Reps request DOT signs for precincts

Council members Diana Reyna and Elizabeth Crowley together introduced a bill last week calling for the Department of Transportation to install signs around the city directing residents to their local precincts.
“People are often trying to find their police precinct in times of emergency,” Crowley said in a joint press conference last week on the corner of Fresh Pond Road and Catalpa Avenue down the street from the 104th Precinct. “They could be going down to file a regular report or a complaint, or if something serious happens and police need to know, often they come down to the precinct in person.”
The Department of Transportation (DOT) denied multiple requests from the representatives for precinct signs, so they drafted legislation, Crowley said.
The bill, they said, was constructed with the help of Ridgewood-based community groups and civic organizations.
Because the 104th Precinct is not on a main road but serves a large geographic area, Crowley said residents in Maspeth and Middle Village often have trouble finding it.
Since DOT directs pedestrians and motorists to hospitals, parks, museums, and even stores like Ikea, Crowley said it should follow suit that high-crime areas such as Ridgewood receive help finding their local law enforcement.
Although DOT does not comment on legislation before a hearing, Crowley said it will be in charge of deciding specifics, such as where on the street the signs are placed.
Reyna said a fiscal impact document will assess the cost of the signs. But Crowley said the cost shouldn’t be high, since DOT constructs its own signs in a warehouse in Maspeth.
A hearing will also be held regarding the bill, as part of the legislative process.
“In that hearing,” Crowley said, “we’ll hopefully hear from communities throughout the City of New York, and we’ll identify if the need is for every precinct.”
However, both Crowley and Reyna pledged to make sure the first precinct sign is installed for the 104th.
Reyna said the bill responds directly to requests from Ridgewood community members and local groups, such as Community Board 5.
“When we talk about government and access to government and transparency, it starts with the simple signage that indicates where people should go to access what is the basic function of having their local precinct,” she said. “Ultimately, this piece of legislation is necessary because it’s coming from the main advocate, the people of Ridgewood.”
Michael Hetzer of Citizens for a Better Ridgewood said it’s easy to find precincts that are on a main road, but many are tucked away on side streets. He agreed that the legislation came from the community.
“It is very organic,” he said of the bill, “and it seems very simple.”

Scandal at Wyckoff Hospital continues to unfold

Orange County Supreme Court Judge Elaine Slobod announced a decision earlier this week upholding reports that former Wyckoff Heights Hospital Center CEO Dominick Gio used a secret bank account to bribe an exiled – and now deceased – state Assemblyman.
Slobod’s decision came from a lawsuit filed by a former chief financial officer at the hospital, Wah-Chung Hsu, who was fired in 2010 and denied his $525,000 severance package. Hospital officials attributed the firing to “legal wrongdoing,” alleging that Hsu knew about the secret bank account.
However, Slobod ruled that there was no evidence that Hsu knew about the account or the bribes and decided he should get his severance.
According to the case, although 397 Himrod Corporation, which former Wyckoff Board Chair Emil Rucigay originally set up to buy real estate to build a new parking lot, was dissolved in 2001, as of 2008 there was $130,000 left in its bank account.
Former Far Rockaway Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio accepted $15,000 from Gio from the account in exchange for lobbying a deputy mayor for city property Wyckoff wanted to buy for a women’s health center, lawyers charged in a 2009 fraud case.
Seminerio died in a North Carolina prison last year.
Wyckoff Hospital has since experienced some major changeovers – with an interim CEO, Ramon Rodriguez, and a new board chair, Gary Goffner.
The hospital is currently under investigation by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office for conflicts of interest among board members and spending from former CEO Rajiv Garve, who allegedly used three hospital-owned cars, including a stretch-limo.
Board members declined to comment on the record about Slobod’s decision, but one said that none of the information revealed in the lawsuit came as surprise to the current board.

Council passes bill to control contract spending

On the same day that the parties involved in the CityTime scandal were ordered in Manhattan Federal District Court to pay more than $500 million to New York City, the Council passed a bill to require notification of cost increases for large contracts connected to capital projects.
Under the bill, the Council will be notified whenever a capital project contract worth at least $10 million is extended or modified in a way that increases its cost by 20 percent or more.
The bill would also require the city to notify the Council on any extensions or modifications that resulted in a 10 percent cost increase above the revised contract value, after the project is completed.
“It’s no secret, clearly, that the city has gone over-budget on many of its large projects,” Speaker Christine Quinn said before a stated meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, March 14. “These overruns have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.”
She said expensive contracts take money away from the city’s other important capital projects – such as schools, libraries, parks and infrastructure.
“The best way to limit cost overruns is to tightly manage contracts so that projects stay on budget,” Quinn said. “With timely notice to the Council when project costs start to climb, we can better monitor projects and contracts, we can determine whether it makes sense to continue to fund a project, or whether the city needs to make contract changes to check wasteful spending, or whether the city needs to walk away altogether.”
Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James, who sponsors the bill, said she brought CityTime to the attention of the Contracts Committee in 2008, while she was a member.
The CityTime contract was meant to monitor city employee timekeeping and to keep public workers from reporting false overtime hours. But lengthy delays and cost overruns led to a federal investigation into the contract.
Now, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who received much of the blame for the CityTime scandal, must sign off on the contracts bill before it can take effect.
Also currently under investigation, which James said she helped bring to light, is a $380 million emergency communications transformation program, a contract which later ballooned to $666 million.
James said that contract costs increased more than twice the rate of overall budget spending in the last five years, equating to more than $10 billion in spent public funds. The majority of such expenditures pay for personnel and professional service contracts.
“There has been considerable evidence,” James said, “that some of these contracts are poorly managed and lack needed oversight.”

Council extends Rent Stabilization Law

The New York City Council passed a bill last week to extend the Rent Stabilization Law from April 1 of this year until April 1, 2015.
The bill was passed along with a Resolution declaring that New York City still experiences an affordable housing emergency.
According to a recent survey from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, there is a citywide vacancy rate of 3.12 percent. A vacancy rate below the 5 percent threshold demonstrates a housing emergency, according to Speaker Christine Quinn.
“Without the protections afforded to at least one million tenants through the rent stabilization law,” Quinn said before a stated meeting in City Hall on March 14, “renters would otherwise face an uneven playing field and many would be forced out of their homes, their neighborhoods, and maybe even the city.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg must sign off on the bill for the extension to be enacted.
Rent stabilization was created by the city in post-war 1969 when tenants were experiencing a sharp rise in rent. Currently, about one million apartments in the city are rent-stabilized, according to the city Rent Guidelines Board.
Tenants covered by the law are protected from rental increases and have the right to renew their leases.
Most rent-stabilized apartments are in buildings of six or more units that were constructed between February 1, 1947, and January 1, 1974.
Tenants who, after June 30, 1971, moved into buildings of six or more units that were built after February 1, 1947, are also covered by the law, according to the Board.
The law also allows the City Council to review information regarding housing supply and conditions to assess whether a housing emergency exists, according to Quinn.
“Extending this law is the right thing to do, it helps protect affordability in our neighborhoods,” she said.
According to Councilman Erik Martin Dilan, who represents Bushwick and Cypress Hills, the city Housing Commissioner reported in a recent survey that rental apartments are in the best condition ever in the city’s history.
“Additionally,” Dilan said in the stated meeting, “it showed that during a down economy, we’ve added about 100,000 units onto the rental market since the last survey three years ago.”
However, the downside is that many previously rent-controlled apartments became market rate in recent years, he said.

Crowley for a day

Grade-school students trailed alongside council members at a stated meeting in City Hall on Wednesday, February 14.
Among them was Sherin Shibu, a student at P.S./I.S. 113, who won an essay contest hosted by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s office and was selected to be a “Council Member for a Day.”
Winners of the contest, which is held in City Council offices across the city, get to participate in committee discussions and hearings, and sit with members during legislative votes.
“I felt it would be a good experience in deciding what I want to do,” Shibu said of why she participated in Crowley’s essay contest, which required students to write an autobiography, including why they wanted to be Council members for a day.
From the experience, Shibu said she might like to go into government when she grows up.
“It’s been great,” she said while standing in the Council Chamber before the meeting started. “I’ve learned how they conduct meetings and how you vote, and what work is done when you’re a part of the government.”
The most interesting part of her day, Shibu said, was a caucus meeting in which a group discussion on gender-equality issues was held.
“I think it should be equal,” she said. “We should all have equal rights.”

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