Community Board 5 Asks City Council to Enforce Its Own Law Calling for “Increased Transparency” From “Public-Private” Partnerships

by cathryn on January 22, 2014

Corporate sponsors abound: Super Bowl events at Bryant Park

What do you do when the City Council passes a law that applies to a city agency and then that city agency ignores it and the Council does not enforce it? 

Such is the case with Local Law 28, passed unanimously by the New York City Council in 2008 with the Mayor’s approval. This law was supposed to assure greater transparency with regards to “public-private” partnerships at city parks and yet park advocates and the public are still waiting for this to occur. A New York Times article in 2012 drew attention to the fact that the law is being “neglected.”

In December, Manhattan’s Community Board 5, which oversees a lot of privatized parks, including Madison Square Park, Bryant Park, and Union Square Park, passed a resolution asking the City Council for “oversight of Local Law 28 and consideration of Int. 1084″ (more detail on that follows):

From Community Board 5: Request to City Council for Oversight of Local Law 28 and Consideration of Int. 1084:

At the regularly scheduled monthly meeting of Community Board Five on Thursday, December 12, 2013, the following resolution passed with a unanimous vote of 34 in favor; 0 opposed; 1 abstaining:

WHEREAS, Local Law 28 was passed unanimously by the City Council in 2008, requiring the Department of Parks and Recreation of New York City to submit an annual report to the City Council every December, outlining in detail the contributions of nonprofits and other private donors for every park in the City; and

WHEREAS, Elected officials and parks advocates heralded the passage of the law at that time as an exemplary piece of legislation, for its requirement of increased transparency in reporting funding information for those public-private partnerships which govern many of the public spaces in the City; and

WHEREAS, Compliance with the law has not been satisfactory since its passage, with annual reports omitting major donors, exact dollar amounts, or the mention of entire parks; and

WHEREAS, Despite the intention of the Law to foster openness and transparency for purposes of public review, the annual reports have not been made available to the public or posted online; and

WHEREAS, The Parks and Recreation Committee of the City Council is also considering hearing Int. 1084, which has similar aims as Local Law 28, but additionally would amend the administrative code to require any public-private partnership managing a New York City park to report its expenditures in a similar annual report; and

WHEREAS, The City Council of New York is responsible for oversight of Local Law 28; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, Community Board Five exhorts the City Council to increase its oversight of Local Law 28 and ensure its full compliance; and be it further

RESOLVED, Community Board Five encourages the Parks and Recreation Committee of the City Council to give Int. 1084 a public hearing.

I attended this Community Board 5 Parks Committee meeting where this resolution was passed and it was quite interesting. The Parks Committee of CB5 has a lot of private and corporate events coming before it for “approval” at its parks, public spaces, pedestrian plazas and around Times Square (exhausting!). Due to this, the committee was quite up on issues related to commercialization and private influence and the need for transparency and accountability. Of course, this makes sense as they deal with it every month – it feels like it might be useful for Community Board 2′s Parks Committee members to attend a few of their meetings.

While some CB2 members seemed not very concerned about the issue of privatization at Washington Square Park, the greater community was – and spoke out against a private body being given any degree of oversight and control at Washington Square Park in June. I’ve wondered sometimes why the Board was so dismissive of these concerns; I can’t imagine they wouldn’t care if corporate, private and real estate interests took hold at the Park but maybe I’m wrong.

As far as Community Board 5, according to one Parks Committee member, since Local Law 28 passed unanimously in 2008, there has been “a lot of mystery and obfuscation around compliance.”

The committee said that the law was not drafted in the best way, that the information sought is “not being produced,” and there is “zero enforcement.”

The office of (now former) City Council Speaker Christine Quinn told the committee last year that the City Council is responsible for the law’s oversight, and so, the committee directed its resolution to the Council’s Parks & Recreation Committee asking for “a better job of oversight.” Current Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito was previously the chair of the Council Parks & Recreation Committee.

There was discussion of “Interim law 1084″ which is still “in committee” at the City Council; the Board was hopeful about this being passed someday. This proposed law would more strictly oversee private organizations as “any conservancy [would have to] provide total expenditures to the Parks Department.”

As far as Local Law 28, CB5 members said that Central Park Conservancy, Union Square Partnership, Madison Square Park Conservancy are all not in compliance.

“Let’s have a clear idea how much it costs to fund this [each] park,” one member stated.

Clayton Smith, CB5′s Parks Committee’s Chair said, “Even this [Local Law 28] being complied with and enforced would paint a bigger picture. We [as members of the Community Board] prioritize and advocate for transparency.”

The committee said that the Community Boards around Central Park have identified the same complaints they have. And that they felt that Community Boards 4, 6 and 1 would be on board and “Brooklyn, for sure” in order to put forth a “multiple board resolution.”

No mention of Community Board 2.

Via The New York Times: A Law to Expose City Parks’ Inequalities Is Neglected, August 27, 2012:

The legislation required the Department of Parks and Recreation of New York City to prepare an annual report that would detail, park by park, the contributions of nonprofits and other private donors.

“We wanted to see just how large the disparity is,” said Geoffrey Croft, the president of NYC Park Advocates, which supported the legislation. The City Council agreed, and after the measure was approved by a vote of 48-0, the new reporting requirements became Local Law 28 of 2008.

Yet the reports from the parks department fall far short of the law’s requirements.

A report on the 2010 fiscal year fails to list the city’s largest parks nonprofit, the Central Park Conservancy, which spent $28 million during that period. Other major parks groups, including the Union Square Partnership, the Madison Square Park Conservancy and the Friends of Washington Square Park, are also missing.

“It doesn’t reflect a real effort to comply with the law,” Alan J. Gerson, a former councilman who sat on the parks committee in 2008, said.

“Whether it’s for schools, or parks or any public place, the public should know where the private money is coming from and what it’s buying. It’s basic good government,” Mr. Gerson, a Manhattan Democrat, said.

“That’s what we wanted to establish,” he said.

In 2008, the law was praised by council members and the parks department during public hearings. Liam Kavanagh, the first deputy commissioner for parks, said at the time that the legislation was in sync with the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to increase government transparency, adding, “I want to reiterate our shared commitment to full disclosure.”

The reports, however, were never posted on the Web sites of the City Council or the parks department.

Of the over three dozen park conservancy groups listed in a 2007 study by the Citizens Budget Commission as having expenditures high enough to meet the law’s reporting thresholds, the parks department included only seven in its 2010 report     ….

The parks department initially defended the reports. But after receiving detailed questions about their content, a department spokeswoman, Vickie Karp, wrote in an e-mail that “questions about who should be reporting through this document are fair and deserve further review.” The department did not offer an explanation for the missing data and declined to make a parks official available for an interview.

The current chairwoman of the parks committee, Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Manhattan Democrat, declined to comment.

LOCAL LAWS

THE CITY OF NEW YORK
FOR THE YEAR 2008

No. 28

_________________________

Introduced by Council Members Foster, Fidler, Gentile, Gerson, James, Koppell, Liu, Mark-Viverito, Martinez, Mendez, Monserrate, Sanders Jr., Seabrook, White Jr., Sears and Jackson.

A LOCAL LAW

To amend the administrative code of the city of New York, in relation to the provision of an annual report on non-governmental funding for New York City parks.

Be it enacted by the Council as follows:

Section 1: Chapter 1 of title 18 of the administrative code of the city of New York is amended by adding a new section 18-134 to read as follows:

§18-134 Annual report on non-governmental funding for parks. Beginning December 1, 2009 and annually thereafter, the commissioner shall submit a report to the council for the immediately preceding fiscal year on funding and donations provided by non-governmental sources to parks under the jurisdiction of the department.

Such report shall include

(i) the amount of funding allocated and the value of goods donated by organizations or individuals to the department by park where such funding or goods are designated for a particular park, or by service district or borough if there is no such designation, provided that such funding and value is more than five thousand dollars; and

(ii) the amount of funding allocated and the value of goods donated by organizations and individuals for each park where such information is provided by such organization or individual exempt under applicable provisions of the Internal Revenue Code who file IRS Form 990 based on their having annual gross receipts of more than twenty-five thousand dollars, or for each service district or borough where such information is so designated.

Such report, to the extent practical, shall list organizations and individuals allocating such funds or donating such goods, provided that any such organization or individual allocating such funds or donating such goods anonymously shall be listed without identifying information.

§2. This local law shall take effect immediately upon enactment.

The City of New York, Office of the City Clerk, s.s.:

I hereby certify that the foregoing is a true copy o f a local law of The City of New York, passed by the Council on June 12, 2008 and approved by the Mayor on June 30, 2008.

Hector L. Diaz, City Clerk

Clerk of the Council.

CERTIFICATION PURSUANT TO MUNICIPAL HOME RULE LAW § 27

Pursuant to the provisions of Municipal Home Rule Law § 27, I hereby certify that the enclosed Local Law (Local Law 028 of 2008, Council Int. No. 699-A) contains the correct text and:

Received the following vote at the meeting of the New York City Council on June 12, 2008:

48 For, 0 Against, 0 Not Voting

Was signed by the Mayor on June 30, 2008

Was returned to the City Clerk on July 1, 2008.

Jeffrey D. Friedlander, Acting Corporation Counsel.

* * *

Previously at Washington Sq Park Blog:

Impact of Private Conservancies on City Parks

Ongoing Commercialization and Lack of Transparency Continue at Bryant Park; Community Board has “serious concerns” November 21, 2013

 

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Patti Astor January 23, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Yikes-O-Rooney!! This whole “City Parks as Malls, just don’t tell anyone, it’ll be great!” gets murkier than ever. My Eighth Grade Social Studies is kicking in, isn’t this called “Pork Barrel” or something?
Thank you Cathryn for continuing to be our watchdog on this.
Patti Astor

Reply

cathryn January 23, 2014 at 7:58 pm

Hi Patti,

“City Parks as Malls, just don’t tell anyone, it’ll be great!” – that is priceless! So true too. I love how you cut to the core essence of the matter right away!!

You are welcome! Thanks for your comment.

Cathryn

Reply

Monica McLaughlin February 2, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Speaking from my own experience with the NYC Parks Department . . . they do not respond to FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) requests or if they do, they provide useless documents that were not requested.

I have not done this, but one most likely would have to bring and Article 78 proceeding against them to enforce compliance. This is what news media usually does.

Reply

cathryn February 12, 2014 at 11:05 am

Thankfully, Monica, my recent FOIL on conservancy revealed a lot of info from Parks Dept. It must depend on the situation.

I’d imagine trying to find out about conservancies, etc. from Parks and their financial contribution would not yield much information, no.

This situation tho’ with a City Council law and Article 78. That’s interesting. Something to keep in mind.

With a new administration, perhaps things will change slightly. Hopefully.

Cathryn

Reply

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