Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Three minutes? Transcript shows how DEIS hearing quickly went off track

This week AYR will look back at the 8/23/06 hearing on the Atlantic Yards Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), drawing on the official transcript.

More than 250 people signed up to speak at the hearing, which, if speakers had been kept to the three-minute limit, would've meant 750 minutes (12.5 hours) in speaking time alone. Needless to say, that didn't happen.

Hearing Officer Edward Kramer's unwillingness to keep some of the first 13 speakers, all elected officials, to three minutes, coupled with his incapacity to keep the crowd under control, made for a chaotic hearing. And while an ESDC spokeswoman insisted afterward that "ESDC followed our practices and policies regarding hearings. We intend to conduct the forums similarly," in the follow-up community forums, Kramer enforced the time limit by having the microphone turned off.

After the elected officials spoke, neither Debra Dawkins of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance (DBNA) nor Nets fan Tal Barzilai required Kramer to warn them to conclude on time.

Then things began to unravel, mainly due to the insistence by certain Atlantic Yards supporters that they had to be heard.

Nine requests to conclude

The first speaker who notably flummoxed Kramer was Karen Smith Daughtry, wife of the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, founder of the DBNA and signatory of the Community Benefits Agreement. (By the way, their daughter Leah Daughtry is CEO of the ongoing Democratic National Convention.)

The transcript of Karen Daughtry's remarks, reproduced in part, shows that, after warning Daughtry she had 20 seconds to conclude, Kramer asked nine times for her to finish. (Note that the term "Audience participation" encompasses a lot and that the transcription is inexact.)

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: My name is Dr. Karen Smith Daughtry. And I am a member of the Downtown Brooklyn Neighborhood Alliance otherwise known as DBNA, and a proud member of the House of Lord Pentecostal Church.

... I am particularly excited about DBNA's part in the Atlantic Yards project as it relates to the community, amenities and facilities' portion of the CBA where there will be a health and wellness pavilion, and offers of arena-related affairs an initiatives; parks and open space, a museum and library.

The educator that I am and having more than 35 years of experience working with youth, children and seniors, the possibilities of what an intergenerational initiative will bring for our youth, our seniors and our young people, bringing them together in this dismal time in our history as a nation, is one of the lights of hope on the horizon. As we stand here today at the Klitgord Auditorium --


THE HEARING OFFICER: Twenty seconds.

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: -- one of our alma maters of days of yours [probably 'yore'], the future of our youth is in jeopardy. On September the 8th, this year, 5,000 children will lose their after school care to a system which is not fully developed. The Day Care Direct Lease Program will be closed because the City is not renewing the direct leases which we've had the benefit for the past twenty years.

THE HEARING OFFICER: Please conclude --

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: Classes in already -- in already existing programs for young children are losing slots. The children now will get into trouble if they travel eighteen blocks unattended to go to an unsupervised program that has been set up to the demise of our community.

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Your time is up.

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: The families that will lose their --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Ma'am, your time is up. You have several pages, if you could let the next speaker --

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: No, well, I just got one or two more things to say as others have spoken longer than me.

THE HEARING OFFICER: You have ten seconds, ma'am and your time is up.

(Audience participation.)

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: I choose -- I choose to be remembered with those who plan for tomorrow. And I therefore, support the concept of providing support for our children in the dawn of life, for our youth in the prime of summer of their lives and our seniors in the autumn and the winter of their lives. I believe that one of the ways this can be actualized is through --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Your time is up.

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: -- is through DBNA --

THE HEARING OFFICER: The next speaker, please.

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: -- community amenities and facilities --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Ma'am, your time is up.

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: -- and the position in the CBA. I, again, repeat the words of Malcom X --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Ma'am, your time is up.

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: -- so the power belong to those who plan for it today and I choose to plan for it tomorrow --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Ma'am, your time is up.

MS. KAREN DAUGHTRY: -- by being in support of this project today.

(Audience participation.)

Nearly six minutes

Only a bit later in the hearing, her husband, the Rev. Herbert Daughtry, spoke for 5:45, albeit with interruptions.

I can't do justice in describing Daughtry's passionate, combative, and triumphant sermon, in front of many cheering followers and some jeering project opponents.

However, the partial transcript suggests that Kramer just gave up trying to enforce the time limit, as he stopped requesting that the speaker to conclude.

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: ...Let me speak -- let me speak more specifically to the area that we are engaged. You heard my beautiful wife of 44 years. My children are here. They were born here in Brooklyn. I came to Brooklyn 65 years ago. I'm 75. Most of my years were spent in Brooklyn.

We support this project because --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Twenty seconds.

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: -- it will provide an intergenerational center. And guess what, guess what, we have participated in the design of the complex. It will provide a health facility in a community that is starved for health facilities. It will provide a place for our young, a place for the seniors, a place for the youth to come together in an atrium designed by us.

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: We support the project --

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: -- and I ask the question --

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: -- I ask the question, I ask the question, listen, I ask the question, why are we holding against Forest City Ratner when all around Brooklyn development is going on with non-union work --

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: Build in Brooklyn first. On with development of this
project --

(Audience participation.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: Can everybody please sit down. Can everybody please sit down. Reverend, if [you] could conclude your remarks, please. Thank you.

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: (Indicating.)

THE HEARING OFFICER: If you can please conclude your remarks. Thank you.

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: And let me conclude -- I thank you for allowing me time. Thank you for your support. I'm only trying to say I appreciate even the opposition. Perhaps if I were you I'd argue the same way. I don't think so, but I'm concerned about the community and I've always been.

But listen, Forest City Ratner isn't even the largest development plan in Brooklyn. Downtown Brooklyn plan, why don't you protest against that?

[Well, some people did protest it, but the difference is that the Downtown Brooklyn rezoning was approved by the City Council, while Atlantic Yards, given the state override of zoning, is essentially a private rezoning.]

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: That bank -- listen, listen. That bank that you hold sacred, the Williamsburg Bank, guess what, the developer said ain't going to be no affordable housing. That's what they said. Protest against that.

[Indeed, the condo conversion is as of right and need not include affordable housing--and there are tax breaks to boot, a sign that the city and state moved too slowly in reforming the 421-a tax break. But developer Forest City Ratner promised from the start that the bank's iconic clock would not be blocked.]

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: Why don't you cry over that?

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: And so I conclude. Thank you for the time. I conclude. Let me finish.

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: Let me finish.

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: Let me finish.

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: Let me finish. The Chairman has been kind. Just let me finish. I'll conclude this way. I'm an old man now. I've walked these valleys all over the world, --

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: -- from Belfast to Bangkok to Baton Rouge. I have fought for justice --

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: -- and rights for everybody. And now finally in my neighborhood, a few blocks from my church is an urban development --

(Audience participation.)

REVEREND DAUGHTRY: -- is coming on and I don't even have to take a cab or a plane, I can walk there. I say forward with the Atlantic Yards project.

(Audience participation.)

Another example

Later in the hearing, a representative of BUILD (Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development) was intent on describing the Community Benefits Agreement and went way over time.

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: ...There you will also find the School Based Workforce Development Program for youth in our school from grades five through 12; You also find the Church-based Employment Training & Educational Attainment Services Program for underemployed and unemployed adults out of school ages 16 to 25. You find for the highly educated brothers of which they doubt like myself, the Brooklyn Scholarship and Fellowship program for young black brothers and sisters between the ages --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Twenty seconds.

MR. DE SHAUN TAYLOR: -- of 18 and 23.

(Audience participation.)

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: How much time I have left? Okay. And to wrap it up, let me give you my best twenty seconds on my final point. We have brought a $4.2 billion project to Brooklyn, New York. Let's understand that very clearly. What I am suggesting and my recommendation to the CBA and to the fine Speaker here, is that along with this $4.2 billion project we need to have a program called the Free Enterprise Institute of Education that focuses on entrepreneurial sciences and focuses on business development, okay --

(Audience participation.)

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: No, no, hold on now. We need to teach our people, we need to teach our people collectively in Brooklyn, New York, what does is mean to create a $4.2 billion project. What does it mean to --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Please sum up.

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: -- have economic analysis -- Hold on one second.

(Audience participation.)

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: What does it mean -- what does it mean to have economic analysis in our community to project the next profit gain. And for all the people who are against -- no.

THE HEARING OFFICER: Mr. Taylor, your time is up. Your time is up.

(Audience participation.)

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: Well, Mr. Speaker --

(Audience participation.)

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: -- I ask you for a little more time.

THE HEARING OFFICER: Thank you for your comment. You can submit your comments. Sir, your time is up.

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: All right. I can deal with that. But let me tell you --

(Audience participation.)

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: -- on our time of political uncertainty --

(Audience participation.)

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: In our time of political uncertainty we --

THE HEARING OFFICER: This gentleman, please come to the microphone. Thank you.

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: Okay. You want me to go public with that statement?

THE HEARING OFFICER: You can do whatever you want, sir.

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: Okay. In our time --

THE HEARING OFFICER: Time is up.

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: -- of political uncertainty -- on our time --

THE HEARING OFFICER: The next speaker --

MR. DESHAUN TAYLOR: -- in our time of war, what we need is balanced -- balanced politics. We need --

A moment of levity

THE HEARING OFFICER: The next speaker is Eric McClure.

(Audience participation.)

MR. ERIC MCCLURE: Do I have three allotted minutes or three of his minutes?

THE HEARING OFFICER: Hopefully three of my minutes.

MR. ERIC MCCLURE: My name is Eric McClure and I am here this evening as Atlantic Yards Campaign Coordinator for Park Slope Neighbors....

I was going to start with a critique of the ESDC, but since its actions have shown that it obviously just doesn't give a damn, I won't waste my breath.

(Audience participation.)

MR. ERIC MCCLURE: Suffice it to say the ESDC is a walking advertisement for Public Authorities reform.

Later on

Apparently even more people signed up to speak, since at about 8 pm, Kramer made the following announcement.

THE HEARING OFFICER: We have been here a little over four hours straight now. We still have registered speakers. However, in view of full disclosure, we still have, on my estimate, it's about 250 to 300 more registered speakers.

The essential complaint

More people might have spoken had the time limits been adhered to. And the evidence generally supports the complaint made by JoAnne Simon, district leader for the 52nd Assembly District, who wrote to the ESDC:
While generally respectful of witnesses [hearing officer Edward] Kramer had a heavy hand on the time clock for those who were testifying about environmental impacts, allowing project supporters to preach and scold well beyond the 3-minute limit... Had such testimony been remotely on topic, I might be less offended, although it still would have been unfair.

He didn't have a hand on any time clock, as far as I can tell. While some project opponents offered their share of jeers and unseemly behavior, those who testified were more respectful of time limits.

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