Monday, January 9, 2012
Last Updated:12:14 AM, December 13, 2011
Posted:10:10 PM, December 12, 2011
City Councilman Larry Seabrook can afford a sigh of relief after the mistrial blocked a corruption conviction. But taxpayers can take no solace, for the abusive waste of “member items” underlying the case was irrefutable.
Council Speaker Christine Quinn should be held accountable; it's high time Mayor Bloomberg and the voters held her feet to the fire for the mismanagement of taxpayer dollars during the last decade.
Full disclosure: I’m a declared candidate for mayor in 2013, and Quinn is generally deemed the early front-runner. But, on this issue, the facts speak for themselves.
You see, the Seabrook scandal wasn’t an isolated action but part of a persistent pattern. The responsibility for deterring corruption in the City Council lies with Quinn, who has failed to hold her members accountable.
In April 2008, the putrid swamp of slush funds touched the speaker herself. Her office apportioned millions of member-item dollars for what The Post called “bogus” or “phantom” grant groups, so the speaker could ladle out the member-item gravy later, at more propitious political moments. Moreover, the speaker benefited from this trickery: The Post reported then that about a quarter of the mystery funds went to Quinn’s own district in Manhattan.
In June of 2009, it was revealed that Councilwoman Carmen Arroyo directed member-item dollars to a charter school headed by her nephew, who was forced to resign after being charged with embezzlement. The next month, Councilman Miguel Martinez resigned and pleaded guilty, admitting to stealing more than $100,000 that he had directed to a not-for-profit he controlled. More than half of those pilfered funds were member-item funds. Only after all that did the Seabrook case come to light.
A principled speaker would have connected these dots and moved decisively to close the doors for such abuses. But Quinn has instead preferred to go along to get along.
She keeps a breathless schedule of thinly veiled campaign stops, using her colleagues as validating props, rather than putting protections in place to protect taxpayers from her members’ avarice.
What could she have done differently?
First, set up an independent system to review the quality of member-item proposals. Independent eyes should provide a thumbs-up on substance before a project is funded.
Second, institute a system where no member item gets funded without a signed statement from the sponsoring member of the City Council. That statement would attest that the member (and also his or her family and staff) has no business relationship with and has received no money (even indirectly) from the entity receiving the member item.
Had this provision been in place, Arroyo and Seabrook’s actions would have beenper seviolations of City Council rules. This reform should be augmented by a state law, treating a violation as a felony.
Third, announce that no member items will be funded until both those reforms are enacted. Cutting off the slush-fund spigot would get her members’ attention.
In fact, if Quinn were serious about protecting taxpayers, she could put all three measures in place now.
Why does it matter? One, Quinn is a likely candidate for mayor, and this sordid litany of member-item abuses came on her watch. Is this how a Mayor Quinn would manage economic development dollars?
Two, our city can’t afford to waste any public dollars. We must cut the fat out of the budget so that we can invest in what we truly need, from effective schools to efficient mass transit.
The scandal over member items isn’t about any single member; it goes to the heart of how the City Council operates. It’s high time that Speaker Quinn did her job.
Tom Allon, president/CEO of Manhattan Media, is a candidate for mayor in 2013.