On March 7, we received a phone call from City Council Member Kathryn Freed (District 1- Lower Manhattan including the areas of Tribeca, SoHo, NoHo, Central Village, Chinatown, Little Italy, the Lower East Side, the Wall Street Financial District, South Street Seaport, Battery Park City, Ellis Island, Governors Island and Liberty Island.). Ms. Freed stated that there was going to be a joint Council Committee Meeting of the Contracts Committee, which she Chairs, and the Housing and Buildings Committee Chaired by Council Member Archie Spigner (District 27- Queens Village, Hollis, Addisleigh Park. St. Albans, Rosedale and Cambria Heights .)
The hearing would take place at 10 AM on Thursday, April 26, 2001.
Ms. Freed invited me to speak on the NYCHA corruption we've uncovered, and she asked me to bring "a lot of people to the hearing" to "testify" on NYCHA corruption.
First things first:
Thank you Ms. Freed.
Thank you Mr. Spigner.
There have been very few politicians willing to even acknowledge that the Spotlight exists, never mind being willing to address the charges that have appeared in our rag. As they also listened to our gripes, Congressman John Sweeney (Republican-Catskills) and State Assembly Members Joan Millman and Edward C. Sullivan are 3 others whom we also thank.
Now I'd like to address a couple of points that this invitation brings to the fore.
Everyone that has worked on the Spotlight is both excited and fearful of such a hearing. In many conversations with these honest and courageous contributors, the old Chinese proverb about being very careful what you wish for has been mentioned. We all wanted an investigation into NYCHA, but a public hearing in front of two Council Committees can be an effective method of ferreting out the NYCHA whistle-blowers who have made Spotty the first and (immodestly) the best place to look for NYCHA news. So a natural reluctance exists against coming forward, at least until a true and independant investigation is in progress.
Yet, from the replies I've received from members of the Spotlight mailing lists, I now have more volunteers than I'd be comfortable bringing. Others are telling me that they will be attending the hearing, or that they will be showing support by meeting in City Hall Park. (If there are any sections of the park not barricaded that day.)
That is so very encouraging and unexpected that I'm uncertain as to how to proceed. Therefore, for the moment, I'm going to ask that everyone put their plans on hold for a short period, while we petition the various union involved to clarify their positions in regards to this hearing.
And, after the reams of bad publicity the various unions that cover City employees have received in the past few years, this might be an opportune time for the unions to regain some of their member's lost confidence.
What we're hoping for is a statement, from the individual local unions, that makes it clear that any retaliatory actions taken against City employees for appearing before this City Council hearing will be strongly contested by those local unions. Notification by these unions that retaliation will be met by legal action funded through those locals will not only help to allow their members to voice their concerns as to the corruption and the mismanagement in the NYC Housing Authority, it may once again bring a sense of brotherhood and solidarity into unions who were losing the faith of their members.
There is no way to deny the fact that, after 3 years of reporting on the scandals at NYCHA, suddenly being invited to speak at a Council Hearing has caused suspicion in the ranks. As with all other City Agencies, many of NYCHA's executives are there because they are politically active. Many of NYCHA's employees have Civil Service status, but they've seen how that status has dwindled as loopholes are found by politicians that allow Civil Service rankings to be ignored. I honestly don't think I've had a conversation with any NYCHA employees about this hearing wherein they didn't mention that
"They're all running for other jobs so they're just looking for publicity at the expense of putting whistle-blowers in front of a camera, and chancing that the same whistle-blowers will soon find themselves unemployed."
Believe me, as much as I want a good showing at this hearing, I could never deny that the skepticism in our political system has grown over these past few years to where I won't try to push anyone into speaking at this hearing, no matter how important his or her testimony could be. And for those employees who promise evidence of direct criminal activity, I'd hope that they would stay away until either the Council votes to hold a full and independent investigation, or a law enforcement agency gets involved.
But how can we get people to agree to investigations without giving them the evidence needed to justify the same?
Well, by attempting to give a presentation that includes enough circumstantial evidence, anecdotal information and personal stories of cover-ups and retaliation so that a reasonable person will be left with only one conclusion: an investigation is needed, and it is long overdue!
Assuming that the Council truly wants to hear the NYCHA employees and would commence an investigation if the testimony were persuasive, I'm hoping the Council will make the same public commitment we're requesting of the unions. A statement that the City Council will also respond quickly to any apparent retaliation taken against NYCHA and/or City employees who come forward at Ms. Freed's request.
We will soon be putting out another issue of Spotty to inform all of you as to the replies we receive to our requests.
In the meantime:
Any word we receive that may have an effect on this hearing, including news from the Council or the Unions, will be reported in the pop-up box that opens when you visit the Current Issue.
NYCHA's Design Department put on their Sunday's best and got ready for their first class recital in front of the new Chairman, Tino Hernandez. Mikey Meyer gave them their assignments and set them off on their own.
(Actually, Meyer gave Director David Birney et. al. orders to prepare a report for the incoming Chair. As Meyer demanded the reports by 10 AM the next day, grumbling could be heard all over the office.)
(Click here to view memo.)
© 2001 Public Housing Spotlight and John Ballinger. All rights reserved.
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