Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Three years after complaint, Williams departs Planning Commission with a $4000 fine; McRae the replacement

So, as first reported by Gotham Gazette on Tuesday, Dolly Williams, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's appointee to the New York City Planning Commission, has been fined $4000 for voting in favor of the Downtown Brooklyn Project in 2004, which contained a piece of the site for the Atlantic Yards project, for which she was already an investor.

(Here's the disposition. At right, copies of Williams's campaign contributions to candidates for city offices; the total, over more than a decade, is $18,800. Click to enlarge.)

The real question here is why it took the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) more than three years to reach a resolution after a complaint was filed by Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB). However, the board is prohibited by law from commenting beyond the disposition it issues.

It's not likely that the COIB was doing Williams any specific favors. Until this year, the board was fairly moribund, according to an 8/9/07 report in the New York Sun, headlined Conflicts of Interest Board's Enforcement Tsar Faces Off With Violators, this year issued 52 violations, the most ever in the board's history. The fines, however, have been relatively small, averaging a little over $1100.

In 2006, the board issued 19 violations, with an average penalty under $2000; in 2005, it issued 11 violations, with an average penalty under $3400. The maximum fine is $10,000 per violation.

From the COIB, here's a summary of enforcement dispositions; a discussion of the enforcement process; and an FAQ on enforcement.

Cost of doing business?

This resolution can’t be good for Williams’ reputation, but she did avoid any criminal proceeding. And from another perspective, it might be seen as a cost of doing business in New York. Consider that Williams last December gave a $4950 campaign contribution to Markowitz, which is nearly 25% more than the fine she paid.

Also consider that, as the Times pointed out, Williams earned $48,000 a year for part-time work as a commissioner.

McRae the replacement

Yesterday, Shirley McRae, longtime chairperson of Community Board 2, was announced as Williams' replacement. The Daily News noted the not-so-coincidental timing:
"We heard it a little while ago," said Markowitz when asked about the fines imposed on Williams, who was representing Brooklyn when she cast the vote.

Asked about the timing of his announcement of McRae and the news about Williams, Markowitz didn't deny a connection.


DDDB called McRae an "Atlantic Yards critic;" while she isn't a member of opposition groups, her board issued comments strongly critical of numerous elements of the project, including the use of eminent domain. (Credit for the response goes to District Manager Robert Perris as well.)

McRae wrote a strongly-worded letter to the Empire State Development Corporation criticizing the agency's oversight of the 8/23/06 public hearing on the Atlantic Yards project. She even has a cameo in the film Brooklyn Matters, enunciating firmly: “Whether you are for this project or whether you are against this project, the community needs enough time to review these massive documents

McRae Tuesday pointed out that, unlike Williams, she didn't have any potential conflicts. The Daily News reported:
"Not unless they plan to develop on my house," McRae said to scattered laughter. "I do not have any business interests. I do not do business with the city. I pay my taxes.

"At this time, I do not foresee any conflict where I would have to recuse myself from representing Brooklyn."


The back story emerges

So when Markowitz on October 5 announced "the joint decision that in this time of great growth and change in Brooklyn, when there are many voices seeking to be heard on land use matters, it would be best for a new appointee to assume the Planning Commission position," he surely knew that Williams was under investigation.

Thus, his unvarnished praise for Williams--that he has "been pleased with her service during her term as Brooklyn’s representative regarding land use matters and planning for the future of this borough and New York City"--ignored a breach of duty.

In other words, Williams's departure wasn't because (compilation via NoLandGrab) she had to recuse herself from voting on the Atlantic Yards project and a Gowanus rezoning effort. Nor because she illegally parked her yellow Porsche at a hydrant in Park Slope. Nor because her company has twice been charged with stiffing subcontractors and in one case was ordered to pay more than $200,000.

No, more likely it was because the DDDB complaint filed on 8/26/04--or, perhaps, another complaint, filed even earlier--finally gained some traction in the city bureaucracy.

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