Monday, June 22, 2015

The Atlantic Yards CDC, conflict-of-interest, and the not-so-affordable "model" building

Remember how the Atlantic Yards Community Development Corporation (AY CDC) was set up "to improve oversight and monitoring of the project," with the appointed board "responsible for monitoring the delivery of public commitments related to the project by making recommendations to the ESD [Empire State Development] Board of Directors"?

And remember how I (and others) raised the issue of a blatant conflict-of-interest, given that two appointees, Bertha Lewis and Sharon Daughtry, are connected to groups that signed the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with developer Forest City Ratner, and have been funded by Forest City?

Well, we have an answer, and its not pretty. A document released after the AY CDC meeting last month answered--sort of--the question about conflict of interest:
a. Conflict of Interest
All Board members are required to comply with Section 74 of the Public Officers Law which governs conflicts of interests. Board members have been instructed to recuse themselves from any votes which may create a conflict of interest for them based on their outside activities, employment or business interests.
(Emphasis added)

That's hardly convincing. The work of the board goes well beyond voting, as it encompasses what topics are given attention, or not. Lewis, former head of ACORN and now leader of The Black Institute, is one of the few people on the board with expertise in housing issues.

Last week, she hailed a "100% affordable" building with most units way too expensive for her longtime constituency, as I wrote. She called "Pacific Park buildings... a model for how to build housing and communities that reflect the diversity, in every way, of our City."

She didn't comment on how the configuration--skewing to middle-income subsidized units--differs from the housing plan for Atlantic Yards she signed as head of New York ACORN. Nor how the configuration differs significantly from Mayor Bill de Blasio's overall plan for subsidized housing.

It's not surprising that a developer-prepared press release would include such cheerleading quotes--or even a completely misleading one from the head of ESD, the state authority that's supposed to shepherd and oversee the project.

But it's dismaying to think that such a comment comes close to oversight.

What's the boundary?

When I first asked about the conflict back in February, ESD attorney Robin Stout told me, "Purely as a hypothetical, if one of the elected officials decided to appoint someone from Forest City Ratner or [new partner] Greenland to the board, I'm not sure that that would constitute a conflict."

Stout pointed me to the Public Officers Law (excerpt), which includes boards of any public authority corporation, encompassing AY CDC:
No officer or employee of a state agency, member of the legislature or legislative employee should have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect, or engage in any business or transaction or professional activity or incur any obligation of any nature, which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his duties in the public interest.
... An officer or employee of a state agency, member of the legislature or legislative employee should not by his conduct give reasonable basis for the impression that any person can improperly influence him or unduly enjoy his favor in the performance of his official duties.
This passage--Section 74 of the Public Officers Law, as noted above--continues to raise a red flag.

Remember, as the December 15 groundbreaking for the 535 Carlton tower loomed last year, the AY CDC did not exist, though it was supposed to meet by then. At the last moment, the ESD stated the CDC had been established, but would not meet until January 30. (Actually didn't meet until February.)

"The January meeting allows local elected officials sufficient time to identify their appointments to the AY CDC," the state said, "as well as sufficient time for appointees to complete their ethics and background checks." 

What exactly were they checking?

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous11:10 PM

    Generally great website, 99% incredible, but we are suggesting a correction, or please offer a footnote and some supporting material for this unconfirmed claim: "(Bertha)Lewis, former head of ACORN and now leader of The Black Institute, is one of the few people on the board with expertise in housing issues."
    What constitutes "expertise in housing issues" ?please,citations.

    ReplyDelete
  2. http://www.politico.com/arena/bio/bertha_lewis.html

    ReplyDelete