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Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Monitors and Special Masters Have Been Paid $111 Million In Public Funds To Fix NYC Failing Agencies


Eric and Bernard Adams

We read every day in NYC how our new Mayor hires his friends and family to work with himAfter the appointment of Bernard Adams as deputy police commissioner hit the news, Adams "demoted" his brother to head of security. As if this makes a difference. You decide how a change in title changes the implementation of the rules and law. (VERY little).

Adams did not check with the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB). The public outcry was immediate.

Then he appointed David C. Banks as Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education.  Banks' brother Philip Banks III resigned from the NYPD in 2014. 

David C. Banks, now Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, has been, according to sources, very close to Adams for many years while he was President/CEO of the Eagle Academy Foundation and founding Principal of the Eagle Academy for Young Men, an all-boys public school. As  David C Banks is now Chancellor of the head of the NYC Department of Education which is under Mayoral control, we could say that whatever Adams wants, Banks will do. Add to this mix that parent voices have been silenced since Mayor Bloomberg took the elected school board out and replaced it with the Panel For Educational Policy where members are appointed by politicians. The PEP members vote on allocations of public money according to what the politician who appointed them want, not what parents and stakeholders want.

Since day one, we have opposed this move - has anyone ever heard of the slogan "No taxation without representation"? 

The problem that we see here is that public funds, raised by taxpayers, are spent in a random manner by politicians who see the public money pot as theirs to spend...not ours to tell them how to spend it. Our voices - that of private citizens - are ignored unless you "know" someone or have contributed time/money to their campaigns or office.

Yet speak out we must, despite all challenges.

Betsy Combier

Monitors, special masters overseeing failing NYC agencies racked up $111 million tab

The city has shelled out at least $111 million on monitors and special masters overseeing agencies ordered to fix high-stakes failures — from horrific living conditions in public housing and jails to alleged racist practices at the NYPD, FDNY and Department of Education.

The Post examined 11 ongoing cases in which most of the pricey outside overseers have amassed fortunes after being appointed by judges and government entities to ensure city agencies correct years — and sometimes decades — of malfeasance.

They include: $36.9 million that lawyer Mark S. Cohen collected to prod the FDNY’s costly efforts to hire more black and Hispanic firefighters; $12.8 million to monitors steering the NYPD to revamp its controversial stop-and-frisk tactics; and $8 million for a special master doling out up to $1.3 billion — the biggest payout in city history — to teachers who failed a state-required certification exam deemed biased.

Despite the massive spending, city agencies under federal and state oversight have failed to resolve the slew of problems that landed them under scrutiny.

Monitors and special masters can be a single person or a business or entity with multiple staffers and outside consultants. They typically comb through records, conduct interviews and issue periodic reports to outline progress and make recommendations.

Redmond Haskins, a Legal Aid Society spokesman, blamed the city’s “persistent failure” to fix systemic problems for the rising cost of outside oversight.

“The quickest way to end a monitorship is to stop violating the law,” said Haskins.

But Nicholas Paolucci, a Law Department spokesman, said monitors and special masters “should be working towards making themselves obsolete.”

“Unfortunately, there is a tension between accomplishing their mission and their own financial interest in continuing the monitorship,” he added.

Here’s a rundown of city agencies with active monitors and special masters:

FDNY (USA and the Vulcan Society v. City of New York)

The city has paid FDNY “diversity monitor” Mark S. Cohen $37 million in fees and expenses over the past 10 years — more than any other city agency monitor.

The lawyer racked up his highest yearly tab in 2021 — $4.8 million.

Cohen, who charges $650 an hour, oversees the Fire Department’s recruitment and hiring of minorities.

Brooklyn federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis appointed Cohen in 2011 after the city settled a discrimination lawsuit, divvying up $98 million to black and Hispanic applicants the department had passed over.

The FDNY has made strides.

A decade ago, 91 percent of the department’s firefighters and officers were white. Today, 8 percent are black, 14 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian and 74 percent white, officials said.

“The department has complied with every directive and order from the court-appointed monitor,” FDNY spokesman Jim Long said

City lawyers said they will seek to end the arrangement this year.

New York City Housing Authority (US v. NYCHA)

In a landmark 2018 settlement, the NYCHA admitted it failed to remove lead paint and mold, provide enough heat, fix broken elevators and rid apartments of roaches, rats and other vermin.

The city agreed to spend $2.2 billion on repairs and capital improvements over five years, and $200 million a year after that.

Bart Schwartz, a former Manhattan prosecutor, was appointed monitor in early 2019.

The city has since paid Guidepost Solutions, a company Schwartz chairs, $28.5 million in fees.

About half went to experts the monitor hired to inspect NYCHA’s decrepit buildings, the rest to Schwartz and his staff, said spokesman Montieth Illingworth. Schwartz bills $595-an-hour for his own work, but his yearly fee is capped at $350,000.

Schwartz challenged NYCHA’s initial claim that 3,000 children lived in apartments with peeling lead paint. An investigation by the monitor found 6,000 kids at risk.

NYCHA’s ineptitude erupted again a few weeks ago when Carleton Manor tenants in Far Rockaway complained they lacked hot water for four months.

Guidepost wasn’t aware of the problem but sent a team of experts to Carleton Manor, where it pinpointed leaks in rooftop tanks and vents as the cause, Illingworth said.

NYPD (Floyd v. City of New York)

In 2013, Manhattan federal Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk practices unconstitutional, saying the cop searches targeted people of color.

The landmark decision in the 2008 class-action lawsuit — a huge blow to ex-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s crime-fighting legacy — included hiring Peter Zimroth, a private lawyer and former Manhattan prosecutor, as monitor.

Zimroth died last November. Lawyer Mylan Denerstein replaced him.

The monitors have collected more than $12.8 million in fees.

In September, Zimroth issued a report saying NYPD stop and frisks plummeted by 93 percent from 2013 to 2019. He attributed the drop in part to reforms, but also noted “substantial evidence” that NYPD officers underreported the number of times they used the tactic from 2016 to 2019.

The NYPD has claimed underreporting occurred because of human error and would be addressed by audits.

Department of Correction

Nunez v. DOC

In Oct. 2015, Manhattan federal Judge Laura Taylor Swain approved a landmark settlement in which the city committed to far-reaching reforms at Rikers Island, the nation’s second largest jail complex, to resolve claims of correction officers using excessive force against inmates.

The settlement included appointing a federal monitor, making correction officers wear body cameras, installing at least 7,800 surveillance cameras, and stricter new rules prohibiting guards from hitting inmates in the head.

Steve J. Martin, a former top lawyer for the Texas prison system, and his associates have reaped more than $10 million overseeing DOC as monitor.

In December, he filed a report saying the city’s prison system remains “rife with violence and disorder” — and that 2021 was the “most dangerous year” at Rikers since his appointment.

DOC declined to comment.

Benjamin et. al. v. Horn

In the 1970s, a group of pre-trial detainees sued the city alleging brutal prison conditions, including excessive heat and bad lighting, were unhealthy and unconstitutional.

A 1982 settlement created an independent monitoring agency with its own staff, Office of Compliance Consultants, which still exists four decades later.

DOC refused to provide OCC’s complete payment history, saying only it received nearly $1.5 million from 2018 through 2021.

The monitor’s latest reports highlight persistently poor living conditions. An October filing said the problems, especially an increase in vermin, are getting worse.

Correctional Health Services (Brad H et al v. City of New York)

In 1999, the city was sued in state court by inmates over its prison discharge system for people with mental illness. Back then, mentally ill inmates were dumped in the middle of the night at a Queens subway station with only two tokens and $1.50 — and without psychiatric medication or referrals for medical care.

In 2003, a settlement was reached that included the city providing the mentally ill with health care upon release and helping them secure housing and other services.

Two monitors, lawyer Henry Dlugacz and Dr. Erik Roskes, have been paid more than $3.6 million to date.

Correctional Health Services, a division of the city’s hospital system, has made repeated efforts to end the settlement agreement — each time soundly rejected despite court records stating they’ve made significant progress meeting monitors’ goals in recent years.

Department of Transportation

Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association v. City of New York

In 2019, Manhattan federal Judge George Daniels approved a settlement requiring DOT to vastly improve sidewalk accessibility for wheelchair users, including installing pedestrian ramps at 162,000 street corners throughout the Big Apple.

The ruling traces back to a 1994 lawsuit that Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association, now known as United Spinal Association, slapped against DOT for its failure to install curb ramps.

On Feb. 3, Daniels appointed civil engineer Harold Fink as a monitor. Last week, he received his first payment of $7,000, according to the DOT.

Fink is eligible to earn $150 an hour over a maximum of 600 hours a year — or $90,000 annually.

American Council of the Blind v. the City of New York

In December, Manhattan federal Judge Paul Engelmayer ruled the city must make all its crossing signals accessible to the blind and visually impaired by 2036.

Engelmayer said a court-appointed monitor must be hired at the city’s expense to help ensure the American with Disabilities Act is followed. A monitor has yet to be named.

Only roughly 950 of the city’s 13,430 signalized intersections are equipped with Accessible Pedestrian Signals, which communicate crossing signals via voice commands or audible tones, according to the judge’s order.

The city contended it needs 30 years to comply with the ADA, but the judge called his timeline “attainable,” and “respectful” of the city’s resources and budget.

Administration for Children’s Services

In December 2016, the state Office of Children and Family Services issued a scathing report condemning ACS for a shocking string of deaths of children who were earlier subjects of agency abuse reports. They included the beating death of 6-year-old Zymere Perkins of Harlem, which ultimately became the catalyst for a much-needed overhaul of ACS.

OCFS detailed how poor training and other systemic failures plagued ACS under then-Commissioner Gladys Carrion, and it ordered ACS to hire an independent monitor to review agency operations and make recommendations for improvements.

Kroll Associates, headed by former state Inspector General Joe Spinelli, was tapped. Since 2017, the Manhattan-based company has pocketed $1.4 million in city funds.

Under Carrion’s successor David Hansell, ACS has increased staffing levels and worker training among other steps credited with improving performance.

OCFS said it will decide how long a monitor is needed at a later date.

Department of Education

Gulino v. Board of Education

It’s the largest payout in city history — projected to cost taxpayers at least $1.3 billion.

A court-appointed special master has so far awarded $600 million in back pay, plus pension credits and $43 million in lawyers’ fees to 2,244 plaintiffs who were demoted, fired or never hired as city teachers.

They all failed a state teacher certification exam found biased because far more white candidates passed it than black and Hispanics.

Manhattan federal Judge Kimba Wood ruled in 2012 that requiring teachers to pass the Liberal Arts and Sciences Test, or LAST, violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The city fought for years, arguing that it shouldn’t be held liable for a state exam it was mandated to use. It lost, and the costs mount.

Over 100 claimants have now collected more than $1 million apiece, and others will get nearly $2 million,

Some received two decades of backpay, although 50 percent of city teachers quit within 10 years. City lawyers called the payments “a large and unjustified windfall.”

The city has paid the special master, law firm Lankler, Siffert & Wohl, more than $8 million in fees so far. The firm still has to make awards to another 2,456 claimants.

L.V. et. al v. DOE

Mayor Eric Adams calls the city’s special-education system “fundamentally broken.”

That’s evident in a case that has dragged on for nearly 20 years, showing the DOE has persistently delayed services to children with disabilities whose parents won orders in administrative hearings to provide them.

NYCHA federal monitor Bart Schwartz during the NYCHA Community Advisory Committee Meeting at Jackson Community Center.
The city has paid Guidepost Solutions, a company Bart Schwartz chairs, $28.5 million in fees.
New York Post

In 2007, the DOE settled a class-action suit, agreeing to comply with special-ed orders within the required 35 days.

But it has consistently violated that pact — stiffing many kids, according to reports by court-appointed auditors costing the city close to $8 million over several years, records show.

The DOE’s stonewalling is “especially harmful” to kids with special needs, Brooklyn federal judge Loretta Preska found.

Last year, she appointed special master David Irwin, who has collected $179,000 but yet to file his first report.

“It’s an absurd use of public funds,” said Betsy Combier, a paralegal who helps families obtain special-ed services. “The money is going for somebody to check on why the DOE is not doing the right thing.”