuade newer and smaller businesses from participating in the bidding process. Timely payment of contracts is a larger issue that DDC is also seeking to address.</p> <p>During a February joint hearing, the City Council’s finance committee and capital budget subcommittee considered two bills that aim to improve transparency in the capital projects process.</p> <p>The City Charter mandates certain reporting on the process to the Council and the public, but Council Member Gibson said these reports “often do not relate to one another or the city’s real spending in a meaningful way.” The two bills, which had the support of the Council members present at the hearing, are intended to address these issues. Gibson said that the proposals would give the Council and public “a wholistic and detailed look at all capital projects that are in progress throughout the city.”</p> <p>The first, Intro. 32, sponsored by Council Member Andrew Cohen, a Bronx Democrat, would require city agencies to provide electronic notification of any delays or cost changes for capital projects. This is very similar to one of the charter revisions that Comptroller Stringer is proposing. The second, Intro. 113, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat, would create a database to track citywide capital projects. Finance committee chair Daniel Dromm, a Queens Democrat, said that “transparency in the capital process is key to providing assurances to the public that city resources are being put into good use in an efficient and effective manner.”</p> <p>While most of the hearing focused on these two bills, it was clear that the Council members had larger issues in mind and thought of the bills as first steps to larger-scale reform and improvements.</p> <p>Steinberg, of the Mayor’s Office of Operations, said during the hearing that his office agreed with the two bills “in spirit,” but was concerned with components of each bill that he would consider to be “impractical.”</p> <p>He voiced concern that Intro. 32 would require reporting for all capital projects, which includes everything from equipment acquisition (such as of paper shredders) to building or repairing massive water tunnels. In regards to Intro. 113, he said that it “would be incredibly burdensome to implement while providing little new information.”</p> <p>Intro. 32 currently has ten Council sponsors, while Intro. 113 has 35 sponsors, well above the threshold required for passage in the 51-seat Council.</p> <p>Nonprofit watchdog Citizens Budget Commission submitted testimony in support of Intro. 113 at the February hearing, saying that “the capital budget is just as important as the operating budget and should be subject to the same monitoring and scrutiny.” Gibson brought up the bills again at the initial preliminary budget hearing.</p> <p>The two bills are focused on transparency in the capital projects process, but the sponsors and other Council members also contextualized the proposals as necessary for the eventual improvement of the entire system and not a distinct issue of bureaucratic transparency. During the hearing, Cohen said that “the inability of the city to deliver on capital projects is an epidemic.”</p> <p>Council members frequently expressed their personal frustration with the process and the length it takes for many capital projects to be completed, some spanning multiple Council member terms. Cohen, who is in his second term, said that he “spends a significant amount of my time on projects that were funded by my predecessor.” Gibson similarly expressed frustration over parks projects commonly taking as long as eight years to complete, which presents an oversight challenge to Council members, who are term-limited to eight years in office over two terms.</p> <p>A source of frustration for Council members was that only capital projects costing $25 million or more are required to be reported on the capital projects dashboard, a publicly-available transparency tool on the city’s website. Capital projects of that size account for only 300 of the over 10,000 ongoing projects for a year. Steinberg said that the Mayor’s Office of Operations would be open to expanding the scope of the dashboard’s reporting to be more inclusive than the current threshold. After learning that the city does not have an employee assigned specifically to data entry for the dashboard, Gibson said that it was evidence that capital projects transparency “is not a priority in this city.”</p> <p>Another area of agreement between the Council and Comptroller is the need for individual budget line items for each capital project. This proposal was one of Stringer’s suggested charter revisions and Gibson brought it up at both recent Council hearings pertaining to the capital budget. Stringer is also proposing that the city regularly report on the condition of capital assets, a requirement he wants added to the charter.</p> <p>

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Pushes on De Blasio Savings Program During First Budget Hearing 2019-03-06T05:00:00+00:00 2019-03-06T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8331-city-council-pushes-on-de-blasio-savings-program-during-first-budget-hearing Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/city-council-j-mccarten-premlim.jpg" alt="city council j mccarten premlim" width="600" height="365" /></p> <p>(Photo:&nbsp;John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>City Council Speaker Corey Johnson appeared frustrated on Wednesday with the de Blasio administration budget at the Council’s first hearing to examine the mayor’s $92.2 billion preliminary budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio released his preliminary budget proposal last month <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8266-citing-several-causes-for-concern-de-blasio-presents-still-growing-budget-plan-of-92-2-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">warning</a> of the “tough choices” the city faces as it heads towards an economic slowdown, with revenues already coming in lower than last year. For the first time since he took office, the mayor instituted a Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG), which is meant to find the majority of $750 million in additional savings the mayor promised by the time the executive budget is released in April.</p> <p>Nonetheless, the mayor’s budget increases spending by $3 billion owing largely to costs from new contracts with labor unions, education spending, debt service costs, and fringe benefits. There are few new initiatives that add costs, while the threat of state budget cuts and cost shifts continue to loom -- the state is in a tougher fiscal situation than the city. The de Blasio administration also did not include any additional allocations to the city’s reserves, which remain strong but not as robust as some watchdogs believe they must be in order to withstand a recession.</p> <p>“The Council agrees that we need to be cautious but that caution needs to be exercised with precision,” Johnson said in his opening remarks at Wednesday’s hearing, worried about the possibility that the mayor’s PEG program could lead to cuts in social services. He criticized Melanie Hartzog, director of the Office of Management and Budget, for her lack of specific answers about the PEG, and expressed frustration that the mayor seemed intent on finding millions of dollars in such savings after years of having ignored similar calls from the City Council.</p> <p>Johnson also noted that the mayor’s signature initiatives, such as universal pre-kindergarten, 3-K, and the ThriveNYC mental health plan spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray “are flush with funding” and safe from the PEG, compared with the rest of the budget. “Just because a program or initiative is new, transformative, or a mayoral priority, should not shield it from oversight,” he said. “The Council is not a rubber stamp. Everyone else is being asked to tighten their belts, while a few key initiatives seem exempt.”</p> <p>“Everything must go under a microscope,” he said of the PEG program, but insisting that the city should not take away funding from agencies “where funding is already spread thin and agencies are already struggling to meet their core missions.” He noted that, as a result of the city’s focus on particular priorities, other larger issues are ignored. For instance, the de Blasio administration has focused on affordable housing through the Housing New York plan but NYCHA residents continue to live in deplorable conditions, he said. “Inattention to issues considered secondary and to longstanding problems can lead to a remarkable phenomenon of governing by monitor,” he said. “There are now federal monitors for NYCHA, the FDNY hiring process, the city’s jails, and police reform, to name a few.”</p> <p>Hartzog, the administration’s top budget official, acknowledged early on in response to Johnson’s questioning that the city may have to find additional savings once the state budget is finalized (it is due by April 1) and personal income tax revenues become clearer.</p> <p>Of the $750 million savings target, she said $544 million constituted the PEG and was to come from agencies finding efficiencies and cuts (the rest will be achieved through continuing a partial hiring freeze the mayor put in place last year and through debt service payments). Those target amounts for individual agencies were released on Tuesday. They include, for instance, $123 million from uniformed forces including the NYPD, FNDY and others; Health and welfare agencies, including the Administration for Children's Services and Health + Hospitals, will have to find nearly $147 million in savings; The DOE and CUNY will have to identify $110 million; Agencies in charge of housing and economic development will have to find $52 million in savings; Another $40 million will have to come from infrastructure, libraries and cultural institutions; and several other agencies will together have to find about $70 million. Even the mayor's office will reduce spending, by about $1.6 million.&nbsp;</p> <p>But Hartzog could not specifically say where each agency would have to look, which frustrated Johnson. “If we’re gonna have a real hearing on these cuts and do our job of oversight on the city’s budget, we can’t have a conversation with you today about whether those cuts make sense or are valuable when you’re not giving us specific programs,” he said. “This is strange to me.”</p> <p>Hartzog, though, emphasized that OMB was working with agencies on the PEG and would have all the information by the executive budget. “This is not anything new that we have done,” she said.</p> <p>Tensions seemed to rise between Johnson and Hartzog at times, including when he suggested that top OMB officials don’t treat Council finance staff with respect and have long ignored the Council’s recommendations on finding new revenues and agency efficiencies. When Hartzog refused to state her opinion on the city’s dearth of funding for outreach efforts for the 2020 Census, Johnson asked rhetorically, “Why are we having this hearing?”</p> <p>Johnson and his colleagues, Council Member Daniel Dromm, who chairs the finance committee, and Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who chairs the capital budget subcommittee, also raised concerns about the city’s ten-year capital strategy and the lack of planned investments in the latter half of the plan.</p> <p>Dromm pointed to several expenses that were missing from the budget including discretionary Council funding, which was $391.3 million last year; additional costs for school bus services as the Department of Education is in the process of securing new contracts; several one-time education programs funded up to $122.6 million last year; and an overtime budget worth $1.3 billion, $400 million lower than the average overtime spending from the last five years.</p> <p>“More than ever we need to keep growing our reserves to protect against shortfalls and painful mid-year cuts to vital services,” he said. “Indeed, we can’t afford not to.”</p> <p>Gibson, whose subcommittee was created last year to specifically examine the problem-ridden capital process, said the administration “continues to fail to comply with the letter and the spirit of our charter” in providing the necessary documents about the capital budget. The $104.1 billion preliminary ten-year capital strategy is $14.5 billion more than the last ten-year strategy that was approved by the Council.</p> <p>Hartzog did have one piece of good news about the city’s capital budget. She noted that Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the city’s general obligation bond rating, which would lower the city’s borrowing costs. Dromm later said the Council projected about $343 million in savings from that rating upgrade though OMB did not have its own projection.</p> <p>But the strategy, Gibson said, includes several instances of “unrealistic planning,” noting that $75.5 billion or 72.6 percent of the ten-year capital strategy is outlined for just the first five years. For instance, it includes $853 million for NYPD facilities in the first three years and only $160 million for the same need in the next seven years. The capital budget also includes “significant excess appropriations” and does not track capital project spending or completion, Gibson noted.</p> <p>“This issue is not new to this administration,” she said, though she did praise officials for reducing excess appropriations last year by $5.9 billion and adding new budget lines to give more clarity to the process.</p> <p>Hartzog conceded that capital planning has been a challenge for the city but that the administration has been working to distribute capital expenditures across the ten-year plan. “We’re gonna continue to work on that so that you will see over time that the...out-years of the ten-year plan smooth out and it wouldn’t be as high in the first five years,” she said.</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer and officials from the Independent Budget Office (which released <a href="https://ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/overview-an-analysis-of-the-mayors-preliminary-budget-for-2020-and-financial-plan-march-2019.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a report</a> on the budget on Wednesday) also testified before the Council on Wednesday. Stringer, who released <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8325-calling-for-more-savings-stringer-releases-analysis-of-de-blasio-budget-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his own analysis</a> of the mayor’s preliminary budget last week, continued to emphasize the need for a greater budget cushion by putting away more funding in reserves. “Given the uncertainty on the horizon, I am increasingly concerned that we simply have not done enough to hedge against the risks,” he said in his testimony.</p> <p>The Council will continue to evaluate the preliminary budget over the next several weeks, with specific agency heads being called to testify, before the Council issues its response. The mayor’s updated executive budget in April will then go through another round of Council hearings before the final spending plan for the next year is adopted.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated with PEG targets released by the mayor's office and to clarify that the PEG is meant to find $544 million in savings, not the total $750 million.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/city-council-j-mccarten-premlim.jpg" alt="city council j mccarten premlim" width="600" height="365" /></p> <p>(Photo:&nbsp;John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>City Council Speaker Corey Johnson appeared frustrated on Wednesday with the de Blasio administration budget at the Council’s first hearing to examine the mayor’s $92.2 billion preliminary budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio released his preliminary budget proposal last month <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8266-citing-several-causes-for-concern-de-blasio-presents-still-growing-budget-plan-of-92-2-billion" target="_blank" rel="noopener">warning</a> of the “tough choices” the city faces as it heads towards an economic slowdown, with revenues already coming in lower than last year. For the first time since he took office, the mayor instituted a Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG), which is meant to find the majority of $750 million in additional savings the mayor promised by the time the executive budget is released in April.</p> <p>Nonetheless, the mayor’s budget increases spending by $3 billion owing largely to costs from new contracts with labor unions, education spending, debt service costs, and fringe benefits. There are few new initiatives that add costs, while the threat of state budget cuts and cost shifts continue to loom -- the state is in a tougher fiscal situation than the city. The de Blasio administration also did not include any additional allocations to the city’s reserves, which remain strong but not as robust as some watchdogs believe they must be in order to withstand a recession.</p> <p>“The Council agrees that we need to be cautious but that caution needs to be exercised with precision,” Johnson said in his opening remarks at Wednesday’s hearing, worried about the possibility that the mayor’s PEG program could lead to cuts in social services. He criticized Melanie Hartzog, director of the Office of Management and Budget, for her lack of specific answers about the PEG, and expressed frustration that the mayor seemed intent on finding millions of dollars in such savings after years of having ignored similar calls from the City Council.</p> <p>Johnson also noted that the mayor’s signature initiatives, such as universal pre-kindergarten, 3-K, and the ThriveNYC mental health plan spearheaded by First Lady Chirlane McCray “are flush with funding” and safe from the PEG, compared with the rest of the budget. “Just because a program or initiative is new, transformative, or a mayoral priority, should not shield it from oversight,” he said. “The Council is not a rubber stamp. Everyone else is being asked to tighten their belts, while a few key initiatives seem exempt.”</p> <p>“Everything must go under a microscope,” he said of the PEG program, but insisting that the city should not take away funding from agencies “where funding is already spread thin and agencies are already struggling to meet their core missions.” He noted that, as a result of the city’s focus on particular priorities, other larger issues are ignored. For instance, the de Blasio administration has focused on affordable housing through the Housing New York plan but NYCHA residents continue to live in deplorable conditions, he said. “Inattention to issues considered secondary and to longstanding problems can lead to a remarkable phenomenon of governing by monitor,” he said. “There are now federal monitors for NYCHA, the FDNY hiring process, the city’s jails, and police reform, to name a few.”</p> <p>Hartzog, the administration’s top budget official, acknowledged early on in response to Johnson’s questioning that the city may have to find additional savings once the state budget is finalized (it is due by April 1) and personal income tax revenues become clearer.</p> <p>Of the $750 million savings target, she said $544 million constituted the PEG and was to come from agencies finding efficiencies and cuts (the rest will be achieved through continuing a partial hiring freeze the mayor put in place last year and through debt service payments). Those target amounts for individual agencies were released on Tuesday. They include, for instance, $123 million from uniformed forces including the NYPD, FNDY and others; Health and welfare agencies, including the Administration for Children's Services and Health + Hospitals, will have to find nearly $147 million in savings; The DOE and CUNY will have to identify $110 million; Agencies in charge of housing and economic development will have to find $52 million in savings; Another $40 million will have to come from infrastructure, libraries and cultural institutions; and several other agencies will together have to find about $70 million. Even the mayor's office will reduce spending, by about $1.6 million.&nbsp;</p> <p>But Hartzog could not specifically say where each agency would have to look, which frustrated Johnson. “If we’re gonna have a real hearing on these cuts and do our job of oversight on the city’s budget, we can’t have a conversation with you today about whether those cuts make sense or are valuable when you’re not giving us specific programs,” he said. “This is strange to me.”</p> <p>Hartzog, though, emphasized that OMB was working with agencies on the PEG and would have all the information by the executive budget. “This is not anything new that we have done,” she said.</p> <p>Tensions seemed to rise between Johnson and Hartzog at times, including when he suggested that top OMB officials don’t treat Council finance staff with respect and have long ignored the Council’s recommendations on finding new revenues and agency efficiencies. When Hartzog refused to state her opinion on the city’s dearth of funding for outreach efforts for the 2020 Census, Johnson asked rhetorically, “Why are we having this hearing?”</p> <p>Johnson and his colleagues, Council Member Daniel Dromm, who chairs the finance committee, and Council Member Vanessa Gibson, who chairs the capital budget subcommittee, also raised concerns about the city’s ten-year capital strategy and the lack of planned investments in the latter half of the plan.</p> <p>Dromm pointed to several expenses that were missing from the budget including discretionary Council funding, which was $391.3 million last year; additional costs for school bus services as the Department of Education is in the process of securing new contracts; several one-time education programs funded up to $122.6 million last year; and an overtime budget worth $1.3 billion, $400 million lower than the average overtime spending from the last five years.</p> <p>“More than ever we need to keep growing our reserves to protect against shortfalls and painful mid-year cuts to vital services,” he said. “Indeed, we can’t afford not to.”</p> <p>Gibson, whose subcommittee was created last year to specifically examine the problem-ridden capital process, said the administration “continues to fail to comply with the letter and the spirit of our charter” in providing the necessary documents about the capital budget. The $104.1 billion preliminary ten-year capital strategy is $14.5 billion more than the last ten-year strategy that was approved by the Council.</p> <p>Hartzog did have one piece of good news about the city’s capital budget. She noted that Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the city’s general obligation bond rating, which would lower the city’s borrowing costs. Dromm later said the Council projected about $343 million in savings from that rating upgrade though OMB did not have its own projection.</p> <p>But the strategy, Gibson said, includes several instances of “unrealistic planning,” noting that $75.5 billion or 72.6 percent of the ten-year capital strategy is outlined for just the first five years. For instance, it includes $853 million for NYPD facilities in the first three years and only $160 million for the same need in the next seven years. The capital budget also includes “significant excess appropriations” and does not track capital project spending or completion, Gibson noted.</p> <p>“This issue is not new to this administration,” she said, though she did praise officials for reducing excess appropriations last year by $5.9 billion and adding new budget lines to give more clarity to the process.</p> <p>Hartzog conceded that capital planning has been a challenge for the city but that the administration has been working to distribute capital expenditures across the ten-year plan. “We’re gonna continue to work on that so that you will see over time that the...out-years of the ten-year plan smooth out and it wouldn’t be as high in the first five years,” she said.</p> <p>Comptroller Scott Stringer and officials from the Independent Budget Office (which released <a href="https://ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/overview-an-analysis-of-the-mayors-preliminary-budget-for-2020-and-financial-plan-march-2019.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a report</a> on the budget on Wednesday) also testified before the Council on Wednesday. Stringer, who released <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8325-calling-for-more-savings-stringer-releases-analysis-of-de-blasio-budget-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener">his own analysis</a> of the mayor’s preliminary budget last week, continued to emphasize the need for a greater budget cushion by putting away more funding in reserves. “Given the uncertainty on the horizon, I am increasingly concerned that we simply have not done enough to hedge against the risks,” he said in his testimony.</p> <p>The Council will continue to evaluate the preliminary budget over the next several weeks, with specific agency heads being called to testify, before the Council issues its response. The mayor’s updated executive budget in April will then go through another round of Council hearings before the final spending plan for the next year is adopted.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note - this article has been updated with PEG targets released by the mayor's office and to clarify that the PEG is meant to find $544 million in savings, not the total $750 million.</p>
City Council Begins New Focus on Capital Budget, with Eye Toward Transparency 2018-03-20T04:00:00+00:00 2018-03-20T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7554-city-council-examines-capital-budget-with-eye-on-transparency Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/vanessa-gibson-cm.jpg" alt="vanessa gibson" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Gibson (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>As the New York City Council continues to examine Mayor Bill de Blasio’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7455-under-threat-from-dc-and-albany-de-blasio-presents-88-67-billion-preliminary-budget" target="_blank">$88.67 billion preliminary budget</a> for 2019, a newly created committee under Council Speaker Corey Johnson is paying extra attention to the ‘other’ budget - the capital plan - the administration’s proposed spending on schools, parks, jails and other long-term infrastructure projects.</p> <p>Over the last few weeks, the new Subcommittee on the Capital Budget chaired by Council Member Vanessa Gibson, under the purview of the Committee on Finance, has been conducting oversight of agency-specific capital spending and, on Tuesday, the committee turned its eyes to the administration’s overall <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/tech2-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">$45.9 billion preliminary capital budget</a> for 2019-2022.</p> <p>That capital budget proposes authorizing $11 billion in new spending for the 2019 fiscal year alone. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1.</p> <p>Separate from the proposed capital budget is the capital commitment plan. While the budget is set aside for all capital needs not previously allocated, the commitment plan accounts for the money the city actually intends on spending on capital projects in sum. At Tuesday’s hearing, Council Members analyzed the $79.6 billion capital commitment plan for 2018-2022, including $19.3 billion that would be spent for fiscal year 2019 (including funds rolled over from previous years).</p> <p>“For too long, the majority of our attention, the public’s attention, and the advocates’ attentions has been on the expense portion of the budget,” said Speaker Johnson, in his opening statement at the hearing, referring to the city’s annual spending on operations, typically simply referenced as the city budget. “This has left mayoral administration after administration to manage the capital budget process largely without the rigorous review it deserves,” Johnson said, giving indication to why he created the new subcommittee. This is the first budget process since Johnson was elected speaker by his 50 Council colleagues.</p> <p>Johnson, and several of his colleagues after him, criticized successive administrations for allocating a majority of funds in the early phases of years-long projects, rolling over unused funds, and lumping in dozens, if not hundreds, of projects under broad budget lines.</p> <p>Gibson pointed out the glaring discrepancy between how much the city was appropriating for capital projects and how much was being spent each year. “This is certainly not a new phenomenon, this is not a new concept,” Gibson said, noting that between fiscal years 2012-2017, the city had on average appropriated $36.7 billion annually, planned to spend $15.3 billion on average, and spent only $8.5 billion.</p> <p>“As always, we will approach the capital budget process with caution,” said Melanie Hartzog, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in her opening remarks Tuesday, emphasizing that the city was being careful about its spending on debt from infrastructure projects. Hartzog, recently promoted to the position by de Blasio, noted in her testimony before the Council the impact of the federal and state budgets on New York City, including proposed cost shifts for MTA capital to the city -- a proposal from Governor Andrew Cuomo that is being debated in Albany -- and the devaluing of a federal tax credit that incentivizes the creation of affordable housing. She also reiterated many of the new and ongoing investments made by the administration in traffic safety, flood mitigation, transit infrastructure, schools, affordable housing, economic development and public housing.</p> <p>Hartzog said the administration has taken steps to provide more accurate assessments of capital needs, by investing at least $50 million for agencies to plan and review projects before funding is put toward them. The administration has also increased staffing at agencies with large capital needs to focus on project planning and management, she said.</p> <p>A key factor in possibly speeding up capital projects, Hartzog said, is design-build, a streamlined process that would allow the city to solicit combined design and construction bids for infrastructure projects. To use design-build, the city requires approval from the state, where passage has been elusive thus far, though there is the possibility this year of authorization for specific projects. It’s one of many key issues that the de Blasio administration has been pushing in Albany as Cuomo and the state Legislature negotiate the state budget.</p> <p>“Applying the design-build approach would shave hundreds of millions of dollars from the cost of projects and reduce completion times by 18 months on average,” Hartzog said at the hearing. The city wants design-build for projects like rebuilding a portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, major NYCHA repairs, and building out jail capacity to replace Rikers Island facilities, among others.</p> <p>The hearing was by-and-large amicable and Hartzog repeatedly promised to work with the Council on improving its capital process, having ongoing discussions with Council Members about proposed projects in their communities and conducting more regular reviews of capital spending. But the Council could not extract concrete commitments on reforms they hoped to see.</p> <p>Johnson pushed for a 15 percent cap on the difference between excess appropriated funds and the capital commitment plan, using an industry-standard ratio for budgeting capital projects. “Basically, the Council is annually presented with a capital budget to adopt that gives twice the authority to spend over what is planned...It’s my opinion that it is time for a new status quo,” he said.</p> <p>Hartzog, however, said the administration has increased the level of spending in the commitment plan “significantly” and reiterated that they are working to “rightsize” agency-specific capital plans. She noted that the 15 percent contingency funding applies to projects and cannot be used as a standard for appropriations. OMB Deputy Director Charles Brisky also emphasized that contingency funding allows needed flexibility for projects and that examining the difference between appropriations and commitments could be misleading.</p> <p>“If you think that there’s more to be done, we’re open to working with you and your staff to get that done,” Hartzog added.</p> <p>Council Member Daniel Dromm, chair of the finance committee, focused his attention on how the city plans to raise funds for capital projects, and the debt it incurs in the process. He noted that though the city’s borrowing has largely hewed close to expectations, the administration continues to overestimate the debt it will incur down the line.</p> <p>“This overestimation skews the picture of the city’s debt affordability over the plan and provides the administration a convenient source of savings for subsequent citywide savings plans,” Dromm said in his opening statement, referring to the administration’s voluntary savings program for city agencies, which the Council has criticized for an inadequate focus on creating actual efficiencies.</p> <p>Hartzog pushed back, calling it a “little bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison.” Her colleague, Brisky, explained that city borrowing was for projects that are years into construction or had already been completed, while the commitments were for future projects. “That’s a little bit harder to project,” he said.</p> <p>When Gibson pushed for more detail on individual capital projects, yet again the budget officials demurred. “Are you willing to commit with us to looking at...how we can itemize some of those budget lines to look at specific projects and delineate a little bit of the large, overly-broad general budget lines the Council has typically received?” Gibson asked.</p> <p>Hartzog agreed, but added, “I will say that, and I’m sure you agree with me, what we don’t want to do is cause any delay in any projects getting done.” She cited the Department of Environmental Protection which has large pots of capital funding set aside for emergencies that are hard to predict.</p> <p>Although fiscal monitors have generally praised the de Blasio administration’s handling of the city’s finances, the Council’s criticism tracks with reports by independent watchdogs that the city’s capital planning needs to be more efficient.</p> <p>“Rightsizing and right timing the capital plan is necessary for a more effective and more transparent capital planning process,” stated a recent <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/rightsizing-and-right-timing-new-york-citys-capital-plan?utm_source=Rightsizing+and+Right+Timing+New+York+City's+Capital+Plan&amp;utm_campaign=Rightsizing+and+Right+Timing+New+York+City's+Capital+Plan&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report by Citizens Budget Commission</a>. “Reducing planned commitments in the early years of the plan to a more attainable level would require the City to clearly articulate its capital priorities and immediate needs. It would also facilitate improved tracking of capital projects and allow for more accurate projections of City borrowing.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7455-under-threat-from-dc-and-albany-de-blasio-presents-88-67-billion-preliminary-budget" target="_blank">Under 'Threat' from D.C. and Albany, De Blasio Presents $88.67 Billion Preliminary Budget</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/vanessa-gibson-cm.jpg" alt="vanessa gibson" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Gibson (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>As the New York City Council continues to examine Mayor Bill de Blasio’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7455-under-threat-from-dc-and-albany-de-blasio-presents-88-67-billion-preliminary-budget" target="_blank">$88.67 billion preliminary budget</a> for 2019, a newly created committee under Council Speaker Corey Johnson is paying extra attention to the ‘other’ budget - the capital plan - the administration’s proposed spending on schools, parks, jails and other long-term infrastructure projects.</p> <p>Over the last few weeks, the new Subcommittee on the Capital Budget chaired by Council Member Vanessa Gibson, under the purview of the Committee on Finance, has been conducting oversight of agency-specific capital spending and, on Tuesday, the committee turned its eyes to the administration’s overall <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/omb/downloads/pdf/tech2-18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">$45.9 billion preliminary capital budget</a> for 2019-2022.</p> <p>That capital budget proposes authorizing $11 billion in new spending for the 2019 fiscal year alone. The city’s fiscal year begins July 1.</p> <p>Separate from the proposed capital budget is the capital commitment plan. While the budget is set aside for all capital needs not previously allocated, the commitment plan accounts for the money the city actually intends on spending on capital projects in sum. At Tuesday’s hearing, Council Members analyzed the $79.6 billion capital commitment plan for 2018-2022, including $19.3 billion that would be spent for fiscal year 2019 (including funds rolled over from previous years).</p> <p>“For too long, the majority of our attention, the public’s attention, and the advocates’ attentions has been on the expense portion of the budget,” said Speaker Johnson, in his opening statement at the hearing, referring to the city’s annual spending on operations, typically simply referenced as the city budget. “This has left mayoral administration after administration to manage the capital budget process largely without the rigorous review it deserves,” Johnson said, giving indication to why he created the new subcommittee. This is the first budget process since Johnson was elected speaker by his 50 Council colleagues.</p> <p>Johnson, and several of his colleagues after him, criticized successive administrations for allocating a majority of funds in the early phases of years-long projects, rolling over unused funds, and lumping in dozens, if not hundreds, of projects under broad budget lines.</p> <p>Gibson pointed out the glaring discrepancy between how much the city was appropriating for capital projects and how much was being spent each year. “This is certainly not a new phenomenon, this is not a new concept,” Gibson said, noting that between fiscal years 2012-2017, the city had on average appropriated $36.7 billion annually, planned to spend $15.3 billion on average, and spent only $8.5 billion.</p> <p>“As always, we will approach the capital budget process with caution,” said Melanie Hartzog, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in her opening remarks Tuesday, emphasizing that the city was being careful about its spending on debt from infrastructure projects. Hartzog, recently promoted to the position by de Blasio, noted in her testimony before the Council the impact of the federal and state budgets on New York City, including proposed cost shifts for MTA capital to the city -- a proposal from Governor Andrew Cuomo that is being debated in Albany -- and the devaluing of a federal tax credit that incentivizes the creation of affordable housing. She also reiterated many of the new and ongoing investments made by the administration in traffic safety, flood mitigation, transit infrastructure, schools, affordable housing, economic development and public housing.</p> <p>Hartzog said the administration has taken steps to provide more accurate assessments of capital needs, by investing at least $50 million for agencies to plan and review projects before funding is put toward them. The administration has also increased staffing at agencies with large capital needs to focus on project planning and management, she said.</p> <p>A key factor in possibly speeding up capital projects, Hartzog said, is design-build, a streamlined process that would allow the city to solicit combined design and construction bids for infrastructure projects. To use design-build, the city requires approval from the state, where passage has been elusive thus far, though there is the possibility this year of authorization for specific projects. It’s one of many key issues that the de Blasio administration has been pushing in Albany as Cuomo and the state Legislature negotiate the state budget.</p> <p>“Applying the design-build approach would shave hundreds of millions of dollars from the cost of projects and reduce completion times by 18 months on average,” Hartzog said at the hearing. The city wants design-build for projects like rebuilding a portion of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, major NYCHA repairs, and building out jail capacity to replace Rikers Island facilities, among others.</p> <p>The hearing was by-and-large amicable and Hartzog repeatedly promised to work with the Council on improving its capital process, having ongoing discussions with Council Members about proposed projects in their communities and conducting more regular reviews of capital spending. But the Council could not extract concrete commitments on reforms they hoped to see.</p> <p>Johnson pushed for a 15 percent cap on the difference between excess appropriated funds and the capital commitment plan, using an industry-standard ratio for budgeting capital projects. “Basically, the Council is annually presented with a capital budget to adopt that gives twice the authority to spend over what is planned...It’s my opinion that it is time for a new status quo,” he said.</p> <p>Hartzog, however, said the administration has increased the level of spending in the commitment plan “significantly” and reiterated that they are working to “rightsize” agency-specific capital plans. She noted that the 15 percent contingency funding applies to projects and cannot be used as a standard for appropriations. OMB Deputy Director Charles Brisky also emphasized that contingency funding allows needed flexibility for projects and that examining the difference between appropriations and commitments could be misleading.</p> <p>“If you think that there’s more to be done, we’re open to working with you and your staff to get that done,” Hartzog added.</p> <p>Council Member Daniel Dromm, chair of the finance committee, focused his attention on how the city plans to raise funds for capital projects, and the debt it incurs in the process. He noted that though the city’s borrowing has largely hewed close to expectations, the administration continues to overestimate the debt it will incur down the line.</p> <p>“This overestimation skews the picture of the city’s debt affordability over the plan and provides the administration a convenient source of savings for subsequent citywide savings plans,” Dromm said in his opening statement, referring to the administration’s voluntary savings program for city agencies, which the Council has criticized for an inadequate focus on creating actual efficiencies.</p> <p>Hartzog pushed back, calling it a “little bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison.” Her colleague, Brisky, explained that city borrowing was for projects that are years into construction or had already been completed, while the commitments were for future projects. “That’s a little bit harder to project,” he said.</p> <p>When Gibson pushed for more detail on individual capital projects, yet again the budget officials demurred. “Are you willing to commit with us to looking at...how we can itemize some of those budget lines to look at specific projects and delineate a little bit of the large, overly-broad general budget lines the Council has typically received?” Gibson asked.</p> <p>Hartzog agreed, but added, “I will say that, and I’m sure you agree with me, what we don’t want to do is cause any delay in any projects getting done.” She cited the Department of Environmental Protection which has large pots of capital funding set aside for emergencies that are hard to predict.</p> <p>Although fiscal monitors have generally praised the de Blasio administration’s handling of the city’s finances, the Council’s criticism tracks with reports by independent watchdogs that the city’s capital planning needs to be more efficient.</p> <p>“Rightsizing and right timing the capital plan is necessary for a more effective and more transparent capital planning process,” stated a recent <a href="https://cbcny.org/research/rightsizing-and-right-timing-new-york-citys-capital-plan?utm_source=Rightsizing+and+Right+Timing+New+York+City's+Capital+Plan&amp;utm_campaign=Rightsizing+and+Right+Timing+New+York+City's+Capital+Plan&amp;utm_medium=email" target="_blank" rel="noopener">report by Citizens Budget Commission</a>. “Reducing planned commitments in the early years of the plan to a more attainable level would require the City to clearly articulate its capital priorities and immediate needs. It would also facilitate improved tracking of capital projects and allow for more accurate projections of City borrowing.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Read: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7455-under-threat-from-dc-and-albany-de-blasio-presents-88-67-billion-preliminary-budget" target="_blank">Under 'Threat' from D.C. and Albany, De Blasio Presents $88.67 Billion Preliminary Budget</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Bronx Rezoning Moves to City Council as Negotiations Enter Final Stages 2018-01-28T05:00:00+00:00 2018-01-28T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7446-bronx-rezoning-moves-to-city-council-as-negotiations-enter-final-stages Ben Max <img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jerome-ave-aerial.jpg" alt="jerome ave aerial" width="600" height="394" /> <p>Jerome Ave corridor rezoning, via City Planning</p> <hr /> <p>The City Planning Commission voted January 17 to approve a comprehensive rezoning plan for the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, putting the proposal before the City Council for scrutiny in the final stretch of the lengthy land use review process. The rezoning would follow four others ushered through by the de Blasio administration as it somewhat controversially seeks to add housing density, including thousands of new affordable units, and make other investments in mostly low-income communities across the five boroughs.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/jerome-ave/jerome-ave-updates.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan</a> put forth by the administration with local input envisions changing land use regulations in a 92-block area along Jerome Avenue, from East 165th Street to 184th Street, which currently comprises a mix of commercial, industrial, and residential space. The proposed plan would allow mixed-use development along the corridor with the intent of creating more affordable housing, while also funding new infrastructure, quality-of-life improvements, job creation, and economic development initiatives for the community. &nbsp;</p> <p>While a deal appears imminent and the clock is ticking, negotiations are ongoing between the administration and City Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera, whose districts span the proposed rezoning and who will have the final say in whether the rezoning is approved. Gibson, Cabrera, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. met recently to discuss the changes to the plan that they want to see before it is passed by the Council.</p> <p>The City Planning Commission’s approval of the plan started the 50-day clock for the Council to accept or reject the proposal. The entire body typically votes with the local Council member(s) on land use issues and has rarely overridden a member’s position. The Council’s subcommittee on zoning and franchises is expected to hold a public hearing on the rezoning on Wednesday, February 7. &nbsp;</p> <p>“It is and has been very fruitful,” Gibson said of the negotiation process, in a phone interview on Thursday. But there remain a few big ticket items that have yet to be resolved, she said, including preserving more affordable housing and expanding school capacity to deal with the expected increase in population from new housing created under the plan.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jerome_ave_vertical.png" alt="jerome ave vertical" width="320" height="412" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />The city has promised to create 4,000 new housing units in the rezoned area, which will include affordable units set aside for different income bands under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy. The administration is also planning a Certificate of No Harassment pilot program to prevent tenant harassment and displacement, and will guarantee that half of new housing units created by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will go to existing residents. Additionally, it has committed millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements -- including $4.6 million to revamp Corporal Fischer Park; $4 million to rebuild the Morton Playground; sidewalk lighting; and security upgrades -- and jobs and business development plans through the Department of Small Business Services</p> <p>As is, the plan will also preserve 1,500 affordable units, a number that Gibson wants to see increased to 2,500 to cope with the gentrification pressures that neighborhoods targeted for rezoning have come to expect. She emphasized that many affordable units currently in those neighborhoods will see their city rent subsidies expire in less than a decade, and that the administration should take preemptive action.</p> <p>“The city has a very good opportunity to engage those landlords on new programs and tax incentives so they can remain in the affordability program and access some of our resources for the next 30 or 40 years,” she said. “Now if we go over 2,500, I’m not mad. But I think 2,500 should be the floor.”</p> <p>As with other rezonings that have been approved in the last three years, Gibson expressed larger concerns about displacement of existing residents as zoning changes bring additional density and improvements to the communities along Jerome Avenue. But she maintained that, unlike other areas that have seen luxury developers quickly move in to capitalize on a proposed rezoning, Jerome Avenue will likely not see market-rate housing being built in the short term.</p> <p>“People are fearful, they have a right to be fearful, but the market in Jerome does not propel luxury housing right now,” she said.</p> <p>Gibson predicted that recent increases in the minimum wage and residents getting prevailing-wage and union-wage jobs will eventually lead them to be ineligible for deeply affordable housing as they start to earn more than 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), a federal measure that includes surrounding suburban counties and the city. The New York City region’s AMI in 2017 was $85,900 for a family of three. Gibson insisted that the MIH set-asides should therefore include additional moderate and middle-income housing.</p> <p>“It has to be a diverse mixture of incomes, obviously with the majority of those incomes being on the lower end at 30 and 40 percent of AMI as well as set asides for formerly homeless families coming directly from the shelter,” she said.</p> <p>Jerome Avenue is the latest proving ground for the administration’s neighborhood rezoning efforts, which are part of achieving the mayor’s target of creating and preserving 300,000 units of affordable housing across the city by 2026. The first such rezoning, in East New York, largely set the tone, with the local Council Member, Rafael Espinal, having <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings">extracted</a> a slew of concessions from the administration including a new 1,000-seat school and about $267 million in capital investments. Diaz Jr. and the two Bronx Council members are working off of a similar script, as was the case with rezonings in East Harlem and Far Rockaway.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. signed off on the city’s plan in November, granted the city meet certain conditions that he laid out in his non-binding <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/plans-studies/jerome-ave/bronx-president-recommendation.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">formal approval</a> in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a multi-step process that also involves non-binding votes by the affected community boards, which also approved it with conditions.</p> <p>The borough president said in his response that the city had “acted in good faith” in listening to the community’s concerns. But he maintained, “There is still more work to be done.” He called on the city to put in place a minimum of their monetary commitments before the rezoning is approved, an increase in the number of affordable housing units preserved to at least 2,000, enhanced enforcement of housing codes, the establishment of a new community center in Highbridge, and additional funding for improvement of parks and transit infrastructure.</p> <p>Jerome Avenue is also home to a large automotive industry, and Diaz Jr. urged the city to identify locations where displaced facilities could relocate as well as fund relocation, training, and certification for those businesses. Gibson has made similar demands. The city’s plan would only retain about 20 percent of the 151 auto businesses in the neighborhood, she recently told Gotham Gazette at City Hall, and she is pushing to retain at least 50 percent. &nbsp;</p> <p>Diaz Jr. also insisted that the city must address the school seat shortage in the district -- roughly 3,248 seats -- by identifying potential sites for new facilities. That is one of the biggest priorities for Gibson and Cabrera as well. Gibson said she and her Council colleague are pushing for two new elementary schools in school districts 9 and 10.</p> <p>“The challenge we face is we don’t have large parcels of city-owned land,” she said, emphasizing that the administration will have to work with private landowners to find suitable locations for new schools, while also expanding capacity at existing facilities that can bear it.</p> <p>“A school that we build of 500 seats is going to help us now but it wont help us in the future if we’re looking at potentially 4,000 units of housing,” she said. “So there has to be some give and take.”</p> <p>Gibson is confident about securing that pledge from the city before the Council votes on the project. “We’ve been very consistent on what our priorities are and, at the end of the day, we are working as hard as we can to achieve that. I do know that the admin in the past typically waits until the very end to make all of their commitments and announcements and to the best extent that I can, I’m trying to avoid that because I don’t like to operate last minute.”</p> <p>Asked about the final stages of negotiations, a&nbsp;spokesperson for the Department of City Planning said in a statement, "We continue to work hand-in-hand with local elected officials and community leaders to build and protect affordable housing while also boosting economic vitality along the Jerome corridor."</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jerome-ave-aerial.jpg" alt="jerome ave aerial" width="600" height="394" /> <p>Jerome Ave corridor rezoning, via City Planning</p> <hr /> <p>The City Planning Commission voted January 17 to approve a comprehensive rezoning plan for the Jerome Avenue corridor in the Bronx, putting the proposal before the City Council for scrutiny in the final stretch of the lengthy land use review process. The rezoning would follow four others ushered through by the de Blasio administration as it somewhat controversially seeks to add housing density, including thousands of new affordable units, and make other investments in mostly low-income communities across the five boroughs.</p> <p>The <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/jerome-ave/jerome-ave-updates.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan</a> put forth by the administration with local input envisions changing land use regulations in a 92-block area along Jerome Avenue, from East 165th Street to 184th Street, which currently comprises a mix of commercial, industrial, and residential space. The proposed plan would allow mixed-use development along the corridor with the intent of creating more affordable housing, while also funding new infrastructure, quality-of-life improvements, job creation, and economic development initiatives for the community. &nbsp;</p> <p>While a deal appears imminent and the clock is ticking, negotiations are ongoing between the administration and City Council Members Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera, whose districts span the proposed rezoning and who will have the final say in whether the rezoning is approved. Gibson, Cabrera, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. met recently to discuss the changes to the plan that they want to see before it is passed by the Council.</p> <p>The City Planning Commission’s approval of the plan started the 50-day clock for the Council to accept or reject the proposal. The entire body typically votes with the local Council member(s) on land use issues and has rarely overridden a member’s position. The Council’s subcommittee on zoning and franchises is expected to hold a public hearing on the rezoning on Wednesday, February 7. &nbsp;</p> <p>“It is and has been very fruitful,” Gibson said of the negotiation process, in a phone interview on Thursday. But there remain a few big ticket items that have yet to be resolved, she said, including preserving more affordable housing and expanding school capacity to deal with the expected increase in population from new housing created under the plan.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/jerome_ave_vertical.png" alt="jerome ave vertical" width="320" height="412" style="margin-right: 15px; float: left;" />The city has promised to create 4,000 new housing units in the rezoned area, which will include affordable units set aside for different income bands under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy. The administration is also planning a Certificate of No Harassment pilot program to prevent tenant harassment and displacement, and will guarantee that half of new housing units created by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development will go to existing residents. Additionally, it has committed millions of dollars for infrastructure improvements -- including $4.6 million to revamp Corporal Fischer Park; $4 million to rebuild the Morton Playground; sidewalk lighting; and security upgrades -- and jobs and business development plans through the Department of Small Business Services</p> <p>As is, the plan will also preserve 1,500 affordable units, a number that Gibson wants to see increased to 2,500 to cope with the gentrification pressures that neighborhoods targeted for rezoning have come to expect. She emphasized that many affordable units currently in those neighborhoods will see their city rent subsidies expire in less than a decade, and that the administration should take preemptive action.</p> <p>“The city has a very good opportunity to engage those landlords on new programs and tax incentives so they can remain in the affordability program and access some of our resources for the next 30 or 40 years,” she said. “Now if we go over 2,500, I’m not mad. But I think 2,500 should be the floor.”</p> <p>As with other rezonings that have been approved in the last three years, Gibson expressed larger concerns about displacement of existing residents as zoning changes bring additional density and improvements to the communities along Jerome Avenue. But she maintained that, unlike other areas that have seen luxury developers quickly move in to capitalize on a proposed rezoning, Jerome Avenue will likely not see market-rate housing being built in the short term.</p> <p>“People are fearful, they have a right to be fearful, but the market in Jerome does not propel luxury housing right now,” she said.</p> <p>Gibson predicted that recent increases in the minimum wage and residents getting prevailing-wage and union-wage jobs will eventually lead them to be ineligible for deeply affordable housing as they start to earn more than 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), a federal measure that includes surrounding suburban counties and the city. The New York City region’s AMI in 2017 was $85,900 for a family of three. Gibson insisted that the MIH set-asides should therefore include additional moderate and middle-income housing.</p> <p>“It has to be a diverse mixture of incomes, obviously with the majority of those incomes being on the lower end at 30 and 40 percent of AMI as well as set asides for formerly homeless families coming directly from the shelter,” she said.</p> <p>Jerome Avenue is the latest proving ground for the administration’s neighborhood rezoning efforts, which are part of achieving the mayor’s target of creating and preserving 300,000 units of affordable housing across the city by 2026. The first such rezoning, in East New York, largely set the tone, with the local Council Member, Rafael Espinal, having <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6287-east-new-york-deal-sets-precedent-for-wave-of-rezonings">extracted</a> a slew of concessions from the administration including a new 1,000-seat school and about $267 million in capital investments. Diaz Jr. and the two Bronx Council members are working off of a similar script, as was the case with rezonings in East Harlem and Far Rockaway.</p> <p>Diaz Jr. signed off on the city’s plan in November, granted the city meet certain conditions that he laid out in his non-binding <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/plans-studies/jerome-ave/bronx-president-recommendation.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">formal approval</a> in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), a multi-step process that also involves non-binding votes by the affected community boards, which also approved it with conditions.</p> <p>The borough president said in his response that the city had “acted in good faith” in listening to the community’s concerns. But he maintained, “There is still more work to be done.” He called on the city to put in place a minimum of their monetary commitments before the rezoning is approved, an increase in the number of affordable housing units preserved to at least 2,000, enhanced enforcement of housing codes, the establishment of a new community center in Highbridge, and additional funding for improvement of parks and transit infrastructure.</p> <p>Jerome Avenue is also home to a large automotive industry, and Diaz Jr. urged the city to identify locations where displaced facilities could relocate as well as fund relocation, training, and certification for those businesses. Gibson has made similar demands. The city’s plan would only retain about 20 percent of the 151 auto businesses in the neighborhood, she recently told Gotham Gazette at City Hall, and she is pushing to retain at least 50 percent. &nbsp;</p> <p>Diaz Jr. also insisted that the city must address the school seat shortage in the district -- roughly 3,248 seats -- by identifying potential sites for new facilities. That is one of the biggest priorities for Gibson and Cabrera as well. Gibson said she and her Council colleague are pushing for two new elementary schools in school districts 9 and 10.</p> <p>“The challenge we face is we don’t have large parcels of city-owned land,” she said, emphasizing that the administration will have to work with private landowners to find suitable locations for new schools, while also expanding capacity at existing facilities that can bear it.</p> <p>“A school that we build of 500 seats is going to help us now but it wont help us in the future if we’re looking at potentially 4,000 units of housing,” she said. “So there has to be some give and take.”</p> <p>Gibson is confident about securing that pledge from the city before the Council votes on the project. “We’ve been very consistent on what our priorities are and, at the end of the day, we are working as hard as we can to achieve that. I do know that the admin in the past typically waits until the very end to make all of their commitments and announcements and to the best extent that I can, I’m trying to avoid that because I don’t like to operate last minute.”</p> <p>Asked about the final stages of negotiations, a&nbsp;spokesperson for the Department of City Planning said in a statement, "We continue to work hand-in-hand with local elected officials and community leaders to build and protect affordable housing while also boosting economic vitality along the Jerome corridor."</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
New York City Now Has Its Own Legal Parameters for ‘Disorderly Conduct’ 2017-12-04T05:00:00+00:00 2017-12-04T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7350-new-york-city-now-has-its-own-legal-parameters-for-disorderly-conduct Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/vanessa_gibson_city_council_john_mccarten.jpg" alt="vanessa gibson city council john mccarten" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Vanessa Gibson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A City Council bill that creates an alternative to the state’s “disorderly conduct” statute, and mandates lower punishment for the infraction, became law on Friday along with numerous other bills relating to protecting undocumented immigrant New Yorkers. The bill, sponsored by City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, also adds another plank to the Council’s broad agendas of criminal justice reform and immigrant protections.</p> <p>The <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3028942&amp;GUID=1058179C-1264-44A8-A9D0-D3B4A3C66B59&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">new city law</a> prohibits “disorderly behavior” much in the same way the existing state law currently does -- for incidents involving public altercations, unreasonable noise, obscene gestures in public, obstruction of traffic and other similar offenses -- &nbsp;but it provides for a maximum sentence of five days in prison or a $200 fine, and also includes a civil (as opposed to criminal) penalty option in the form of a $75 fine.</p> <p>Under the state law, in which punishment can reach up to 15 days in prison or a $250 fine, there were roughly 54,000 convictions in 2016 in New York City criminal courts.</p> <p>The rationale behind the new city law is simple, but controversial: lowering punishment can prevent the involvement of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, which is often triggered when undocumented immigrants interact or are pulled into the criminal justice system. A punishment longer than five days can also make immigrants ineligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections.</p> <p>“It’s an option for district attorneys, for judges and for police to use in instances of disorderly conduct, and obviously for non-violent and low-level cases,” said Council Member Gibson, in a phone interview on Monday, during which she warned of dangers undocumented immigrants face from an openly hostile federal administration.</p> <p>Since before he took office, Donald Trump has been aggressively attacking undocumented immigrants with rhetoric, and, under his presidency federal immigration authorities have followed through with action, stepping up their enforcement efforts. They have taken particular aim at so-called “sanctuary cities” such as New York, which are home to massive populations of undocumented immigrants and relatively friendly local laws.</p> <p>The New York City Council has responded to the federal administration in kind, by passing a slew of measures aimed at limiting cooperation with ICE and protecting the city’s immigrant population. “We did it so it wouldn’t propel a negative consequence,” Gibson said of her bill. “We wanted to give DAs additional tools to employ. For us, while it applies to everyone, there’s obviously a very intentional focus on immigrants.”</p> <p>In April, then-Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez (who has since been elected to the position) <a href="http://www.brooklynda.org/2017/04/24/acting-brooklyn-district-attorney-eric-gonzalez-announces-new-policy-regarding-handling-of-cases-against-non-citizen-defendants/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announced</a> that his office would try to avoid prosecution strategies that could result in deportation proceedings for immigrants. “I am committed to equal and fair justice for all Brooklyn residents – citizens, lawful residents and undocumented immigrants alike,” he said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Now more than ever, we must ensure that a conviction, especially for a minor offense, does not lead to unintended and severe consequences like deportation, which can be unfair, tear families apart and destabilize our communities and businesses.”</p> <p>As Gibson noted, the Council has moved to reduce penalties and create civil fines for numerous low-level offenses, most significantly through the Criminal Justice Reform Act passed last year. Those efforts have taken on increased importance under Trump. In the last few months, ICE agents have begun to stake out courthouses to nab immigrants showing up to court appearances, even in cases involving nonviolent crimes.</p> <p>Initial data has shown drastic reductions in criminal court summonses issued under the offenses that were included in the Criminal Justice Reform Act. Between when the act took effect on June 13 and October 1, 2017, there were 4,370 criminal summonses issued under those offenses, compared to 55,224 in the same period in 2016. The NYPD issued 26,154 civil summonses for the covered offenses.</p> <p>Gibson said her bill was just another part of that larger agenda to ensure “proportional penalties” that match the crimes committed. The efforts don’t necessarily mean an easing of enforcement or so-called broken windows policing of low-level crimes in an effort to prevent larger ones, but it relates to how violations like disorderly conduct are classified and punished. “It falls in line with work we’ve done on criminal justice reform,” she said. “It’s absolutely critical. In light of the current climate, it’s really important for the City Council to advance progressive legislation that protects all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status.”</p> <p>Murad Awawdeh, vice president of advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition, said the organization was glad to see the Council take proactive measures to protect immigrants from the “nexus of the criminal justice system and the immigration system,” which can often endanger their status in the country.</p> <p>“By lowering the maximum punishment for this offense, the city is ensuring that immigrants aren’t unnecessarily detained or possibly deported,” he said of the new disorderly conduct law. “I think it’s timely and also long overdue.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/vanessa_gibson_city_council_john_mccarten.jpg" alt="vanessa gibson city council john mccarten" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Vanessa Gibson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>A City Council bill that creates an alternative to the state’s “disorderly conduct” statute, and mandates lower punishment for the infraction, became law on Friday along with numerous other bills relating to protecting undocumented immigrant New Yorkers. The bill, sponsored by City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, also adds another plank to the Council’s broad agendas of criminal justice reform and immigrant protections.</p> <p>The <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=3028942&amp;GUID=1058179C-1264-44A8-A9D0-D3B4A3C66B59&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener">new city law</a> prohibits “disorderly behavior” much in the same way the existing state law currently does -- for incidents involving public altercations, unreasonable noise, obscene gestures in public, obstruction of traffic and other similar offenses -- &nbsp;but it provides for a maximum sentence of five days in prison or a $200 fine, and also includes a civil (as opposed to criminal) penalty option in the form of a $75 fine.</p> <p>Under the state law, in which punishment can reach up to 15 days in prison or a $250 fine, there were roughly 54,000 convictions in 2016 in New York City criminal courts.</p> <p>The rationale behind the new city law is simple, but controversial: lowering punishment can prevent the involvement of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, which is often triggered when undocumented immigrants interact or are pulled into the criminal justice system. A punishment longer than five days can also make immigrants ineligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) protections.</p> <p>“It’s an option for district attorneys, for judges and for police to use in instances of disorderly conduct, and obviously for non-violent and low-level cases,” said Council Member Gibson, in a phone interview on Monday, during which she warned of dangers undocumented immigrants face from an openly hostile federal administration.</p> <p>Since before he took office, Donald Trump has been aggressively attacking undocumented immigrants with rhetoric, and, under his presidency federal immigration authorities have followed through with action, stepping up their enforcement efforts. They have taken particular aim at so-called “sanctuary cities” such as New York, which are home to massive populations of undocumented immigrants and relatively friendly local laws.</p> <p>The New York City Council has responded to the federal administration in kind, by passing a slew of measures aimed at limiting cooperation with ICE and protecting the city’s immigrant population. “We did it so it wouldn’t propel a negative consequence,” Gibson said of her bill. “We wanted to give DAs additional tools to employ. For us, while it applies to everyone, there’s obviously a very intentional focus on immigrants.”</p> <p>In April, then-Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez (who has since been elected to the position) <a href="http://www.brooklynda.org/2017/04/24/acting-brooklyn-district-attorney-eric-gonzalez-announces-new-policy-regarding-handling-of-cases-against-non-citizen-defendants/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">announced</a> that his office would try to avoid prosecution strategies that could result in deportation proceedings for immigrants. “I am committed to equal and fair justice for all Brooklyn residents – citizens, lawful residents and undocumented immigrants alike,” he said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “Now more than ever, we must ensure that a conviction, especially for a minor offense, does not lead to unintended and severe consequences like deportation, which can be unfair, tear families apart and destabilize our communities and businesses.”</p> <p>As Gibson noted, the Council has moved to reduce penalties and create civil fines for numerous low-level offenses, most significantly through the Criminal Justice Reform Act passed last year. Those efforts have taken on increased importance under Trump. In the last few months, ICE agents have begun to stake out courthouses to nab immigrants showing up to court appearances, even in cases involving nonviolent crimes.</p> <p>Initial data has shown drastic reductions in criminal court summonses issued under the offenses that were included in the Criminal Justice Reform Act. Between when the act took effect on June 13 and October 1, 2017, there were 4,370 criminal summonses issued under those offenses, compared to 55,224 in the same period in 2016. The NYPD issued 26,154 civil summonses for the covered offenses.</p> <p>Gibson said her bill was just another part of that larger agenda to ensure “proportional penalties” that match the crimes committed. The efforts don’t necessarily mean an easing of enforcement or so-called broken windows policing of low-level crimes in an effort to prevent larger ones, but it relates to how violations like disorderly conduct are classified and punished. “It falls in line with work we’ve done on criminal justice reform,” she said. “It’s absolutely critical. In light of the current climate, it’s really important for the City Council to advance progressive legislation that protects all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status.”</p> <p>Murad Awawdeh, vice president of advocacy at the New York Immigration Coalition, said the organization was glad to see the Council take proactive measures to protect immigrants from the “nexus of the criminal justice system and the immigration system,” which can often endanger their status in the country.</p> <p>“By lowering the maximum punishment for this offense, the city is ensuring that immigrants aren’t unnecessarily detained or possibly deported,” he said of the new disorderly conduct law. “I think it’s timely and also long overdue.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
As Deaths Mount, Scrutiny of NYPD Response to ‘Emotionally Disturbed Persons’ 2017-09-26T04:00:00+00:00 2017-09-26T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7216-as-deaths-mount-scrutiny-of-nypd-response-to-emotionally-disturbed-persons Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/36864941556_6bc2affeda_z.jpg" alt="NYPD de Blasio " width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio &amp; law enforcement officials (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor’s Office)</p> <hr /> <p>At a recent hearing, New York City Council members discussed the effectiveness of NYPD responses to “emotionally disturbed person” (EDP) calls, the slow pace of implementation for new NYPD crisis intervention training, and the tragic outcomes of several recent interactions between NYPD officers and emotionally disturbed individuals.</p> <p>At the hearing, held Sept. 6 jointly by the Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services, members called for clarity on recent interactions ending in lethal force and stressed their support for the proposed mayoral working group to assess the city’s overall response to individuals in crisis.</p> <p>The hearing, which received little attention at the time given the city’s primary elections were occurring just six days later, on September 12, occurred in the wake of the deaths of six mentally ill individuals killed by NYPD officers responding to EDP calls over the past 11 months, and just before another such incident would unfold.</p> <p>The introduction of crisis intervention training at the NYPD in the summer of 2015, a program designed to help officers respond to individuals in the midst of such crises, was intended to better equip officers to handle such circumstances without use of force, but has been rolled out slowly due to class size requirements and competing training demands. Of the department’s approximately 34,000 officers, fewer than 6,400 had been trained at the time of the hearing, according to NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Collaborative Policing Susan Herman.</p> <p>While there is increased scrutiny of how the NYPD handles EDP calls and its deadly encounters with individuals in crisis, some also believe that reforms must be put into place whereby NYPD officers are not the first ones at such scenes; that unarmed counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals are better suited to diffuse EDP situations.</p> <p>In the July shooting of Dwayne Jeune, an emotionally disturbed Brooklyn man, Jeune charged cops with a bread knife and was shot after a Taser shock appeared to have little effect. Three of the four patrol officers on the scene had participated in CIT while the fourth, the only one lacking a CIT background, was the one to fire, according to the department. &nbsp;In instances of EDP calls, supervisors must make the decision to call the Emergency Service Unit (ESU), whose members complete Emergency Psychological Technician’s training and are equipped to identify and interact with those suffering from mental illnesses. Jeune’s situation was characterized as nonviolent and ESU was not brought in.</p> <p>Council members and a family member of Jeune questioned whether CIT officers should be given control when responding to EDP calls.</p> <p>Herman pointed to a department preference for an officer who develops rapport with an individual to take control of the response. “It’s great to have a CIT trained officer and we want to train everyone, but we’re not at the point where we’re saying whoever is CIT trained commands the situation,” she said.</p> <p>Council members also stressed a desire to see officers trained at a faster clip. The NYPD is presently training 90 officers a week; dividing training into classes of lieutenants, supervisors, and patrol officers. Based loosely on a model developed by the Memphis Police Department and in conjunction with the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the program requires a class maximum of 30, which plays a primary role in the department’s delayed implementation. The department expects to train all supervisors and lieutenants by 2018, at which point it will return to training recruits.</p> <p>Herman also noted the Memphis model’s stipulation that training 25 to 30 percent of the force will allow other patrol officers to learn through experience and observation. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, interjected, reiterating the city’s desire to move beyond the Memphis baseline. “In a city of such great diversity and challenge, that’s a bare minimum for us,” Gibson said.</p> <p>The officer who shot and killed Jeune was involved in a similar shooting in October of last year, when a bipolar man lunged at officers with a knife, according to the NYPD. Council members grilled Herman on the department’s policy for re-evaluating the training needs of officers with a history of force used during EDP calls. “It seems to me if there is an officer who was involved in an EDP that ended in deadly force, that might be a prompt to get them CIT training so that won’t happen again,” said Council Member Jumaane Williams.</p> <p>Herman pointed to the overall low number of use of force instances, citing a 1 percent rate for use of any level of force during the 150,000 EDP calls the NYPD receives each year. This total of 15,000 instances includes use of force cases ranging from wrestling the individual to the ground to the use of a Taser, as well as shootings. The deputy commissioner cited the NYPD’s general policy for reviewing use of force, but did not specifically reference department policy in cases specific to EDP calls. “After any use of lethal force or shooting, there’s a very comprehensive review,” said Herman. “When an officer needs instruction on tactics, they get that.”</p> <p>The New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), the union representing more than 20,000 patrol officers, declined to comment on the hearing when Gotham Gazette inquired. The Lieutenant’s Benevolent Association and Sergeant’s Benevolent Association did not respond to requests for comment. None of the unions sent representatives to testify at the hearing.</p> <p>For some advocates, the discussion of how to improve NYPD responses to mental health crises has ignored the larger issue at hand. “I don’t want to try to fine tune a police response, I want to end it,” said Alex Vitale, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and senior adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), in an interview. “The city has to be willing to pay for mental health services instead of police services.”</p> <p>To this end, City Council members sought answers on how to assist individuals displaying escalating levels of violence before reaching a situation in which an EDP call is necessary.</p> <p>One such answer are the co-response teams established under the mayor’s “NYC Safe” program, intended to reach mentally ill individuals and those with substance abuse issues before they enter a mental health crisis. The program provides ongoing treatment and support to individuals identified as displaying increasing levels of violence by a number of sources including government agencies, community-based health care providers, and precinct commanding officers.</p> <p>“This is somebody who’s on someone’s radar because their actions were calling out to us. It’s not just somebody who’s off their meds, it’s somebody who’s maybe in a shelter, who one week has loudly cursed at someone and another week has thrown a chair,” said Deputy Commissioner Herman.</p> <p>Critics have pointed out that there are still far too many individuals on the streets of the city in mental health or substance abuse crises who are not getting the help they need or being moved into care facilities, which often necessitates <a href="http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2098044,00.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the use of Kendra’s Law</a>, legislation that provides court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment for those whose mental illnesses.</p> <p>A critical component of the city’s ongoing partnership between law enforcement officers and health care providers are two diversion centers, offering stabilizing services for those with mental illnesses and substance abuse issues that otherwise would have been arrested on low-level charges. Two such centers will likely be operating by the end of 2018 and will house 2,500 individuals per year, according to Dr. Gary Belkin, executive deputy commissioner of mental hygiene at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), who testified at the Council hearing.</p> <p>For advocates, however, this timeline falls short of addressing the city’s needs. “When we hear that the drop-in centers are not going to be available until the end of 2018, that’s not an acceptable response for the City of New York,” said Joshua Goldfein, an attorney for The Legal Aid Society, which often represents individuals unable to afford attorneys, at the hearing.</p> <p>Hours after the City Council Hearing concluded on September 6, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/nyregion/police-body-camera-footage-new-york.html?mcubz=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">officers fatally shot a mentally ill Bronx man</a> when responding to a call for a “wellness check” from the landlord. The man, Miguel Richards, ignored orders to drop a knife and gun, later found to be a toy gun. The ESU unit had arrived by the time of the shooting, but had not yet entered the apartment.</p> <p>In the eyes of Carla Rabinowitz, advocacy coordinator for Community Access, the officers’ repeated shouts of “Put that knife down” and “What’s in your other hand?” pointed to a failure to engage on the part of officers not trained in CIT. “The incident is just calling out for more CIT officers,” said Rabinowitz. “You can’t shout commands at a person in emotional distress, you need other solutions.”</p> <p>

***
by Grace Dixon for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/36864941556_6bc2affeda_z.jpg" alt="NYPD de Blasio " width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Mayor de Blasio &amp; law enforcement officials (photo: Edwin J. Torres/ Mayor’s Office)</p> <hr /> <p>At a recent hearing, New York City Council members discussed the effectiveness of NYPD responses to “emotionally disturbed person” (EDP) calls, the slow pace of implementation for new NYPD crisis intervention training, and the tragic outcomes of several recent interactions between NYPD officers and emotionally disturbed individuals.</p> <p>At the hearing, held Sept. 6 jointly by the Council’s Committee on Public Safety and Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services, members called for clarity on recent interactions ending in lethal force and stressed their support for the proposed mayoral working group to assess the city’s overall response to individuals in crisis.</p> <p>The hearing, which received little attention at the time given the city’s primary elections were occurring just six days later, on September 12, occurred in the wake of the deaths of six mentally ill individuals killed by NYPD officers responding to EDP calls over the past 11 months, and just before another such incident would unfold.</p> <p>The introduction of crisis intervention training at the NYPD in the summer of 2015, a program designed to help officers respond to individuals in the midst of such crises, was intended to better equip officers to handle such circumstances without use of force, but has been rolled out slowly due to class size requirements and competing training demands. Of the department’s approximately 34,000 officers, fewer than 6,400 had been trained at the time of the hearing, according to NYPD Deputy Commissioner for Collaborative Policing Susan Herman.</p> <p>While there is increased scrutiny of how the NYPD handles EDP calls and its deadly encounters with individuals in crisis, some also believe that reforms must be put into place whereby NYPD officers are not the first ones at such scenes; that unarmed counselors, social workers, and mental health professionals are better suited to diffuse EDP situations.</p> <p>In the July shooting of Dwayne Jeune, an emotionally disturbed Brooklyn man, Jeune charged cops with a bread knife and was shot after a Taser shock appeared to have little effect. Three of the four patrol officers on the scene had participated in CIT while the fourth, the only one lacking a CIT background, was the one to fire, according to the department. &nbsp;In instances of EDP calls, supervisors must make the decision to call the Emergency Service Unit (ESU), whose members complete Emergency Psychological Technician’s training and are equipped to identify and interact with those suffering from mental illnesses. Jeune’s situation was characterized as nonviolent and ESU was not brought in.</p> <p>Council members and a family member of Jeune questioned whether CIT officers should be given control when responding to EDP calls.</p> <p>Herman pointed to a department preference for an officer who develops rapport with an individual to take control of the response. “It’s great to have a CIT trained officer and we want to train everyone, but we’re not at the point where we’re saying whoever is CIT trained commands the situation,” she said.</p> <p>Council members also stressed a desire to see officers trained at a faster clip. The NYPD is presently training 90 officers a week; dividing training into classes of lieutenants, supervisors, and patrol officers. Based loosely on a model developed by the Memphis Police Department and in conjunction with the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the program requires a class maximum of 30, which plays a primary role in the department’s delayed implementation. The department expects to train all supervisors and lieutenants by 2018, at which point it will return to training recruits.</p> <p>Herman also noted the Memphis model’s stipulation that training 25 to 30 percent of the force will allow other patrol officers to learn through experience and observation. Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, interjected, reiterating the city’s desire to move beyond the Memphis baseline. “In a city of such great diversity and challenge, that’s a bare minimum for us,” Gibson said.</p> <p>The officer who shot and killed Jeune was involved in a similar shooting in October of last year, when a bipolar man lunged at officers with a knife, according to the NYPD. Council members grilled Herman on the department’s policy for re-evaluating the training needs of officers with a history of force used during EDP calls. “It seems to me if there is an officer who was involved in an EDP that ended in deadly force, that might be a prompt to get them CIT training so that won’t happen again,” said Council Member Jumaane Williams.</p> <p>Herman pointed to the overall low number of use of force instances, citing a 1 percent rate for use of any level of force during the 150,000 EDP calls the NYPD receives each year. This total of 15,000 instances includes use of force cases ranging from wrestling the individual to the ground to the use of a Taser, as well as shootings. The deputy commissioner cited the NYPD’s general policy for reviewing use of force, but did not specifically reference department policy in cases specific to EDP calls. “After any use of lethal force or shooting, there’s a very comprehensive review,” said Herman. “When an officer needs instruction on tactics, they get that.”</p> <p>The New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), the union representing more than 20,000 patrol officers, declined to comment on the hearing when Gotham Gazette inquired. The Lieutenant’s Benevolent Association and Sergeant’s Benevolent Association did not respond to requests for comment. None of the unions sent representatives to testify at the hearing.</p> <p>For some advocates, the discussion of how to improve NYPD responses to mental health crises has ignored the larger issue at hand. “I don’t want to try to fine tune a police response, I want to end it,” said Alex Vitale, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and senior adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP), in an interview. “The city has to be willing to pay for mental health services instead of police services.”</p> <p>To this end, City Council members sought answers on how to assist individuals displaying escalating levels of violence before reaching a situation in which an EDP call is necessary.</p> <p>One such answer are the co-response teams established under the mayor’s “NYC Safe” program, intended to reach mentally ill individuals and those with substance abuse issues before they enter a mental health crisis. The program provides ongoing treatment and support to individuals identified as displaying increasing levels of violence by a number of sources including government agencies, community-based health care providers, and precinct commanding officers.</p> <p>“This is somebody who’s on someone’s radar because their actions were calling out to us. It’s not just somebody who’s off their meds, it’s somebody who’s maybe in a shelter, who one week has loudly cursed at someone and another week has thrown a chair,” said Deputy Commissioner Herman.</p> <p>Critics have pointed out that there are still far too many individuals on the streets of the city in mental health or substance abuse crises who are not getting the help they need or being moved into care facilities, which often necessitates <a href="http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2098044,00.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the use of Kendra’s Law</a>, legislation that provides court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment for those whose mental illnesses.</p> <p>A critical component of the city’s ongoing partnership between law enforcement officers and health care providers are two diversion centers, offering stabilizing services for those with mental illnesses and substance abuse issues that otherwise would have been arrested on low-level charges. Two such centers will likely be operating by the end of 2018 and will house 2,500 individuals per year, according to Dr. Gary Belkin, executive deputy commissioner of mental hygiene at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), who testified at the Council hearing.</p> <p>For advocates, however, this timeline falls short of addressing the city’s needs. “When we hear that the drop-in centers are not going to be available until the end of 2018, that’s not an acceptable response for the City of New York,” said Joshua Goldfein, an attorney for The Legal Aid Society, which often represents individuals unable to afford attorneys, at the hearing.</p> <p>Hours after the City Council Hearing concluded on September 6, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/14/nyregion/police-body-camera-footage-new-york.html?mcubz=1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">officers fatally shot a mentally ill Bronx man</a> when responding to a call for a “wellness check” from the landlord. The man, Miguel Richards, ignored orders to drop a knife and gun, later found to be a toy gun. The ESU unit had arrived by the time of the shooting, but had not yet entered the apartment.</p> <p>In the eyes of Carla Rabinowitz, advocacy coordinator for Community Access, the officers’ repeated shouts of “Put that knife down” and “What’s in your other hand?” pointed to a failure to engage on the part of officers not trained in CIT. “The incident is just calling out for more CIT officers,” said Rabinowitz. “You can’t shout commands at a person in emotional distress, you need other solutions.”</p> <p>

***
by Grace Dixon for Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council Passes 'Right to Counsel' For Low-Income Tenants in Housing Court 2017-07-21T16:27:33+00:00 2017-07-21T16:27:33+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7076-city-council-passes-right-to-counsel-for-low-income-tenants-in-housing-court Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/13074969465_bc6edd8dfa_z.jpg" alt="13074969465 bc6edd8dfa z" width="600" height="422" /></p> <p>Council Member Levine and Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council passed a bill on Thursday to guarantee free legal services to low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court. The bill codifies an agreement, <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/079-17/state-the-city-mayor-de-blasio-speaker-mark-viverito-rally-universal-access-free" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> in February this year, between the Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio to fully fund anti-eviction legal services in the next five years.</p> <p>The “Right to Counsel” legislation, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1687978&amp;GUID=29A4594B-9E8A-4C5E-A797-96BDC4F64F80&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 214</a>, was sponsored by Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, who have consistently advocated for the bill since introducing it three years ago. Under the new law, the first of its kind in the country, the city’s Office of Civil Justice Coordinator will provide low-income tenants -- those with household incomes below $49,200, or 200 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four -- with legal representation free of cost, phased in by zip codes over five years. The law will also provide legal consultations to those whose income is higher than the bill’s threshold and establish a legal services program by October this year for New York City Housing Authority tenants facing administrative proceedings to terminate their tenancy. The city has allocated $15 million to implement the new provisions in fiscal year 2018, increasing that to $93 million by 2022 by when it is expected to serve 400,000 New Yorkers.</p> <p>The mood in the Council chambers before Thursday’s vote was celebratory as Council members expressed their support for the bill and congratulated their colleagues on achieving a key priority of the dominantly progressive body. At one point, the chamber filled with whoops and cheers from tenant advocates who had fought for the legislation and were there to see its passage. The bill passed with an overwhelming majority, with 42 Council members voting for it and one abstention. Only the three Republican members of the body voted against the bill.</p> <p>“This is an incredibly historic moment for this Council,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, before the vote. “This attention to the needs of our most vulnerable residents will keep families together and in their homes, and that importance cannot be overstated.”</p> <p>Celebrations began even earlier on Wednesday at a morning rally held at the New York County Lawyers’ Association. Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., Speaker Mark-Viverito, and Council Members Gibson, Deborah Rose, Mathieu Eugene and Margaret Chin were all in attendance.</p> <p>“We know that the worst of the landlords have been using housing court as a weapon,” said Council Member Levine at the rally. “They called tenants in the court on the flimsiest of grounds because they knew in the vast majority of cases, the tenant would not have a lawyer.”</p> <p>Public Advocate James, whose office has placed a particular focus on tenant protection and advocacy, said, “We are bringing power to the people. Tenants with a child on their hip and a pen in their pocket -- that’s all that they had. Tenants who came into housing court crying to the judge, and the judge would say ‘Shut up and sit down, I don’t recognize you...’ Those days are over.”</p> <p>According to the Office of Civil Justice's&nbsp;<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/services/civiljustice/OCJ%202016%20Annual%20Report%20FINAL_08_29_2016.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2016 annual report</a>, 99 percent of landlords in eviction proceedings in 2013 were represented by an attorney, compared to one percent of tenants. The de Blasio administration’s focus on anti-eviction programs and funding -- a key component of the mayor’s plan to control and reduce homelessness in the city -- has already increased the number of tenants in housing court with legal representation to 27 percent. The new law aims to make that access universal.</p> <p>“You know they said it couldn’t be done,” said Council Member Levine. “Again, again, and again, we were told that Right to Counsel for tenants was never gonna happen anywhere in America… But they do not know us. They do not know New Yorkers. They do not know the countless thousands of tenants who for years, for decades, have been in the trenches, fighting to save their buildings, fighting to turn around their blocks, fighting to improve their parks, to start local community nonprofits, to start local small businesses. We know those New Yorkers. We are those New Yorkers.”</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/13074969465_bc6edd8dfa_z.jpg" alt="13074969465 bc6edd8dfa z" width="600" height="422" /></p> <p>Council Member Levine and Speaker Mark-Viverito (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council passed a bill on Thursday to guarantee free legal services to low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court. The bill codifies an agreement, <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/079-17/state-the-city-mayor-de-blasio-speaker-mark-viverito-rally-universal-access-free" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced</a> in February this year, between the Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio to fully fund anti-eviction legal services in the next five years.</p> <p>The “Right to Counsel” legislation, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=1687978&amp;GUID=29A4594B-9E8A-4C5E-A797-96BDC4F64F80&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 214</a>, was sponsored by Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson, who have consistently advocated for the bill since introducing it three years ago. Under the new law, the first of its kind in the country, the city’s Office of Civil Justice Coordinator will provide low-income tenants -- those with household incomes below $49,200, or 200 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four -- with legal representation free of cost, phased in by zip codes over five years. The law will also provide legal consultations to those whose income is higher than the bill’s threshold and establish a legal services program by October this year for New York City Housing Authority tenants facing administrative proceedings to terminate their tenancy. The city has allocated $15 million to implement the new provisions in fiscal year 2018, increasing that to $93 million by 2022 by when it is expected to serve 400,000 New Yorkers.</p> <p>The mood in the Council chambers before Thursday’s vote was celebratory as Council members expressed their support for the bill and congratulated their colleagues on achieving a key priority of the dominantly progressive body. At one point, the chamber filled with whoops and cheers from tenant advocates who had fought for the legislation and were there to see its passage. The bill passed with an overwhelming majority, with 42 Council members voting for it and one abstention. Only the three Republican members of the body voted against the bill.</p> <p>“This is an incredibly historic moment for this Council,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, before the vote. “This attention to the needs of our most vulnerable residents will keep families together and in their homes, and that importance cannot be overstated.”</p> <p>Celebrations began even earlier on Wednesday at a morning rally held at the New York County Lawyers’ Association. Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., Speaker Mark-Viverito, and Council Members Gibson, Deborah Rose, Mathieu Eugene and Margaret Chin were all in attendance.</p> <p>“We know that the worst of the landlords have been using housing court as a weapon,” said Council Member Levine at the rally. “They called tenants in the court on the flimsiest of grounds because they knew in the vast majority of cases, the tenant would not have a lawyer.”</p> <p>Public Advocate James, whose office has placed a particular focus on tenant protection and advocacy, said, “We are bringing power to the people. Tenants with a child on their hip and a pen in their pocket -- that’s all that they had. Tenants who came into housing court crying to the judge, and the judge would say ‘Shut up and sit down, I don’t recognize you...’ Those days are over.”</p> <p>According to the Office of Civil Justice's&nbsp;<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/services/civiljustice/OCJ%202016%20Annual%20Report%20FINAL_08_29_2016.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2016 annual report</a>, 99 percent of landlords in eviction proceedings in 2013 were represented by an attorney, compared to one percent of tenants. The de Blasio administration’s focus on anti-eviction programs and funding -- a key component of the mayor’s plan to control and reduce homelessness in the city -- has already increased the number of tenants in housing court with legal representation to 27 percent. The new law aims to make that access universal.</p> <p>“You know they said it couldn’t be done,” said Council Member Levine. “Again, again, and again, we were told that Right to Counsel for tenants was never gonna happen anywhere in America… But they do not know us. They do not know New Yorkers. They do not know the countless thousands of tenants who for years, for decades, have been in the trenches, fighting to save their buildings, fighting to turn around their blocks, fighting to improve their parks, to start local community nonprofits, to start local small businesses. We know those New Yorkers. We are those New Yorkers.”</p> <p> </p> Three More State Legislators Seek City Council Seats 2017-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-22T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6948-three-more-state-legislators-seek-city-council-seats Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/diaz_sr_and_gjonaj_crop.jpg" alt="diaz sr and gjonaj crop" width="600" height="479" /></p> <p>Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., left, &amp; AM Mark Gjonaj (photo: @RevRubenDiaz)</p> <hr /> <p>There are only a handful of City Council seats opening up this year due to term limits. Of the seven “open” races in the 51-seat Council, all of which are up for election this fall, several feature state legislators seeking to make the jump to the city’s legislative body.</p> <p>Seeking to stay closer to home for work, legislators who now have to commute to Albany several days a week for half the year have declared their candidacies. Entering City Council races to succeed a term-limited officeholder, the state legislators immediately became favorites to win, first in the September Democratic primaries, then the November general election. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, all Democrats, are seeking “open” seats in the City Council. (One former Democratic legislator, Hiram Monserrate, is even attempting a comeback after having been expelled from the state Senate in 2010 following his conviction on misdemeanor assault charges.)</p> <p>Current and former state legislators vying for seats in the City Council is nothing new. A number of sitting Council members themselves were state representatives, many of them just prior to joining the Council. For instance, Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Joe Borelli, Rafael Espinal, Inez Barron, and Alan Maisel have all served in the state Assembly. Council Member Vincent Gentile was formerly a state Senator, as was Bill Perkins, who just recently won a special election in Council District 9 in February.</p> <p>The advantages to being in the Council are plain to see: Council members receive a much higher pay than state legislators and, after receiving recommendations from a special commission, just recently voted to give themselves a pay raise from $112,500 to $148,500. State lawmakers’ salaries are $79,500 annually, plus stipends for chairing issue committees or house leadership posts (a pay commission convened to explore pay hikes ended its work late last year without any recommendations). There is also the obvious ease of commuting to City Hall and offices in the five boroughs rather than constant trips to Albany. And, for some legislators, being in the Council offers a chance to have a greater say over local policy and the ability to more directly address community concerns. This was true for Perkins, who said when he ran in February that, as a Democrat in the minority in the state Senate, he was less able to affect legislation than he could in the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council.</p> <p>Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez only recently announced that he is running for the Council District 8 seat that will be vacated by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the end of the year. The district covers East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. Mark-Viverito has endorsed her deputy chief of staff, Diana Ayala, for the seat, and the Bronx Democratic machinery has split its support for the two candidates. Rodriguez received endorsements last week from Bronx Democratic Party Chair Marcos Crespo, Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright, former U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, and Council Member Bill Perkins. Ayala on the other hand has the support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>“There’s work to be done and I think there’s ways to translate priorities from the Legislature into the district,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview. He said the open seat was a unique opportunity that “literally comes along every eight years, sometimes 12.” “An opportunity too good to turn down,” he said. Rodriguez has already raised $78,647 for his run and spent $22,620, leaving him a balance of $56,017. (He is still currently listed as “undeclared” with the Campaign Finance Board in terms of which office he’ll seek.)</p> <p>Rodriguez acknowledged the potential advantages of working in the City Council with like-minded lawmakers, unlike Albany where any single piece of legislation must navigate two chambers. “It’s a smaller body and decisions are made differently,” he said of the unicameral and heavily Democratic Council, “there’s less institutional interplay.” And he’s confident that he’ll bring a “sense of experience and confidence” into the race that will sway voters.</p> <p>As a member of the Assembly for six years, Rodriguez said he’s also seen a lot of turnover and brushes aside any criticism that could be levelled against him for running for the Council just six months after being reelected to the Assembly. “ He also expects that in 2021, when more City Council seats are up for grabs, that many colleagues will make similar moves.</p> <p>Diana Ayala finds the timing of Rodriguez’s entry into the race puzzling. “Why certain members chose this year to run, I find it questionable,” she told Gotham Gazette. “Public service should be about people, not personal gain. So that concerns me.”</p> <p>For Ayala, facing off against a sitting state legislator presents an uphill battle, but she said she’s not worried. “Our campaign is picking up steam,” she said. “I’m not gonna dispute that [Rodriguez] has name recognition and establishment support. But I have a lot of community support. I’m pretty confident I can stand on my feet.” Ayala is also participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which she says will be instrumental to running a competitive race. She has $52,089 in campaign cash, as of May 11, before factoring in any matching funds.</p> <p>City Council Member Ben Kallos, who won his seat in 2013 after beating then-Assemblymember Micah Kellner in the Democratic primary, expressed apprehension last month in an interview with Gotham Gazette about the trend of Albany insiders running for local office. “I am growing concerned with the specter of Senate and Assembly members coming from a broken Albany down to the City Council and bringing back dysfunction with them,” he said outside the Council chambers. “I think it is imperative for democracy for there to be candidates who will run against members of the Assembly or Senate...and I hope that voters evaluate candidates regardless of whether or not they’ve served in Albany.”</p> <p>“I would actually hope,” he added, “that if somebody is coming down from Albany as a career politician, folks might hold that against them and support a citizen legislator.”</p> <p>In District 13, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj is running to replace outgoing Council Member James Vacca. Gjonaj has a massive fundraising lead over his opponents already, with $212,684 on hand for his campaign. He was also endorsed by the Bronx Democratic County Committee last week. “I’m looking to continue the work that I began in the Assembly and delivering for my constituents, being more accessible to them and being in the district,” Gjonaj said in a brief phone interview. He was confident that he brings the most experience to the race, insisting that he was proud to be in the state Legislature although it’s a “complicated institution.”</p> <p>John Doyle, a former staffer for State Senator Jeff Klein is one of seven other candidates in the race with Gjonaj. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with someone looking to change their position,” Doyle said of Gjonaj’s campaign, “but I think there’s something disingenuous when somebody’s running for reelection saying they’ll be a voice for two years and after their reelection, they announced for a new position.” Gjonaj was reelected to the Assembly last year.</p> <p>Doyle criticized Gjonaj’s campaign fundraising, much of which comes from outside the city, and also broadly stressed that many of the systemic corruption issues in Albany stemmed from the way lawmakers raise funds. He noted that Gjonaj had voted for campaign finance reform in 2014, but has chosen not to participate in the public matching funds system.</p> <p>In response to Doyle's comments, a spokesperson for Gjonaj said, "Mr. Doyle's platform seems to be 'I'm not the other guy.' As for Assemblyman Gjonaj he is committed, above all, to representing the best interests of his constituency. He is at work passing progressive legislation and meeting voters." Spokesperson Jennifer Blatus went on to say that Gjonaj has widespread support and that "Doyle is desperate for attention. He doesn't have a clue on how to pass legislation or attract capital projects." She also indicated that Gjonaj is not participating in the city's campaign finance program because he "prefers tax payers dollars be used for after school programs for youth, senior programs, and libraries - not political campaigns."</p> <p>State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr.’s run in Council District 18 may be the most controversial of the state legislators’ this cycle. Diaz Sr., although a Democrat, is conservative on social issues, such as LGBT rights, and running for a seat on a body that is heavily progressive. (There are only three Republicans in the Council, one of whom is pro-choice.) But Diaz Sr. has been able to raise significant funds in a short period, and has $93,901 in his campaign account, surpassing candidates who have been in the race for months.</p> <p>All of the state legislators running start the race with community ties and significant advantage in name recognition, especially among those who vote.</p> <p>Council Member Gibson, a former Assembly member, admits that moving from Albany to the city is not an easy move but it comes with advantages, both for the member and the legislative body. “Although it was a transition,” she said, “I think being a state elected official gave me a lot of understanding of how Albany works and navigating the state Legislature, and really about the City Council relying so heavily on state funds.”</p> <p>But she also said that elected experience is far from necessary to run for the Council. “There is no manual on how to do this well,” she said. “You have to be a team player, you have to be someone that can build a coalition around you. You have to be someone who has leadership and management skills...and you really have to have an ability to work with all people.”</p> <p>Gibson also pushed back against the idea that state legislators would bring Albany dysfunction with them. “I think when you talk about dysfunction and a culture, I don’t think you can define it to one individual legislator or even a few legislators. I think it’s almost the system that’s been in place. And it’s really the entire body of government.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6946-the-may-money-race-in-open-city-council-seats" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The May Money Race in 'Open' City Council Seats</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/diaz_sr_and_gjonaj_crop.jpg" alt="diaz sr and gjonaj crop" width="600" height="479" /></p> <p>Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., left, &amp; AM Mark Gjonaj (photo: @RevRubenDiaz)</p> <hr /> <p>There are only a handful of City Council seats opening up this year due to term limits. Of the seven “open” races in the 51-seat Council, all of which are up for election this fall, several feature state legislators seeking to make the jump to the city’s legislative body.</p> <p>Seeking to stay closer to home for work, legislators who now have to commute to Albany several days a week for half the year have declared their candidacies. Entering City Council races to succeed a term-limited officeholder, the state legislators immediately became favorites to win, first in the September Democratic primaries, then the November general election. State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj, and Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez, all Democrats, are seeking “open” seats in the City Council. (One former Democratic legislator, Hiram Monserrate, is even attempting a comeback after having been expelled from the state Senate in 2010 following his conviction on misdemeanor assault charges.)</p> <p>Current and former state legislators vying for seats in the City Council is nothing new. A number of sitting Council members themselves were state representatives, many of them just prior to joining the Council. For instance, Council Members Vanessa Gibson, Joe Borelli, Rafael Espinal, Inez Barron, and Alan Maisel have all served in the state Assembly. Council Member Vincent Gentile was formerly a state Senator, as was Bill Perkins, who just recently won a special election in Council District 9 in February.</p> <p>The advantages to being in the Council are plain to see: Council members receive a much higher pay than state legislators and, after receiving recommendations from a special commission, just recently voted to give themselves a pay raise from $112,500 to $148,500. State lawmakers’ salaries are $79,500 annually, plus stipends for chairing issue committees or house leadership posts (a pay commission convened to explore pay hikes ended its work late last year without any recommendations). There is also the obvious ease of commuting to City Hall and offices in the five boroughs rather than constant trips to Albany. And, for some legislators, being in the Council offers a chance to have a greater say over local policy and the ability to more directly address community concerns. This was true for Perkins, who said when he ran in February that, as a Democrat in the minority in the state Senate, he was less able to affect legislation than he could in the overwhelmingly Democratic City Council.</p> <p>Assemblymember Robert Rodriguez only recently announced that he is running for the Council District 8 seat that will be vacated by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the end of the year. The district covers East Harlem and parts of the South Bronx. Mark-Viverito has endorsed her deputy chief of staff, Diana Ayala, for the seat, and the Bronx Democratic machinery has split its support for the two candidates. Rodriguez received endorsements last week from Bronx Democratic Party Chair Marcos Crespo, Manhattan Democratic Party Chair Keith Wright, former U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, and Council Member Bill Perkins. Ayala on the other hand has the support of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.</p> <p>“There’s work to be done and I think there’s ways to translate priorities from the Legislature into the district,” Rodriguez said in a phone interview. He said the open seat was a unique opportunity that “literally comes along every eight years, sometimes 12.” “An opportunity too good to turn down,” he said. Rodriguez has already raised $78,647 for his run and spent $22,620, leaving him a balance of $56,017. (He is still currently listed as “undeclared” with the Campaign Finance Board in terms of which office he’ll seek.)</p> <p>Rodriguez acknowledged the potential advantages of working in the City Council with like-minded lawmakers, unlike Albany where any single piece of legislation must navigate two chambers. “It’s a smaller body and decisions are made differently,” he said of the unicameral and heavily Democratic Council, “there’s less institutional interplay.” And he’s confident that he’ll bring a “sense of experience and confidence” into the race that will sway voters.</p> <p>As a member of the Assembly for six years, Rodriguez said he’s also seen a lot of turnover and brushes aside any criticism that could be levelled against him for running for the Council just six months after being reelected to the Assembly. “ He also expects that in 2021, when more City Council seats are up for grabs, that many colleagues will make similar moves.</p> <p>Diana Ayala finds the timing of Rodriguez’s entry into the race puzzling. “Why certain members chose this year to run, I find it questionable,” she told Gotham Gazette. “Public service should be about people, not personal gain. So that concerns me.”</p> <p>For Ayala, facing off against a sitting state legislator presents an uphill battle, but she said she’s not worried. “Our campaign is picking up steam,” she said. “I’m not gonna dispute that [Rodriguez] has name recognition and establishment support. But I have a lot of community support. I’m pretty confident I can stand on my feet.” Ayala is also participating in the Campaign Finance Board’s public matching funds program, which she says will be instrumental to running a competitive race. She has $52,089 in campaign cash, as of May 11, before factoring in any matching funds.</p> <p>City Council Member Ben Kallos, who won his seat in 2013 after beating then-Assemblymember Micah Kellner in the Democratic primary, expressed apprehension last month in an interview with Gotham Gazette about the trend of Albany insiders running for local office. “I am growing concerned with the specter of Senate and Assembly members coming from a broken Albany down to the City Council and bringing back dysfunction with them,” he said outside the Council chambers. “I think it is imperative for democracy for there to be candidates who will run against members of the Assembly or Senate...and I hope that voters evaluate candidates regardless of whether or not they’ve served in Albany.”</p> <p>“I would actually hope,” he added, “that if somebody is coming down from Albany as a career politician, folks might hold that against them and support a citizen legislator.”</p> <p>In District 13, Assemblymember Mark Gjonaj is running to replace outgoing Council Member James Vacca. Gjonaj has a massive fundraising lead over his opponents already, with $212,684 on hand for his campaign. He was also endorsed by the Bronx Democratic County Committee last week. “I’m looking to continue the work that I began in the Assembly and delivering for my constituents, being more accessible to them and being in the district,” Gjonaj said in a brief phone interview. He was confident that he brings the most experience to the race, insisting that he was proud to be in the state Legislature although it’s a “complicated institution.”</p> <p>John Doyle, a former staffer for State Senator Jeff Klein is one of seven other candidates in the race with Gjonaj. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with someone looking to change their position,” Doyle said of Gjonaj’s campaign, “but I think there’s something disingenuous when somebody’s running for reelection saying they’ll be a voice for two years and after their reelection, they announced for a new position.” Gjonaj was reelected to the Assembly last year.</p> <p>Doyle criticized Gjonaj’s campaign fundraising, much of which comes from outside the city, and also broadly stressed that many of the systemic corruption issues in Albany stemmed from the way lawmakers raise funds. He noted that Gjonaj had voted for campaign finance reform in 2014, but has chosen not to participate in the public matching funds system.</p> <p>In response to Doyle's comments, a spokesperson for Gjonaj said, "Mr. Doyle's platform seems to be 'I'm not the other guy.' As for Assemblyman Gjonaj he is committed, above all, to representing the best interests of his constituency. He is at work passing progressive legislation and meeting voters." Spokesperson Jennifer Blatus went on to say that Gjonaj has widespread support and that "Doyle is desperate for attention. He doesn't have a clue on how to pass legislation or attract capital projects." She also indicated that Gjonaj is not participating in the city's campaign finance program because he "prefers tax payers dollars be used for after school programs for youth, senior programs, and libraries - not political campaigns."</p> <p>State Senator Ruben Diaz Sr.’s run in Council District 18 may be the most controversial of the state legislators’ this cycle. Diaz Sr., although a Democrat, is conservative on social issues, such as LGBT rights, and running for a seat on a body that is heavily progressive. (There are only three Republicans in the Council, one of whom is pro-choice.) But Diaz Sr. has been able to raise significant funds in a short period, and has $93,901 in his campaign account, surpassing candidates who have been in the race for months.</p> <p>All of the state legislators running start the race with community ties and significant advantage in name recognition, especially among those who vote.</p> <p>Council Member Gibson, a former Assembly member, admits that moving from Albany to the city is not an easy move but it comes with advantages, both for the member and the legislative body. “Although it was a transition,” she said, “I think being a state elected official gave me a lot of understanding of how Albany works and navigating the state Legislature, and really about the City Council relying so heavily on state funds.”</p> <p>But she also said that elected experience is far from necessary to run for the Council. “There is no manual on how to do this well,” she said. “You have to be a team player, you have to be someone that can build a coalition around you. You have to be someone who has leadership and management skills...and you really have to have an ability to work with all people.”</p> <p>Gibson also pushed back against the idea that state legislators would bring Albany dysfunction with them. “I think when you talk about dysfunction and a culture, I don’t think you can define it to one individual legislator or even a few legislators. I think it’s almost the system that’s been in place. And it’s really the entire body of government.”</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6946-the-may-money-race-in-open-city-council-seats" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The May Money Race in 'Open' City Council Seats</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
City Council to Examine NYPD Oversight Board 2016-10-20T04:00:00+00:00 2016-10-20T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6584-city-council-to-examine-nypd-oversight-board Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/12626376565_6ed720491f_z.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="maya wiley mayor de blasio appointment" /></p> <p>CCRB Chair Maya Wiley &amp; Mayor de Blasio in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">The Civilian Complaint Review Board, a key provider of oversight of police conduct in New York City will be subject to oversight itself at a Friday hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety. It will be the first of its kind during the current administration wherein the CCRB is evaluated by the Council outside of the annual budget process. The hearing comes amid controversy over NYPD transparency with regard to officer discipline records, alongside the perpetual scrutiny of policing in the city, and three months after Mayor Bill de Blasio named a new CCRB chair, Maya Wiley, who is expected to testify.</p> <p dir="ltr">The CCRB is an independent agency of civilians, as the name suggests, tasked with investigating complaints against police officers and recommending disciplinary action to the commissioner of the police department. It’s composed of 13 members - one each from the five boroughs, chosen by the City Council; five members, including the chair, chosen by the mayor; and three members selected by the police commissioner. Each member serves a three-year term and can be reappointed to the position.</p> <p dir="ltr">Wiley, the current chair, was <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/maya-wiley-prepares-for-ccrb-chair-under-fire-103504" target="_blank">recently</a> appointed after leaving her post as counsel to de Blasio in July. Her appointment was met with skepticism from certain quarters, with Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch calling it a “politically-motivated” tactic used by the administration that undercut the agency’s independence. Wiley’s predecessor, Richard Emery, who resigned <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ccrb-chair-resigns-day-exec-director-sues-article-1.2600058" target="_blank">amid scandal</a>, was also seen by some as a political appointment and criticized for his close relationship with former police commissioner Bill Bratton.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has had a contentious relationship with Lynch and the PBA, which is locked in negotiations with the city as one of a small number of municipal unions not under contract. Still, de Blasio and Bratton instituted new training protocols for police officers and while crime has continued to decline, so have arrests and complaints to the CCRB.</p> <p dir="ltr">Friday’s hearing will examine the current CCRB’s overall functioning, looking at its case processing times, procedures that have been put in place under the current administration and outreach efforts made by the board to communities on the ground. Undoubtedly, it will touch upon larger issues as well, coming at a time when the administration is besieged by criticism over its refusal to disclose police officer disciplinary records and within the same week that an officer shot and killed an elderly, mentally ill Bronx woman in her home.</p> <p dir="ltr">With new leadership at the CCRB as well as the NYPD, where Commissioner James O’Neill took over from Bratton six weeks ago, City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, said this is the “critical and right time to have this hearing.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Besides the usual questions about procedures and agency efficiency, Gibson said, “We also wanted to look at the future of the CCRB. It’s critical that, as CCRB continues to grow...I want to find out how the relationship with the police department is going to be.” Looking ahead to next year’s budget season, Gibson said the hearing would also help the Council determine how to help the CCRB to more effectively do its job.</p> <p dir="ltr">CCRB Chair Wiley said she looks forward to being able to show the committee the improvements and impact the agency has made in handling cases and in building community relationships. “We’re in a situation where we’re consolidating the improvements made in the past two years,” she said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. Just last month, the agency <a href="http://gothamist.com/2016/09/27/ccrb_data.php" target="_blank">released</a> a new website and made data on police misconduct allegations easier to access and understand as part of a larger <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/ccrb/policy/data-transparency-initiative.page" target="_blank">Data Transparency Initiative</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">The CCRB compiles four main categories of data - complaints, allegations, victims, and alleged victims - and demographic data on NYPD personnel, and issues monthly, annual, and semi-annual statistical reports. It also examines issues of police misconduct and releases reports with recommendations for improving policies and procedures.</p> <p dir="ltr">Wiley said she is also looking for ways to increase discussions about policing in communities and awareness among people about CCRB’s role. “It’s certainly an area of growth opportunity for the agency,” she said. But she won’t be surprised if she’s asked about the controversy over section 50-A of the Civil Rights Law. That provision has given the mayor and the NYPD legal justification, they say, to shield from disclosure the personnel records, including disciplinary proceedings of the CCRB, of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner. During a time where several entities were seeking Pantaleo’s CCRB record, the NYPD stopped publicly posting promotions and disciplinary actions at One Police Plaza after decades of doing so.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last Friday, the mayor <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/820-16/mayor-de-blasio-outlines-core-principles-legislation-make-disciplinary-records-law" target="_blank">proposed</a> changes to the law that would allow for more transparency and disclosure of officer disciplinary records. Even though the de Blasio administration is appealing a court ruling that said the city could release Pantaleo’s record, de Blasio has said he favors disclosure. Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocates, said the mayor’s proposal was a red herring that doesn’t in fact create substantive reform. A number of groups and experts have said that the city could continue to post NYPD personnel records and have questioned the city’s appeal.</p> <p dir="ltr">Josmar Trujillo, an organizer with the Coalition to End Broken Windows, a police reform organization, said it would be interesting to see the Council do “oversight of an oversight agency,” but he questioned whether it would be substantial. “From my experience, the CCRB kinda just limps along and tweaks a few things, and the City Council isn’t really involved,” he said. He criticized the CCRB as an “ornamental agency” that has limited capacity to hold police officers accountable, a critique that has been echoed by other advocates of police reform in the past. Earlier this year, government reform group Citizens Union proposed solutions to that issue, calling for structurally and legally empowering the CCRB as part of a larger <a href="https://echalk-slate-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/private/districts/466/resources/1d0cc10c-4223-4194-8e35-f069dec27777?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIZQPKIVDQVS7TUJA&amp;Expires=1790866192&amp;response-content-disposition=;filename=&quot;FINAL%20POLICE%20ACCOUNTABILITY%20PAPER%208%2015%20FRAMES.pdf&quot;&amp;response-content-type=application/pdf&amp;Signature=VxwU0n9R+gJJ7fhEceWFjsy6q5c=" target="_blank">position on police accountability</a>. Citizens Union also wants more public information from the police commissioner when he or she disagrees with a CCRB recommendation for officer discipline.</p> <p>Although reform may not be on the committee’s stated agenda for Friday, Trujillo hopes the Council will show how they can act as an outside check on the relationship between the mayor and the CCRB, and look at how the new chair of the board is handling her role.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/12626376565_6ed720491f_z.jpg" width="600" height="399" alt="maya wiley mayor de blasio appointment" /></p> <p>CCRB Chair Maya Wiley &amp; Mayor de Blasio in 2014 (photo: Rob Bennett/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">The Civilian Complaint Review Board, a key provider of oversight of police conduct in New York City will be subject to oversight itself at a Friday hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety. It will be the first of its kind during the current administration wherein the CCRB is evaluated by the Council outside of the annual budget process. The hearing comes amid controversy over NYPD transparency with regard to officer discipline records, alongside the perpetual scrutiny of policing in the city, and three months after Mayor Bill de Blasio named a new CCRB chair, Maya Wiley, who is expected to testify.</p> <p dir="ltr">The CCRB is an independent agency of civilians, as the name suggests, tasked with investigating complaints against police officers and recommending disciplinary action to the commissioner of the police department. It’s composed of 13 members - one each from the five boroughs, chosen by the City Council; five members, including the chair, chosen by the mayor; and three members selected by the police commissioner. Each member serves a three-year term and can be reappointed to the position.</p> <p dir="ltr">Wiley, the current chair, was <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/07/maya-wiley-prepares-for-ccrb-chair-under-fire-103504" target="_blank">recently</a> appointed after leaving her post as counsel to de Blasio in July. Her appointment was met with skepticism from certain quarters, with Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch calling it a “politically-motivated” tactic used by the administration that undercut the agency’s independence. Wiley’s predecessor, Richard Emery, who resigned <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/ccrb-chair-resigns-day-exec-director-sues-article-1.2600058" target="_blank">amid scandal</a>, was also seen by some as a political appointment and criticized for his close relationship with former police commissioner Bill Bratton.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has had a contentious relationship with Lynch and the PBA, which is locked in negotiations with the city as one of a small number of municipal unions not under contract. Still, de Blasio and Bratton instituted new training protocols for police officers and while crime has continued to decline, so have arrests and complaints to the CCRB.</p> <p dir="ltr">Friday’s hearing will examine the current CCRB’s overall functioning, looking at its case processing times, procedures that have been put in place under the current administration and outreach efforts made by the board to communities on the ground. Undoubtedly, it will touch upon larger issues as well, coming at a time when the administration is besieged by criticism over its refusal to disclose police officer disciplinary records and within the same week that an officer shot and killed an elderly, mentally ill Bronx woman in her home.</p> <p dir="ltr">With new leadership at the CCRB as well as the NYPD, where Commissioner James O’Neill took over from Bratton six weeks ago, City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, said this is the “critical and right time to have this hearing.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Besides the usual questions about procedures and agency efficiency, Gibson said, “We also wanted to look at the future of the CCRB. It’s critical that, as CCRB continues to grow...I want to find out how the relationship with the police department is going to be.” Looking ahead to next year’s budget season, Gibson said the hearing would also help the Council determine how to help the CCRB to more effectively do its job.</p> <p dir="ltr">CCRB Chair Wiley said she looks forward to being able to show the committee the improvements and impact the agency has made in handling cases and in building community relationships. “We’re in a situation where we’re consolidating the improvements made in the past two years,” she said in a phone interview with Gotham Gazette. Just last month, the agency <a href="http://gothamist.com/2016/09/27/ccrb_data.php" target="_blank">released</a> a new website and made data on police misconduct allegations easier to access and understand as part of a larger <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/site/ccrb/policy/data-transparency-initiative.page" target="_blank">Data Transparency Initiative</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">The CCRB compiles four main categories of data - complaints, allegations, victims, and alleged victims - and demographic data on NYPD personnel, and issues monthly, annual, and semi-annual statistical reports. It also examines issues of police misconduct and releases reports with recommendations for improving policies and procedures.</p> <p dir="ltr">Wiley said she is also looking for ways to increase discussions about policing in communities and awareness among people about CCRB’s role. “It’s certainly an area of growth opportunity for the agency,” she said. But she won’t be surprised if she’s asked about the controversy over section 50-A of the Civil Rights Law. That provision has given the mayor and the NYPD legal justification, they say, to shield from disclosure the personnel records, including disciplinary proceedings of the CCRB, of Officer Daniel Pantaleo, whose use of a chokehold led to the death of Staten Island resident Eric Garner. During a time where several entities were seeking Pantaleo’s CCRB record, the NYPD stopped publicly posting promotions and disciplinary actions at One Police Plaza after decades of doing so.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last Friday, the mayor <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/820-16/mayor-de-blasio-outlines-core-principles-legislation-make-disciplinary-records-law" target="_blank">proposed</a> changes to the law that would allow for more transparency and disclosure of officer disciplinary records. Even though the de Blasio administration is appealing a court ruling that said the city could release Pantaleo’s record, de Blasio has said he favors disclosure. Communities United for Police Reform, a coalition of advocates, said the mayor’s proposal was a red herring that doesn’t in fact create substantive reform. A number of groups and experts have said that the city could continue to post NYPD personnel records and have questioned the city’s appeal.</p> <p dir="ltr">Josmar Trujillo, an organizer with the Coalition to End Broken Windows, a police reform organization, said it would be interesting to see the Council do “oversight of an oversight agency,” but he questioned whether it would be substantial. “From my experience, the CCRB kinda just limps along and tweaks a few things, and the City Council isn’t really involved,” he said. He criticized the CCRB as an “ornamental agency” that has limited capacity to hold police officers accountable, a critique that has been echoed by other advocates of police reform in the past. Earlier this year, government reform group Citizens Union proposed solutions to that issue, calling for structurally and legally empowering the CCRB as part of a larger <a href="https://echalk-slate-prod.s3.amazonaws.com/private/districts/466/resources/1d0cc10c-4223-4194-8e35-f069dec27777?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIZQPKIVDQVS7TUJA&amp;Expires=1790866192&amp;response-content-disposition=;filename=&quot;FINAL%20POLICE%20ACCOUNTABILITY%20PAPER%208%2015%20FRAMES.pdf&quot;&amp;response-content-type=application/pdf&amp;Signature=VxwU0n9R+gJJ7fhEceWFjsy6q5c=" target="_blank">position on police accountability</a>. Citizens Union also wants more public information from the police commissioner when he or she disagrees with a CCRB recommendation for officer discipline.</p> <p>Although reform may not be on the committee’s stated agenda for Friday, Trujillo hopes the Council will show how they can act as an outside check on the relationship between the mayor and the CCRB, and look at how the new chair of the board is handling her role.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>