Very early in our 36 year relationship, my wife gifted me with, what was to become, one of my most cherished possessions. Recently, a CNN News Report of the death of a literary genius brought that gift to the forefront of my mind.
The year was 1969 and my wife, unbeknownst to me, had made the acquaintance of a certain Mr. Heller. One day, as I received my mail at a LZ in Vietnam, I discovered a personalized copy of Joseph Heller's new novel, Catch 22. Mr. Heller had written some nice words to a soldier he had never met. Amongst them were these "Keep this with you at all times. Where you are now, you're sure to need this!"
Now I've been mailed a recent memo from NYCHA's Chair that I believe would have brought a smile to Mr. Heller's lips. And, I believe Mr. Heller would have agreed that, after reading the memo, the same words he wrote to me would certainly apply to all of NYCHA's employees!
Let's take a look at the Memo:
Memo from NYCHA Chair Martinez, December 20, 1999
"You are required to report, without delay, every allegation of improper conduct of which you have knowledge if the allegation:
- 1. is against the Authority, an officer or an employee of the Authority, and/or a person dealing with the Authority, such as a tenant or a contractor; and
- 2. involves corrupt activity, criminal activity, a conflict of interest, unethical conduct, and/or misconduct.
The Office of the Inspector General may investigate a complaint that is made, or may refer the matter to another party for appropriate action. The decision as to how a particular matter will be handled will be made by the Inspector General. You should never undertake any investigative activity in relation to a matter falling within one of the categories described above without consulting with and obtaining the approval of the Inspector General.
In addition, even if your experience with reporting a certain kind of improper conduct leads you to believe that a complaint about such improper conduct will not be investigated by the Inspector General's Office, you are, nevertheless, obliged to report that conduct to the Inspector General.
Please remember that you are under no obligation to report the kinds of improper conduct described above to anyone other than the Inspector General. Furthermore, no one may take any adverse personnel action against you for making a report to the Inspector General about conduct you reasonably believe involves criminal activity, corruption, a conflict of interest, gross mismanagement, or abuse of authority."
Wow! The writer of that drivel must have read Catch 22 and thought that the institutionalized confusion and bureaucratic chaos that Mr. Heller found so humorous was, instead, a formula for memo composition.
Mr. Martinez, did you actually read that verbiage? If so, NYCHA is in more trouble than even Spotty believed.
Example: One Contract Inspector confides to another that a dozen crooked contractors are paying off inspectors in order that dangerous materials need not be removed from the roofs of NYCHA developments.
The "dirty" inspector agrees to give evidence against crooks.
This activity is reported to the IG by a group of honest inspectors. The honest inspectors begin working through the IG's office. Along with the bribery, hidden NYCHA oil spills and other illegalities are reported and documented. Next thing you know, the names of the inspectors who reported the contractors/inspectors becomes common knowledge, and the inspectors find that the leak was from the IG's office. Threats are made and some honest Inspector's personal cars are damaged. Eventually, the "investigation" of the corruption reaches into NYCHA's Executive ranks, and into the ranks of some "favored" contractors.
Quicker than JoAnna Aniello getting a promotion, the "investigation" is shut down. The honest Inspectors face retaliation at the job, and some are demoted and/or transferred. The crooked Inspector who wore a wire and gave evidence against both contractors and Inspectors disappears from NYCHA.
Fast forward our example by two years: Our honest inspectors read that instead of prosecuting the list of "favored" contractors who were bribing Inspectors, the NYCHA IG is prosecuting 3 Inspectors and giving credit to some Contractors for wearing wires to get the Inspectors on tape.
According to the Chair's memo, the next time an Inspector finds that contractors are bribing others, the Inspector should go, again, to the IG's office.
Give me a break!
In that example, what the IG did was cover-up a problem that could cause his bosses at DOI, and those at City Hall, embarrassment. As he was, to all intents, covering up illegalities, he was participating in a crime. If I, or anyone else, helped in that crime, we would be equally culpable.
And even were there to be some legal technicality that would immunize a NYCHA employee from participating in the IG's crime, I'm of the opinion that the moral imperative overrules that memo's use of illogical structure.
If a friend from NYCHA were to ask me if he/she should follow that memo, or do what her/his conscience dictates, I'd tell them to read about the Nuremberg Trials and what becomes of blindly following orders in the belief that the controlling authority has the "right" to direct someone to perform against their own sense of right and wrong. And I'd then give that NYCHA employee Spotty's phone number (718) 745-0170.
The IG has web access.
He can read it in the Spotlight!
© 1999 Public Housing Spotlight and John Ballinger. All rights reserved.
Issue links are at page bottom
or click here for a Directory page with Issue overviews.
Click on the mailbox to send us your thoughts!
Or Message/Fax us with info at 718/745-0170