Skip to main content

Public Advocate de Blasio pushes (voluntary) transparency for Council earmarks, discretionary funds from mayor and borough presidents

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio announced on February 24 a new government web site that will detail how elected officials--City Council members, the mayor, and borough presidents--spend discretionary funds.

It's a good idea, but, as the Daily News noted in an editorial today, a web site based on voluntary compliance isn't enough.

Moreover, as the Daily News pointed out, City Council President Christine Quinn "should have instituted this type of disclosure long ago" regarding "the Council's $50-million-a-year slush fund... a font for thievery." (Indeed, former Council Member Miguel Martinez is n prison and Council Member Larry Seabrook has been indicted.)

Public Advocate or Comptroller

I'll add that it's not necessarily something the Public Advocate must do, since Comptroller candidate David Yassky had the same idea during his campaign, and even set up a web site, It's Your Money NYC, featuring 2009 budget data (but not 2010 budget data), albeit limited to Council Members.

The value of transparency

Such transparency should be part and parcel of city government. I had to request capital budget data last year to learn, as I wrote last May, some $24.6 million, more than a third of Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's 2009 capital budget, was directed to the $64 million amphitheater planned for Asser Levy Park in Coney Island, home of one of the two summer concert series Markowitz has long sponsored.

From de Blasio's announcement
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio today announced the new website Open Government NYC, which will make local public funding more transparent and accessible for all New Yorkers. The website will serve as a hub for elected officials to disclose grant applications they receive before making discretionary funding decisions. Open Government NYC will be an easy to use site for the public to search member items, or discretionary funds out of the expense budget, distributed by the Mayor, City Council, and Borough Presidents.

“Transparency is the best way to prevent potential fraud,” Public Advocate de Blasio said. “This new website will give New Yorkers a window into how their government works, and will provide an important safeguard against misuse of public dollars. I look forward to working with all my partners in government to bring a new level of transparency to City Hall.”

The new website, which will be up by mid-April, will increase transparency regarding budgetary decision making by showing detailed information on applications for discretionary funds.

Open Government NYC builds upon a series of measures implemented by Speaker Quinn and the City Council to increase transparency about city government. The website follows the model of the state’s Project Sunlight, which discloses statewide governmental information that is otherwise difficult to find.

Open Government NYC will be easy to use and allow visitors to search applications by date, applicant's name, and elected official. Government offices will be able to submit the information to the website. Participants will disclose their applications as they receive them and will disclose the member items they choose to fund immediately after the budget’s passage.

Participation will be voluntary and the Public Advocate will reach out to Council Members, Borough Presidents, and the Mayor to participate in this initiative.
Coverage in the Times

The Times reported, in an article headlined Public Advocate Wants to Shine a Light on Earmark Funds:
The proposal, which will be formally announced on Thursday, is designed to give the public a fuller picture of an opaque process that has led to a wide-ranging criminal inquiry by federal and city investigators. One former city councilman, Miguel Martinez, is serving a five-year prison sentence for absconding with $106,000, some of which was intended for nonprofit groups. Another councilman, Larry B. Seabrook, was indicted this month on charges that he fraudulently used city money to enrich himself, friends and family members.

City officials have long used the funds, known as earmarks, to aid nonprofit groups on small projects in their districts without going through a formal competitive bidding process. But investigations have shown that some of the nonprofit groups were fictitious or employed the relatives of lawmakers.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…

Former ESDC CEO Lago returns to NYC to head City Planning Commission

Carl Weisbrod, Mayor Bill de Blasio's City Planning Commission Chairman and Director of the Department of City Planning, is resigning,

And he's being replaced by Marisa Lago, currently a federal official, but who Atlantic Yards-ologists remember as the short-term Empire State Development Corporation CEO who, in an impolitic but candid 2009 statement, acknowledged that the project would take "decades."

Still, Lago not long after that played the good soldier at a May 2009 Senate oversight hearing, justifying changes in the project but claiming the public benefits remained the same.

By returning to City Planning, Lago will join former ESDC General Counsel Anita Laremont, who after retiring from the state (and taking a pension) got the job with the city.

Back at planning

Lago, a lawyer, in 1983 began work as an aide to City Planning Chairman Herb Sturz, and later served as the General Counsel to the president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation, Weisbrod himself.