CCRB Considers Cutting Pilot Prosecution Program
November 22nd, 2010

Just nine months after the Civilian Complaint Review Board announced a pilot program to independently prosecute some cases of police misconduct, they are considering cutting it.

Faced with a budget deficit and a mandate from the Bloomberg adminsitration to cut costs, Ernest Hart, the chair of the board, told Gotham Gazette that nothing was off the chopping block, including the highly anticipated program.

“The final decision as to how we would implement the budget cut has not been made,” said Hart. “When we look at the budget, we look at all the programs. I wouldn’t say that it was not under consideration with everything else. Everything is under consideration.”

The pilot program, which was revealed in February, would give the civilian board the power to prosecute a handful of cases independently for the first time. Currently, the board investigates and substantiates complaints of police misconduct across the city, but the prosecution is left up to the Police Department. For years, critics have been calling for independent prosecution by the board, claiming the police department has increasingly failed to prosecute cases referred to it.

Last week, Mayor Michael Bloomberg revealed nearly $1.6 billion in cuts to help close a $3.3 billion budget gap in the next fiscal year. Under the proposal, the city’s work force could shrink by more than 10,000 employees, including 6,166 teachers. The adminsitration proposed about 6,200 layoffs.

The board faces a $300,000 cut in this fiscal year and a $157,000 cut in the next. According to a City Council report from June, the new prosecution unit would cost $366,000.

Should the board decide to slash the program, it would not be the first time a similar proposal fell through. The Giuliani administration promised to give the board independent power to prosecute cases in 2001, but the proposal was later abandoned.

The board is working with the Office of Management and Budget to determine the final cuts, which should be made shortly, Hart said.

The NYPD remains “fully supportive” of the prosecution program, Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said in an e-mailed statement.

By on November 22, 2010, 7:42 pm
In category: City Hall,Civil Rights,Crime & Safety,Electoral Politics,Eye Opener,Gotham City,Law,Measuring UP,nextNY,Public Finance,Work and Labor | 3 Comments »

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Cuts Coming Today
November 18th, 2010

Brace yourselves.

The adminsitration is set to reveal those cuts Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered at the end of September — which equates to the ninth round of budget cuts within the last three fiscal years. (But who’s counting?)

We hear they won’t be pretty. The nightly closure of fire companies are on the chopping block in addition to thousands of jobs across city agencies. In total, the mayor is looking to lose $1.5 billion from the budget over the next two fiscal years. In September, the city ordered uniformed forces and education to expect 2.7 percent cuts, while all other agencies were urged to prepare for 5.4 percent cuts.

Even before we know the details, there is a backlash.

Earlier this week, Lillian Roberts, the executive director of DC37, the city’s largest municipal employees union, sent the mayor a letter, urging him to consider revenue generating proposals instead of just cuts.

The letter is below.

Stay tuned.

PDFsss

By on November 18, 2010, 11:46 am
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Quinn on Cathie Black and Council Resolution
November 17th, 2010

New Yorkers shouldn’t be surprised of the mayor’s decision to select Cathie Black as schools chancellor — at least that is what Council Speaker Christine Quinn says.

“This is an example of how mayoral control works,” said Quinn this afternoon before the council’s stated meeting. It’s the mayor’s choice, she argued.

Her comments come after the speaker released a statement last week following Black’s selection, saying she “looked forward” to working with her.

They also come as opposition against Black’s appointment continues to mount. That opposition includes several members of the City Council, who are set to introduce a resolution (seen below) today that asks the state to deny Black the necessary waiver for her to serve as chancellor. The resolution states: “The people of New York City want a chancellor with experience, character and qualifications that are well suited for the education of children and not merely the management of a corporation.”

Quinn declined to take a position on the resolution this afternoon.

Reso Calling for Nys Ed Commssioner to Deny Waiver for Cathie Black[1]

By on November 17, 2010, 3:30 pm
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Great Outdoors
November 5th, 2010

Gotham Gazette parks writer Anne Schwartz filed this post.

Another antidote to the post-election blahs: leaf-peeping here in the five boroughs. The New York Times has a nice piece today on some of the city’s leafier and less traveled realms.

An escape to the city’s great outdoors, even with the “din of traffic in the distance” and the occasional litter, may also offer some insight into why voters passed more than 80 percent of the parks and conservation funding ballot initiatives nationwide while sweeping anti-tax and spending candidates into office. With the budget-cutting to come, New York’s parks and open space advocates have an uphill battle to protect Pouch Camp and fund state parks, but clearly protecting and creating green space remains a public priority.

By on November 5, 2010, 3:48 pm
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Running for the Bench
October 29th, 2010

We’ve just added the contests for State Supreme and Civil Court judgeships to our Guide for the Last Minute Voter.

By on October 29, 2010, 2:25 pm
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Critics Say Study is a Sham (Update)
October 27th, 2010

living

Advocates and council members gathered on the steps of City Hall today to slam a city commissioned study on living wages, calling it “smoke and mirrors.”

The $1 million study, which is being conducted by Boston-based Charles River Associates, will examine the sustainability of a living wage policy in the five boroughs. A bill to require living wages at city-subsidized developments is currently languishing at the council.

At issue is one economist on the study team — David Neumark of the University of California. Supporters of living wages say Neumark is inherently biased, having authored several studies critical of living and minimum wage policies.

“Hiring David Neumark to advise the city on wage policies is like hiring a global warming skeptic to evaluate the city’s greenhouse gas strategy,” said Paul K. Sonn of the National Employment Law Project.

The city Economic Development Corp., which commissioned the study after advocates started to call for living wages last year, argues Neumark is in the top 5 percent of economists. City officials point to studies where Neumark found living wages reduced poverty — albeit those studies show his “support” for the policy overall is tepid at best.

The city also says a diverse stakeholder group will review the study’s findings, which should be completed this spring.

All of those arguments aren’t silencing critics.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on October 27, 2010, 2:49 pm
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Ferreras Responds to Suit (UPDATE)
October 26th, 2010

We just received this from Councilmember Julissa Ferreras in response to the lawsuit brought by her former aide.

I have not been served with a copy of Mr. Castros complaint, so it is difficult for me to respond to allegations I have not seen. I can say, however, that I did not discriminate or retaliate against him for any reason and I am confident that his claims will ultimately be rejected by the court.

First reported in the Daily News today, the suit alleges Ferreras and her chief of staff, Yoselin Genao, taunted Steven Castro, a 24-year-old with cerebral palsy who worked for the councilwoman for approximately seven months. Castro also alleges he never received a steady paycheck.

This is the second time in a week Ferreras has made headlines. Ferreras, the former chief of staff to the recently indicted Hiram Monserrate, ran the nonprofit LIBRE, which was the subject of the aforementioned indictment.

Said complaint should arrive shortly, which we will post straight away.

Update: Here it is.

Castro Complaint

By on October 26, 2010, 4:36 pm
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Election Board Ousts Director
October 26th, 2010

After 22 years at the Board of Elections and only two months as executive director, George Gonzalez lost his job this afternoon. At its regularly scheduled meeting, the board voted six to zero with four abstentions to “terminate” Gonzales only a week before the general election.

The vote came after an hour-long executive session. In announcing the vote, board president Julie Dent did not say who would fill the post although deputy executive director Dawn Sandow delivered a report in Gonzalez’s absence.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on October 26, 2010, 4:28 pm
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Living Wage Waters are Choppy
October 26th, 2010

In the wake of Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s decision not to support paid sick leave, some City Council members and advocates are attempting to make waves on another issue: the living wage.

Currently two bills to require some sort of wage mandate at city-subsidized developments are treading water at City Hall. One would require a prevailing wage for building service employees, while the other would require a living wage for every worker on a city-assisted development, including the development’s tenants.

Quinn has not taken a position on either. When asked during her sick leave announcement earlier this month, she sidestepped the issue.

The issue came to a head last year when the council defeated a proposal to morph the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx into a shopping mall. The developer on the project would not agree to a living wage mandate — defined as $10 an hour with benefits — which is largely credited with killing the project. Photo credit: (cc) 2009  Atomische  Tom Giebel

In the latest feud, council members and advocates will gather on the steps of City Hall tomorrow to denounce a $1 million city-funded study on the effectiveness and success of living wage policies. The study was commissioned by the Economic Development Corp. and is being conducted by Charles River Associates — a consulting firm based in Boston. It is supposed to be completed by next spring.

The presser tomorrow, according to an advisory we just got, will “exposes Charles River Associates (CRA), EDC’s choice to conduct the study, as a business-backed lobbying group using economists who oppose living wage and even minimum wage policies for EDC’s study.”

The chief economist on the study is Daniel Hamermesh, a reputable professor at the University of Texas at Austin. David Neumark, a professor of economics at the University of California and a fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, is also on the study team. He has authored several studies questioning the sustainability of living wage policies.

The Bloomberg adminsitration said it would not consider a widespread living wage policy until the study was completed — a move some critics say is meant to stall the legislation at the City Council. Earlier this year, one administration official said the wage proposals could squash economic development and be potentially against the City Charter.

By on October 26, 2010, 12:39 pm
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Ballot Instructions, Day 2
October 22nd, 2010

The Board of Elections held an emergency meeting this afternoon to tell the city that the instructions on how to mark the ballot are perfectly clear and, if they aren’t, not to blame the board.

Yesterday the Brennan Center looked at a sample city ballot and discovered the instructions said to fill in the oval above or next to the preferred candidate’s name. Clear enough — except that the ovals are actually underneath the candidate’s names. (More on this below.)

At the meeting, board staff distributed a sample ballot to show how clear it is, since the bubble and the candidate’s name are within a clearly marked square. And they have a point: It is clear unless you read the instructions, which seem to contradict what most voters will see with their own eyes.

But actually there is no contradiction because, according to the board’s counsel, Steven Richman “next to” actually means “under.”

Richman and board executive director George Gonzalez said both the ballot design and the instructions comply with state law. In fact, Richman said, the legislature established the specific language last summer.

And its accurate in much of the state where the bubbles are, apparently, above or next to the names. (Here’s one from Erie County.) But New York City has always had a different ballot design, with choices for a particular office running horizontally instead of vertically and so the bubbles appear differently.

No one on the board thought to ask Gonzelez whether anyone noticed the discrepancy between the ballot and the instructions for marking it.

Or , as Gonzalez might say, what discrepancy?

“I don’t see a problem at all,” he said “We are doing everything in accordance with the law.”

By on October 22, 2010, 4:32 pm
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Up and Down at the Board of Elections
October 21st, 2010

The Board of Elections has come in for a lot of criticism from city politicians since the various screw-ups during the September primary.

Now the Brennan Center reveals another gaffe that harkens back to the Palm Beach County butterfly ballot fiasco of 2000.

A sample ballot given to the center by the board (and pictured here) tells New Yorkers to vote for a candidate by filling in “the oval above or next to the name of the candidate.” According to the center, similar instructions will be posted in privacy booths. Actually, though, voters should fill in the box under the name of the candidate. As It’s a Free Country points out, the instructions could leave a voter wanting to cast a ballot for Carl Paladino on the Taxpayers Party line actually voting for the Green Party’s Howie Hawkins, whose tax policies differ rather radically from those of Paladino.

In a letter to the attorneys for the city and state, the center asked that “the City Board of Elections take immediate action to correct this mistake to ensure that voters are not confused and that ballots are counted as they were intended to be cast.”

The instructions on the board’s web site simply say voters should “mark their choices on a paper ballot” without saying how. Apparently absentee ballots have the correct instructions indicating the board actually does know up from down — but not how to proofread.

By on October 21, 2010, 12:29 pm
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Sick Leave Dead?
October 14th, 2010

Council Speaker Christine Quinn will announce this afternoon that she won’t support the paid sick leave bill languishing in the City Council.

The bill, sponsored by 35 council members, would force businesses with fewer than 20 employees to provide five days of paid sick leave, while businesses with more than 20 employees would have to give nine days per employee. Other paid time off can be counted towards the sick time.

The bill was vehemently opposed by the city’s businesses community, including the powerful Partnership for New York City and all five chambers of commerce.

Most of the time, the speaker’s support, or lack thereof, will determine of the fate of all legislation. However, the majority of council members who do support the bill have one option.

To bring the bill to the floor, 10 council members must support a “motion to discharge,” which would give the full council an opportunity to vote on it. But they also must keep their solid 35-member strong support, otherwise the bill would not survive a mayoral veto.

The motion has only been used once, during the term limit debate. Other times there was talk of tapping the power, it was quickly quashed.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently called the bill “disastrous.”

There are all sorts of political calculations and angles to this news today, so stayed tuned for further analysis at Gotham Gazette.

By on October 14, 2010, 12:36 pm
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Canada's Connections
October 13th, 2010

Almost all charter schools seem golden these days — acclaimed in movies and by policy makers — regardless of their actual success, but none have shown so brightly as those operated by Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone. He’s in an American Express ad, featured in the documentary Waiting for Superman and appeared on David Letterman.

In today’s Times,, though, Sharon Otterman raises questions about the success of the zone’s Promise Academies. Building on a major report done earlier his year by Helen Zelon in City Limits, Otterman finds a mixed picture on school tests scores and notes that the school’s high per pupil costs cast doubts on whether the model could ever be extended. Promise Academy I’s pass rate on the standardized English exam is low for charter schools and below the citywide average. Only 15 percent of seventh grader met state standards on the 2010 English test and so on.

But Otterman does not mention — not even one word — the symbiotic relationship between Canada and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a mutual back scratching that has brought in money for Canada and political advantage for Bloomberg.

The details after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on October 13, 2010, 3:47 pm
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Paladino Wants to Frack
October 7th, 2010

All the conversation about Carl Paladin’s three minute commercial (link to video here) seems to revolve around his comments about Andrew Cuomo’s “prowess.” As a policy site, we’ll skip ahead to one of the few policy positions Paladino set out in his statement: his support for natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation in the southern tier of New York.

Paladino called it “safe, clean environmentally sound drilling for oil and natural gas” and, he said, it will create 50,000 jobs.

As the state Department of Environmental Conservation mulls if and how to allow companies to extract the gas, David King reported here last week that opponents of the natural gas drilling are leery of both gubernatorial candidates. Meanwhile, opposition appears to be building at the grassroots as people fear the extraction process, known as hydrofracking, will contaminate the state’s drinking water, destroy farmland and threaten infrastructure.

Paladino’s job claims is open to debate, too, critics saying out of state crews — not the upstate’s unemployed – will be hired to drill.

By on October 7, 2010, 7:15 pm
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A Tale of Two Comptrollers
October 7th, 2010

One comptroller’s big loss came with another’s gain today.

Allan Hevesi, of course, ranks as the day’s big loser. The former city and state comptroller has pleaded guilty to felonies related to his steering a quarter of a billion in state pension money to an investment firm that gave him lavish overseas trips and contributed to his campaigns.

“Hevesi acknowledged receiving nearly $1 million in gifts in exchange for improperly favoring and approving a $250 million investment in Markstone Capital Partners, L.P. from the New York State Common Retirement Fund,” a statement from the office of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said.

Hevesi, who was released on his own recognizance, faces up to four years in prison.

But the bad news for Hevesi came with good news for his successor: current State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. DiNapoli, who is running to win election to the post he has held since being appointed in 2006, has been dogged by charges and rumors that Cuomo’s long-running probe of skullduggery at the pension fund could reach him. Today though Cuomo gave DiNapoli a clean bill of health. (For the record, although both men are Democrats — and although DiNapoli backs Cuomo — Cuomo has not yet endorsed DiNapoli.)

The statement after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

By on October 7, 2010, 2:19 pm
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Sick Leave Movement
October 7th, 2010

We got word Council Speaker Christine Quinn is sitting down with supporters and opponents of the sick leave bill today in hopes of potentially finding a compromise.

Supporters of the proposal, which would require businesses to provide sick days, take the sit-down as a good sign, saying the speaker has expressed willingness to create an open dialogue and negotiate.

One critic of the bill seemed less optimistic — saying only to check back in tomorrow.

Just last week, the opposing sides released dueling studies on the bill’s impact. The study from the Partnership for New York City put the proposal’s price tag at $789 million annually, while a study from the Drum Major Institute said it would have no deleterious effect on city business.

After the sit-downs were scheduled, a rally scheduled for this morning by supporters of the bill was abruptly canceled.

By on October 7, 2010, 2:14 pm
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Stringer Responds to Quinn... Again
October 5th, 2010

Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, both anticipated candidates for mayor in 2013, are once again clashing over a bill to count vacant buildings and lots stalled at the council.

After Quinn’s spokesperson responded to Stringer’s criticism in the Wonkster late last week, Stringer, once again, sent over a response.

This is the response to Quinn’s response to Stringer’s criticism. Follow me?

From Stringer:

Lets set the record straight: My 2007 report on vacant, under-utilized land in Manhattan produced major policy changes. As a result of these efforts, and with my strong support, Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell and Senator Jose M. Serrano introduced legislation in 2008which Gov. David Paterson signed into lawremoving special tax treatments for vacant residential sites above 110th street. The measure also provided financial incentives for owners who build affordable housing on these sites. In approving this bill, the state legislature took decisive action. But the city council has dropped the ball. With my endorsement, then Council member David Yassky introduced a measure calling for an annual citywide survey of such properties, to see if they could be used as new housing resources for homeless people, as well as hospitals, schools community gardens and the like. Armed with the results, we could fill so many unmet needs in our city. But unfortunately the legislation has languished in the city council without a full hearing or discussion. Then as now, I call upon the council to conduct an annual survey of vacant properties that could be transformed into vibrant new uses and benefit all New Yorkers.

By on October 5, 2010, 8:11 am
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Quinn, Stringer Showdown?
October 1st, 2010

Yes, both are potential mayoral candidates in 2013.

It might be a little early for a full-blown rivalry, but Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer definitely disagree on a proposal to survey the city’s vacant properties stalled at the City Council. The bill, which has 28 sponsors, would create an annual accounting of all of the city’s vacant buildings and lots.

The group pushing the proposal, Picture the Homeless, hope it would spur the development of those properties as temporary housing for the homeless. Quinn said this week the survey would be “enormously expensive” and the money for it would be better used serving the homeless.

In response to our reporting on the issue, Stringer sent over the following statement.

I am disappointed that the City Council quashed legislation that would survey vacant buildings throughout the city, in order to identify new sources of temporary housing for the homeless.

In 2007 I released the results of Manhattan’s first ever survey of vacant properties, finding that there is a significant number of vacancies in the borough representing potential for thousands of new affordable housing units. Along with the results, I proposed an annual survey of vacant buildings which had been actively backed by Anti-Homeless organizations. Although there is a cost to this idea, its potential long-term value to the city is so obvious.

If a citywide vacant lot count would indeed cost millions of dollars, then I believe we should look to more creative options, rather than throw up our hands and pull the plug on this important initiative.

One possible approach to a vacant lot count that keeps costs low would be to utilize volunteers from the Mayors NYC Service program. The City already dispatches volunteers for its annual street homeless count, so this approach would not be without precedent. And, to be honest, counting vacant lots isnt rocket science. It would require a minimal amount of training. Most able bodied New Yorkers interested in enhancing the long-term vitality of their communities could make a positive contribution by participating in a city-wide vacant lot count.

I call on the City Council to reconsider this decision and let this badly-needed housing program go forward. We cannot afford to be pennywise and pound foolish at a time when the recession has made day to day survival for the homeless tougher than ever.

In response to Stringer’s statement, Maria Alvarado, Quinn’s spokesperson, said the bill at the council would require the survey of vacant buildings, which is “more complicated” than just counting empty lots. The council applauds the borough president for his study, Alvarado said, but simultaneously asks what “clear policy changes” came out of it?

By on October 1, 2010, 1:35 pm
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Quinn Reacts to Sick Leave Study
September 29th, 2010

For months, Council Speaker Christine Quinn has put off opining on a proposal to require paid sick leave in the city, saying she wanted to wait for the results of a study on the issue by business leader, the Partnership for New York City.

That study came out yesterday, saying the proposal would cost $789 million. Also yesterday, the Drum Major Institute released its own study on the issue, saying the proposal wouldn’t harm job or business growth.

Quinn — granted she has had only one day to mull it over — isn’t ready to say which one she sides with.

“I am considering all of the pros, all the cons,” said Quinn. “There are few bills that are perfect.”

She said the council was “reviewing” the studies and would make a decision on the bill, which has a super majority of support in the council, “very soon.”

By on September 29, 2010, 2:58 pm
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CBA Report From Liu is Here!
September 29th, 2010

The much anticipated report (well, for some of us) from Comptroller John Liu’s public benefits task force was released this morning, urging the city to adopt a new public process for community benefit agreements.

Having grown in popularity (included in Columbia redevelopment and in 125th street), the comptroller is calling for greater transparency, the inclusion of a consultant to coordinate the agreement and giving the comptroller’s office oversight over the agreements implementation.

The report is silent on the city’s Industrial Development Agency and its deals (which we covered extensively), despite Liu giving an early indication it might be included in the recommendations.

Enjoy!

PBA Task Force – Final Report[1]

By on September 29, 2010, 7:59 am
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