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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Members of New York City's Conflicts of Interest Board are Cited For Conflicts of Interest

Remember that a law is only as good as it's implementation, and when you have people who are not elected to their jobs, look at who appointed them when you want to know what they think and what they will stand for in terms of issues that may be important to you. The Conflicts of Interest Board seems to be as good as Mayor Bloomberg wants them to be. Right now in New York City, everyone is being sued and investigated by everyone else, so keep reading the news. Someone blew the whistle on COIB.


Appointed by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the City Council, the Board's five members serve staggered six-year terms and are eligible for reappointment to one additional six-year term. Under the Charter, the members must be selected on the basis of their "independence, integrity, civic commitment and high ethical standards." While serving on the Board, they may not hold any other public office or any political party office.


Steven B. Rosenfeld was appointed to the Board in May 2002 and was named Chair in June 2002. Now Of Counsel to Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, Mr. Rosenfeld’s litigation practice has spanned a variety of areas, with emphasis on securities, insurance and reinsurance, and complex trust and estate disputes.

Mr. Rosenfeld's active pro bono practice has ranged from Legal Aid cases, to criminal appeals, to a Texas death penalty case. In October 2003, he was elected as Chair of the Board of Visitors of City University of New York (CUNY) Law School, where he is currently teaching a seminar in Government Ethics.

Mr. Rosenfeld served as law clerk to the Honorable Charles M. Metzner of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, and as Deputy General Counsel of the New York State Special Commission on Attica. He is a past member of the Executive Committee and past Vice President of the Association of The Bar of the City of New York. He has been a member of the Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Society, and served as its President from 1989 to 1991. As a lecturer in law at Columbia Law School, he has taught in the Profession of Law and Trial Practice courses.

Mr. Rosenfeld graduated from Columbia College and Columbia Law School, magna cum laude.


Angela Mariana Freyre was appointed to the Board in October 2002 and reappointed in March 2005. As Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Legal and Strategic Affairs of the Nielsen Company, Ms. Freyre oversees major contracts and expands strategic relationships with Nielsen’s clients, industry groups, and other entities and supports Nielsen’s political and governmental affairs. Prior to joining Nielsen, Ms. Freyre was a partner of Coudert Brothers LLP, where she jointly headed the firm’s Latin American practice. She began her legal career at Mudge Rose Guthrie Alexander & Ferdon LLP, serving in both the New York and Paris offices.

Ms. Freyre is a member of the New York City Latin Media and Entertainment Commission; a member of the Task Force on Diversity in Film, Television and Commercial Production in New York City; a member of the Board of Trustees of The New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture, Inc.; and a member of the Board of Trustees of LongHouse Reserve.

Born in Havana, Cuba, Ms. Freyre is trilingual in Spanish, English, and French. She received her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College, her D.E.J.G. (Mention Assez Bien/Honors) from Université de Droit, d’Economie et des Sciences Sociales de Paris (Paris II), and her J.D. and her LL.M. (in International and Comparative Law) from Georgetown University Law Center. Ms. Freyre was also a Fulbright Lecturer at the Université de Droit, d’Economie et des Sciences Sociales de Paris (Paris II), where she established an American Common Law Program for l’Université de Paris II and authored Legal English II, a textbook published in France and used in the American Common Law Program of l’Université de Paris II and twelve other universities in France.


Monica Blum was appointed to the Board in August 2004 and reappointed in October 2006. Ms. Blum is the President of the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District, a position that she has held since October 1996, prior to the official formation of the business improvement district. Prior to that, sheworked as a consultant and legal advisor to the 92nd Street Y, which she joined in 1995 after more than 20 years in various senior positions in New York City government. She began her career as an Assistant to then Congressman Edward I. Koch in 1969.

Ms. Blum was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg to the Mayor’s Committee on Appointments in 2002, is the former President of the BID Managers’ Association, and is currently a member of the Association’s Executive Committee.

Ms. Blum graduated from Connecticut College and received a Masters of Arts in Russian Literature from NYU. She received her law degree from New York Law School after attending night school while working full time.


Andrew Irving was appointed to the Board in March 2005. Mr. Irving serves as Managing Director and General Counsel of Independent Fiduciary Services, Inc., a registered investment adviser that provides consulting and decision-making services to public and private sector benefit plans and other institutional investors. He leads IFS’ fiduciary decision-making practice, which focuses on providing independent, conflict-free, discretionary decisions regarding particular transactions or plan assets. As General Counsel, Mr. Irving also oversees IFS’ internal legal affairs. Prior to joining Independent Fiduciary Services, Mr. Irving was a partner at Robinson Silverman Pearce Aronsohn & Berman and Bryan Cave LLP, where his practice focused on employee benefits, labor relations, and collective bargaining matters, and also included representation of regulated companies in the telecommunications and energy industries. While at the firm he supervised its New York office’s pro bono activities, and mentored the Moot Court team from Brooklyn’s Thomas Jefferson High School.

After graduating from Yale College and Columbia Law School, where he was a member of the Law Review, Mr. Irving clerked for the Honorable Eugene H. Nickerson, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of New York.


Burton Lehman was appointed to the Board in July 2009. He is Of Counsel to Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP, a law firm which he helped to found in 1969. Mr. Lehman is an alumnus of Columbia College (A.B. 1962) and Columbia Law School (J.D. 1965, magna cum laude), where he was the Writing and Research Editor of the Columbia Law Review.

Mr. Lehman has been a lawyer, advisor and counselor throughout his career. His practice has been very broad-based, with an emphasis on financial and real estate transactions and partnership matters.

Mr. Lehman was Chairman of the Board of Governors of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion from 1997 through 2006. He continues to serve on that Board and is also a trustee of The HealthCare Chaplaincy. Mr. Lehman is a member of the Board of Visitors of Columbia Law School and was a trustee of The Town School from 1980-1989.

Mr. Lehman served as a law clerk to the Honorable Harold R. Medina, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Judicial Circuit, in 1965-66, and also was Associate Counsel to the Temporary New York State Commission for the 1967 Constitutional Convention.

Directory of Ethics Organizations

September 7, 2009
City Board Set Up to Monitor Ethics May Have Conflicts of Its Own

Ever since the New York City Charter was revised in 1989, public officials have been warned about trying to parlay their official positions into personal gain. And the powerful, if largely anonymous, body that keeps those officials in line, using the threat of hefty fines and even job termination, is the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board. [From Editor: You can buy the NYC Charter and other books on NY government]

But even as they scrutinize the ethics of others, several board members, all five of whom were appointed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, have ties to city funding and the mayor’s fortune that raise questions about their own potential conflicts.

One member, Monica Blum, testified at a recent City Council hearing in favor of a project that would benefit the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District, a group for which she serves as president.

Another member, Angela Mariana Freyre, was once a registered lobbyist who, city records show, tried to influence both the mayor’s office and the City Council while on the board — even though the City Charter forbids that.

Several members — including the newest one, Burton Lehman, a former general counsel at the real estate developer Tishman Speyer — sit on the boards of nonprofit groups that have received city contracts or have accepted charitable money from Mr. Bloomberg.

Such affiliations are legal. But when it comes to government ethics, perception is often as important as reality, and watchdog groups say the board members, all lawyers, are doing a poor job of proving that they are independent and not beholden to the mayor’s wallet.

“Fair or unfair, being on the Conflicts of Interest Board, you have to be above reproach,” said Gene Russianoff, senior lawyer at the New York Public Interest Research Group. “I do not think being on the boards disqualifies you, but for the best appearance, you should think long and hard about resigning your post or suspending your involvement during your term on the conflicts board.”

Richard Briffault, a Columbia Law School professor who was a consultant to the 1989 Charter Revision Commission that created the board, was even more blunt.

“Somebody who’s on the board shouldn’t be a lobbyist, and somebody who’s on the board shouldn’t be someone for whom the success of their job depends on working closely with city government,” he said. “If the people in charge of policing the rules are not following the rules, that’s a problem.”

But Steven B. Rosenfeld, chairman of the conflicts board, expressed confidence that members, who are appointed to six-year terms, had assiduously avoided any compromising situations and said the notion that members should forsake their charitable activities was shortsighted.

“The things that you mention, while they are theoretically a problem, I think the fix would be worse,” said Mr. Rosenfeld, who has been on the board since 2002. “If you say you have to step down from your charitable activities and you’ve got to circumscribe whatever else you do in life, I think you would have a Conflicts of Interest Board composed of the people you don’t want — not public-spirited people — and I think it would make for a very cloistered board.”

He said the mayor’s wealth had played no role in the board’s judgment. Some members, he added, were not aware of the mayor’s philanthropy or the city’s grants to the groups they were involved with; and much of the board’s work is handled by its staff.

“I really do reject the suggestion that we’re giving anyone any easy ride because of who they are or how much money they have,” he said.

Still, the board was roundly criticized last year for allowing the City Council to tear up the term limits law, a move that Mr. Bloomberg supported so he could seek a third term.

Nor did it help when the board allowed Joel I. Klein, the schools chancellor, to raise millions of dollars for his national nonprofit education group last fall using city resources and on city time. By contrast, the board fined Susan Finkenberg, who was a lawyer for the city’s Human Resources Administration, $1,500 last month for using her city-issued LexisNexis password to look up 31 people, including several law school classmates. “Personal, non-city purposes,” the board ruled.

Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a nonprofit government watchdog, said, “There may be reason to question how strongly they are monitoring the activities of senior administration officials, given that they have ruled against a number of lower-level city employees for rather minor mistakes or judgments and then appear not to be as equally fair-minded in their review of higher-level folks.”

Mr. Rosenfeld disagreed. “These critics don’t read about the many, many times every week in which we’re saying ‘No’ to these people,” he said. “We haven’t kept score, but I can guarantee you, the number of calls from City Hall to 2 Lafayette Street, bouncing things off — ‘Can we go there?’ ‘No, we shouldn’t’ — are vastly more in this administration than before.”

Until last year, Mr. Rosenfeld was on the board of the New York Theater Workshop, which has received $261,000 in grants from the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs since 2002 and more than $70,000 from Mr. Bloomberg, according to city records. Mr. Rosenfeld said he would leave the boardroom when city funding or outside grants for the workshop came up for discussion.

Ms. Freyre, who has been on the conflicts board since 2002, has been on the board of the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture since the mid-1980s. The school has received $150,000 from Mr. Bloomberg since 2002, and more than $60,000 in city grants in the last two years, records show, but Ms. Freyre said she had always recused herself from any dealings with the city.

“I have made it extremely clear on every single not-for-profit board that I cannot in any way, shape or form use my position in any way, or approach any official in any way,” she said.

Stu Loeser, Mr. Bloomberg’s chief spokesman, said the mayor gave $235 million in 2008 to more than 1,200 groups. “It would be a lot more surprising if you took any group of civic-minded New Yorkers and there wasn’t any overlap at all between any of the groups they and he support,” he said.

Ms. Freyre was also an unpaid lobbyist working on behalf of the Nielsen Company from April through December 2004. Her role, according to city records, was to promote a viewer ratings system that critics contended underrepresented black and Hispanic consumers.

But Ms. Freyre, who is now Nielsen’s senior vice president and deputy general counsel, contended that all she did was attend City Council hearings and join company officials at meetings with council members, during which she took notes, but never uttered a word.

“I was not lobbying; I was not advocating,” she said. “Advocacy means opening your mouth and trying to persuade someone they should or should not do something.”

In Ms. Blum’s case, the group she presides over, the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District, has received nearly $20,000 in city contracts since she joined the conflicts board in 2004.

In May, when Ms. Blum testified at a Council hearing about a Fordham University expansion project in the district, she did not mention her position on the conflicts board.

Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer, who represents the area, said Ms. Blum’s presence made her uncomfortable. “Anybody who testifies should disclose any interest or potential interest,” she said.

Ms. Blum referred calls for comment to the board. Mr. Rosenfeld, while noting that he was not briefed on the details of this case, argued that it would have been more problematic had she mentioned the board, because council members might have felt more pressure.

Still, the board has proposed changes to the City Charter (known as Chapter 68) that would give it more autonomy through an independent budget and stronger investigative powers. Membership guidelines would also be amended. Though the charter says a member cannot “appear as a lobbyist before the city,” the new proposal would permit members to appear, either on their own or on behalf of their employers, before any city agency except the conflicts board.

“Members of the board have other lives,” Mr. Rosenfeld said, “and if their duties in their other life suggest that they must appear before a city agency, as long as it’s not involving Chapter 68 or the board itself, I’m not sure that there’s a problem there.”

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