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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Flashback: Not The First Time Bill de Blasio and Quinn Quarrel Over Discretionary Funds Reform

Its not the first time Bill de Blasio and Christine Quinn are at each other over discretionary funds reform. In 2010, David Chen reported in the NY Times, a proposal pushed by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio to make discretionary city funds more transparent, and create a searchable database that would disclose pertinent details about all applications for such funds.

"The proposal is designed to give the public a fuller picture of an opaque process that has led to a wide-ranging criminal inquiry by federal and city investigators. One former city councilman, Miguel Martinez, is serving a five-year prison sentence for absconding with $106,000, some of which was intended for nonprofit groups. Another councilman, Larry B. Seabrook, was indicted this month on charges that he fraudulently used city money to enrich himself, friends and family members. City officials have long used the funds, known as earmarks, to aid nonprofit groups on small projects in their districts without going through a formal competitive bidding process. But investigations have shown that some of the nonprofit groups were fictitious or employed the relatives of lawmakers.  
"The council, under Speaker Christine C. Quinn, has instituted some changes. Still, anyone wanting to find information about tens of millions of dollars in discretionary funds distributed annually by the City Council and other city officials must wait until after the city’s annual budget is signed into law in July. Under Mr. de Blasio’s proposal, city officials would be encouraged — but not required — to post the applications of nonprofit groups and others seeking additional funds to a Web site called Open Government NYC. The database would allow users to search the name of the elected official to whom the application is made, the name of the applicant, the date of the funding request and the purpose of the request. The site would also disclose which items received funding.  
“Had this approach been in place, on top of the reforms the Council made, it would have been much harder to game the system,” Mr. de Blasio said in an interview. The database is expected to be ready by mid-April, and is modeled after the state’s Project Sunlight initiative, which allows the public to easily comb through state governmental information, such as bills, government contracts and campaign spending. Though Mr. de Blasio cannot require that applications be entered into the database, he said he was prepared to publicly shame anyone who resisted. “We think, bluntly, that the momentum this will create will be irresistible,” Mr. de Blasio said. “We’re going to try to get public officials to cooperate. But if they don’t, I won’t hesitate to point that out.”  
“Reform is not easy, but elected officials have to walk the walk,” he said. Maria Alvarado, a spokeswoman for Ms. Quinn, said: “Over the past several years, the Council has taken significant steps towards creating a more transparent system, including providing unprecedented Web access to documents and forms. We remain fully committed to working towards an even stronger system and we look forward to reviewing the details of this proposal with Public Advocate de Blasio.” 

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