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City Council Votes For Suspension, Against Expulsion of Council Member Andy King for Extensive Ethics Violations


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Council Member Andy King (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


The New York City Council voted on Monday to suspend Bronx Council Member Andy King for 30 days without pay and imposed several other disciplinary measures following repeated ethics violations by King that were recently substantiated by the Council’s ethics committee.

King, a Democrat, was the subject of a monthslong investigation by the Council’s Committee on Standards and Ethics, the Office of General Counsel, and outside prosecutor Carrie Cohen, who found that the Council member engaged in a pattern of harassment against aides, retaliated against employees who filed ethics complaints against him, fostered a hostile work environment, misused office resources, and allowed his wife, Neva Shillingford-King, to supervise office staff in clear conflicts of interest.

By a vote of 44-1, the full Council approved a resolution that contained 10 disciplinary recommendations based on a 48-page report from the ethics committee. Besides the suspension, King will pay a $15,000 fine, be removed from all committee positions, and his office will be placed under an outside monitor for the remainder of his term. King was the only member to vote against the resolution. Council Members Inez Barron and I. Daneek Miller abstained from the vote. Council Members Fernando Cabrera, Ruben Diaz Sr., Alan Maisel and Francisco Moya were absent from the hearing.  

The monitor will have the authority to review and approve all hiring and firing decisions for King’s staff and will have access to email accounts of King and all his staff members. The Council will also ensure that employees who left King’s office after facing retaliation will have the opportunity to return to Council jobs. If King does not abide by the disciplinary measures, the Council could reopen proceedings against him.

“Those violations outlined in the report are appalling, particularly coming from an elected official who is duty-bound to serve the public,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson, prior to the vote.

Speaking of the staffers that King had harassed and retaliated against, Johnson said, “I am sickened by what they have endured because of Council Member King’s odious behavior. As for Council Member King, I deplore his cowardice and the disdain with which he treated his employees, the committee, and this entire body.”

Though there have been calls for King’s resignation, including from Speaker Johnson, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller Scott Stringer, several Council members, and others, there was broad hesitation from Council members at expelling King from the body.

Council members worried that there may be legal consequences to going beyond the ethics committee’s recommendations. Speaker Johnson, a Manhattan Democrat, and Council Member Steven Matteo, a Staten Island Republican and chair of the ethics committee, repeatedly noted that King is facing the harshest punishment ever doled out by the Council and that the committee had undertaken a deliberative investigation and its recommendations were appropriate.

“The committee exhaustively deliberated and debated the terms of this resolution, and concluded that the suspension is significant enough that it will function both as a deterrent against future bad behavior, and also give us the chance to get a monitor in place in Council Member King's office who can develop a relationship with staff before Council Member King returns,” Matteo said on the Council floor.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, a Queens Democrat, was the only member to call for King to be expelled from the legislative body ahead of the vote. At Monday’s hearing, he introduced an amendment to the resolution to expel King, but it failed with 12 votes in favor and 34 against in the 51-seat chamber. Besides Van Bramer, the Council members who voted for the amendment included Costa Constantinides, Rafael Espinal, Rory Lancman, Carlos Menchaca, Bill Perkins, Keith Powers, Antonio Reynoso, Donovan Richards, Helen Rosenthal, Mark Treyger and Eric Ulrich. Council Member Mathieu Eugene abstained.  

Van Bramer said he felt compelled to introduce the amendment after King displayed a lack of contrition over his behavior. “While I was prepared to make the amendment, it was only after I heard Council Member King speak that I knew that I had to,” he said. “And the absolute lack of remorse, the absolute lack of even understanding that anything had been done wrong, anything, blaming other Council members, blaming lawyers, blaming staff. That to me is just even more of the pattern of behavior that brought us to this moment in the first place.”

The committee’s report noted that King was uncooperative throughout its investigation, seeking to delay and obstruct its work. At Monday’s hearing, King was defiant, alleging that he had been deprived of his due process rights and that the report contained “outright lies” about him. 

“I'm a man who's very respectful, full of integrity, stands for something, doesn't fall for anything and everything. And because people say things sometimes, don't necessarily make it true,” he said.

He even sought a temporary restraining order against the Council’s vote in Manhattan Supreme Court but was unsuccessful. He could possibly seek an injunction against the enforcement of the resolution but Johnson was confident that the Council’s move would hold up to legal scrutiny.

Matteo, however, rebutted King’s arguments, pointing out that King and his lawyers had ample time to respond to the committee’s charges and that King did not appear at a two-day trial held by the ethics committee. “Indeed, instead of cooperating Council Member King attempted to make a mockery of this committee, and the Council's rules and policies,” Matteo said.

This isn’t King’s first run-in with the ethics committee. He was previously disciplined for paying unwanted attention to a female staff member and ordered to undergo additional sensitivity training. That Council employee, Chloë Rivera, who now works as senior legislative policy analyst for the Committees on Women and Gender Equity and on Higher Education, revealed her identity in an op-ed in the New York Daily News on Monday, calling on the Council to remove King from office.

“Our elected officials must choose to set the right precedent,” she wrote. “They must establish a standard that worker abuse and witness intimidation and retaliation will not be tolerated, that repeat abusers are unfit to serve and will be removed from office.”

Several Council members who approved of Van Bramer’s amendment cited Rivera’s experience as the reason for their vote. Rivera previously worked as a legislative aide for former Assembly Member Vito Lopez and was among several aides who filed sexual harassment complaints against him. Lopez eventually resigned when threatened with expulsion from the Assembly. Rivera watched Monday’s hearing from the balcony in the Council chambers and later expressed her disappointment with the proceedings. “I'm very disappointed that the motion to expel did not pass but I am satisfied that he is going to suffer some consequences for his actions,” she told Gotham Gazette in a brief interview. 

Among the findings of the latest investigation into King was new evidence that the Council member had retaliated against Rivera after her 2017 complaint. At a staff meeting at his home, King disclosed Rivera’s name, questioned her integrity, and called on his staff members to be loyal to him. “Following my first complaint in 2017...he did not receive adequate consequences for his actions,” Rivera said Monday. “And so that resulted in a fallout, which ended up emboldening him and enraging him and taking it out on his staff. It's disappointing and I think it will put a chilling effect on other survivors or other victims from coming forward at the Council who are being victimized by members.” She hoped that the Council would consider strengthening its rules regarding harassment so that there are more clear-cut consequences.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group, which is made up of former and current aides to state legislators and has been leading advocacy efforts for stronger sexual harassment protections in the state and city, said the Council should not let King off easy.

“If the City Council wants to keep any credibility in the arena of sexual harassment protections, it must lead now, by setting the precedent that it will not tolerate harassment or retaliation against its own workers,” the group wrote in a statement. “City Council staff cannot afford to allow the Council to backtrack on progress made since #MeToo went viral. Anything less than expulsion will send a chilling message to victims that they will not only be denied justice, but they will not be protected from serial predators.”

Johnson has also referred the case against King to outside investigators, which could potentially mean criminal charges for the Council member. Johnson would not say which authorities he made the referral to.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated. 

Civilian Complaint Review Board Refutes Police Union's 'Myths' About Ballot Proposals and Its NYPD Oversight Work


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(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


The Civilian Complaint Review Board has responded to the Police Benevolent Association’s efforts to kill a ballot referendum that would enhance the agency’s powers. The CCRB began promoting a fact sheet on its website and social media Friday aimed at “correcting misinformation” days after the launch of the PBA’s campaign, calling the union’s communications “myth” as it seeks a “no” vote on ballot question two.

Last week, the PBA began urging its members and allies to vote “no” on the ballot proposal before voters this fall and has a statement of opposition to the measure in the city’s official voter guide, Gotham Gazette first reported. The set of proposals -- question two of five -- would amend the city charter to expand the CCRB’s operational capacity and jurisdiction, while also tweaking how appointments to the board are made and requiring more transparency and communication from the police commissioner.

All five ballot questions contain proposed changes to the charter developed by a multilateral commission tasked with examining the city’s central governing document. Voters can approve or disapprove of each during the October 26-November 3 early voting period or on Election Day, November 5.

Question 2 on the ballot includes four changes that CCRB officials say would improve the administration of its mandate and a fifth that would expand its jurisdiction to allow it to look into allegations of officers suspected of lying while under investigation for misconduct.

The administrative changes would allow the Board to delegate subpoena power to the executive director and guarantee its budget based on a formula tied to the NYPD’s officer headcount. The proposals would also increase the size and appointments to the Board and require the police commissioner to explain to the CCRB when deviating from the agency’s disciplinary recommendations.

Police reform advocates and the CCRB chair, Fred Davie, believe the changes to the city charter amount to a small shift in the powers and performance of the agency but will add layers of accountability to the police department. The CCRB is a civilian agency separate from the NYPD and tasked with investigating civilian-reported complaints of police officer misconduct in a limited set of circumstances: when excessive force or offensive language may have been used, or when police officers are said to have abused their authority or acted discourteously.

In opposing the proposed reforms in Question 2, the PBA, the city’s largest law enforcement union, posted to its website and social media claims that the measure constituted a large-scale “power grab” by a police oversight agency with a history of “anti-police bias.”

Debate over the ballot measure comes just months after the CCRB prosecuted Officer Daniel Pantaleo for misconduct in the arrest that led to Eric Garner’s death on Staten Island in 2014. That departmental trial led to Pantaleo’s dismissal by NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill despite the PBA’s assertion that Pantaleo did nothing wrong.

The CCRB fact sheet attempts to illuminate seven of what the page refers to as “myths” promulgated by the PBA as part of its campaign against the ballot measure.

Citing a statement of opposition submitted by the PBA and published in the city’s voter guide, the CCRB takes issue with the police union’s description of Question 2 as giving the CCRB “sweeping new powers.” The fact sheet emphasizes that only one of the charter changes -- the one dealing with suspected police lying -- would constitute a wholly new power. It notes, “The Board already has the authority to subpoena evidence,” and allowing it to delegate that power to the executive director simply makes the process “more efficient.”

The PBA statement in the voter guide, which is published by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Board, also says Question 2 would “drastically” increase the CCRB’s budget. If approved, Question 2 would guarantee the budget large enough to support a CCRB staff size equal to .65 percent of the police department’s headcount of uniformed officers. The fact sheet points out that the current budget ratio this year was only slightly lower, at .59 percent, than what would be guaranteed under the proposed amendment.

“Under this new requirement, we would continue to work closely with the Office of Management and Budget to determine the amount of funding necessary to maintain this level of staffing,” wrote CCRB Executive Director Jonathan Darche in an email to Gotham Gazette.

In its voter guide statement, the PBA asserts the ballot measure would “reduce the authority of the Police Commissioner.”

The CCRB fact sheet refutes that, stating: “The Police Commissioner would maintain the same level of authority over discipline, but the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Bureau would no longer be solely responsible for investigating false official statements made by officers during a CCRB investigation.”

The fact sheet does not mention the proposed change that would require by law the police commissioner to explain in writing any decision to impose a lesser form of discipline than the one recommended by the CCRB. That requirement already exists under a 2012 memorandum of understanding between the NYPD and CCRB, and would be codified in the city charter if Question 2 is passed by voters.

The CCRB also points to posts from the PBA’s Twitter account that accuse the CCRB of harboring “rampant anti-police bias” and calling it “an outrageously dysfunctional agency.” In response the CCRB cites its mandate to conduct “fact-based investigations of police misconduct” and points out that, according to its rules, one of each three-member panel, which make decisions on CCRB cases, must be a Board member designated by the Police Commissioner. On the matter of alleged agency dysfunction, the fact sheet points to upward trends over the last five years in number of cases closed and mediated.

In another tweet, the PBA stated: “By encouraging their clients to file false & frivolous CCRB complaints, [“criminal advocates”] can sidetrack court cases and get guilty gang members, drug dealers & thieves out of jail.” In response to this, the CCRB cites data on the number of unsubstantiated misconduct allegations it has processed.

“Of the allegations closed in 2018, 463, or 8% of total allegations, were unfounded,” the fact sheet states. It adds: “In the past decade, only 52 complainants have ever been found by the Agency to have made repeated unfounded complaints against officers.”

One of the PBA claims appears to refer directly to the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, the body that devised the proposed amendments, rather than to the CCRB. In a tweet kicking-off its vote “no” campaign last Monday, the PBA wrote, “Political extremists and cop-haters have been attacking NYC police officers in the streets for years. Now, they're doing it at the ballot box.”

In its fact sheet, the CCRB responds: “The Charter Commission, which ultimately decided what would and wouldn’t be on the ballot this year, was comprised of 15 members of varying backgrounds and degrees of support for police oversight. The Charter Commission Members were appointed by elected officials including the Mayor, Borough Presidents, and City Council Speaker.” City Comptroller Scott Stringer and then-Public Advocate Letitia James also appointed members.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Where Top City Officials Who Appointed the 2019 Charter Revision Commission Stand on Its Proposals


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(photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photo Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio and other top city officials have remained mostly quiet about their positions on a set of proposed changes to city government and elections, which are set to go before voters when early voting begins on Saturday. The five “yes” or “no” ballot questions include 19 distinct proposals from the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, whose members were appointed by the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, City Council speaker, and five borough presidents. Yet those same elected officials have been hesitant to say whether they approve of the commission’s recommendations.

While some of the city’s top elected officials, namely City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, have when prodded expressed their thoughts on some or all of the proposed charter amendments, Mayor de Blasio is said to still be reviewing the proposals and other top officials have been reluctant to opine on the potentially consequential changes.

The ballot proposals include instituting ranked-choice voting for some city elections, strengthening the city’s civilian police oversight body, and making various other changes to city governance, budgeting, and land use processes.

Gotham Gazette surveyed the city’s most powerful elected officials to find out how they plan to vote on the proposals and whether they have taken positions on any provisions in particular. Almost all of the elected officials contacted had at least one appointment to the body that created the proposed amendments (Williams is the exception given that he took over as public advocate after his predecessor, Attorney General Letitia James, had made the office’s one appointment to the charter commision).

Williams, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer have all indicated they support a “yes” vote on all five ballot questions. (Johnson had initially expressed enthusiastic support for a “yes” vote on question one, which includes instituting ranked-choice voting, and on the land use question, number five, then said he supports all five sets of proposals in an October 31 tweet to Gotham Gazette).

The commission was conceived by James and Brewer, and created through City Council legislation with the support of Johnson, who wound up with the power to appoint several members and the commission chair. Appointments were apportioned so that no one official or entity held a majority. Gotham Gazette contacted each of the appointing offices and received varying degrees of response, while Johnson and Williams made some of their thoughts known during a recent radio and podcast interview, respectively, as well as Johnson's subsequent tweet.

To amend the Charter, the city’s central governing document, the proposed changes must be approved by voters, who can weigh in either during the new nine-day early voting period October 26 through November 3, or on Election Day, November 5.

The commission developed the five questions, which encompass 19 individual measures to change city governance. As captured by the commission, each question covers a different category of potential reform: elections, Civilian Complaint Review Board, ethics and governance, city budget, and land use.

Question one, which mainly deals with ranked-choice voting, has garnered widespread support and almost no opposition, and could have a major impact on how party primaries and special elections work.

Together, the changes in questions two through five amount to a relatively minor retailoring of certain aspects of city government, not a large-scale overhaul. But, some of the provisions are considered important by various officials, experts, and interest groups.

Perhaps the most controversial changes voters will decide on related to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the city’s civilian police oversight agency that investigates certain allegations of police misconduct. One provision within question two would expand the jurisdiction of the CCRB to include prosecuting officers who lie while they are under investigation. That provision is being supported by many police reformers and opposed by the Police Benevolent Association (PBA), the state’s largest law enforcement union.

Another proposal, found within question four, to allow the city to use a “rainy day fund” for savings during times of prosperity is being supported by the Citizens Budget Commission and other fiscal watchdogs.

Mayor de Blasio has not taken a public position on any of the five questions or the specific proposed amendments they contain.

“Mayor de Blasio continues to review the Charter revision questions that will be on the ballot,” wrote administration spokesperson Will Baskin-Gerwitz in an email to Gotham Gazette. De Blasio appointed four of the 15 members of the Charter Revision Commission that devised the proposals, two of whom currently serve as top officials in his administration.

While still avoiding a public position, Baskin-Gerwitz says the mayor “encourages every New Yorker to do their civic duty and have their say on their city’s Charter after early voting begins on October 26 or on Election Day November 5.”

De Blasio’s non-position on this year’s proposed charter amendments contrasts with his push last fall to secure a “yes” vote on the three ballot questions last year, placed on the ballot by a charter revision commission created and appointed entirely by the mayor.

Four of the officials contacted by Gotham Gazette have publicly expressed support for all five of this year’s ballot questions.

Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for Comptroller Scott Stringer, said he supports all five proposals but would not comment on any specific proposal nor whether he is urging New Yorkers to vote in favor of the amendments. Some of that hesitancy may be related to questions about whether elected officials are allowed to in their official capacities discuss items on an election ballot.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is “100% supportive of all five ballot questions and is urging New Yorkers to vote for them all,” according to her press secretary, Courtney McGee. McGee did not elaborate on any of the positions or what outreach Brewer has done. There are major questions about how many New Yorkers actually know about the ballot questions and the ability of the Charter Revision Commission to get the word out, especially with limited help from top elected officials.

On the Max & Murphy podcast, Public Advocate Williams said, “I am in favor of voting ‘yes’ on all of the ballot initiatives, including ranked-choice voting.” A number of the proposals deal directly with the office of the public advocate. Two of the provisions would give the public advocate an appointment to the Conflicts of Interest Board and Civilian Complaint Review Board, and another would guarantee the public advocate’s budget at a set minimum calculated based on the size of the overall city budget.

“If people come out and vote, [we] may have an independent budget, which I think is critical. It sucks if you have to go ask the people for money that you are supposed to hold accountable,” Williams said.

Johnson, who appointed four charter revision commissioners including the chair, spoke about two of the measures -- ranked-choice voting, and changes to the city’s land use process -- on The Brian Lehrer Show on Monday. He said he supported both -- which are parts of question one and five, respectively -- but did not discuss any of the other proposals. Johnson’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article, but the speaker then made his opinion clear in the October 31 tweet.

Other officials have either weighed in on specific aspects of the ballot questions, did not respond to requests for comment, or declined to comment.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams “supports ranked-choice voting, and encourages New Yorkers to support it,” wrote Jonah Allon, an Adams spokesperson, in an email.

“He has also been a strong champion of police accountability and transparency dating back to his days serving in the NYPD, and supports any proposal that would further the goal of making police more accountable, while upholding the public safety gains we’ve made in recent decades,” Allon wrote, apparently referring to the amendments related to the Civilian Complaint Review Board. He did not clarify whether the borough president explicitly supports that ballot question or others.

“We are closely reviewing the other questions, and encourage a robust debate in the weeks ahead to ensure all New Yorkers are informed and make their voices heard on these important proposals,” added Allon.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, the lone Republican with an appointment to the charter commission, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

A spokesperson for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz declined to comment. Katz is the Democratic nominee for Queens District Attorney, appearing on the ballot in her borough along with the charter questions, and expected to win that election easily.

Attorney General Letitia James, who as public advocate co-sponsored the legislation creating the charter commission and appointed one of its members, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Some officials or their representatives expressed trepidation about whether they were allowed under the city’s conflicts of interest law to promote their positions on ballot questions at all. During his conversation with Lehrer, Johnson made sure to indicate he was talking about his personal, not official, positions on ranked-choice voting and other measures.

A Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) representative said they could not comment on general policy matters related to elected official conduct, but added in an email, “To the extent that elected officials may not understand the scope of the application of the conflicts of interest law to their conduct you should feel free to refer them to us.” The spokesperson said they could not respond to a question asking whether any officials had sought clarity from COIB on publicly promoting their positions on the referenda.

Johnson, Adams, Stringer, and Diaz, Jr. are all Democrats expected to run for mayor in 2021, what would be the first city election to use ranked-choice voting should it pass.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been updated with Johnson's Oct. 31 tweet.



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