Tag Archives: audit.

Queens Library board votes against turning over documentation


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

The Board of Trustees of the Queens Borough Public Library voted against turning over all the records requested by the city comptroller’s office, sparking condemnation from politicians.

The vote, which took place on April 8, rejected a resolution submitted by members of the Board, and instead passed a resolution to release all requested financial documentation in accordance with a 1997 court-ordered agreement between the Queens Library and comptroller’s office.

The library, in a statement, defended the vote, saying it “believes in accountability and transparency.”

“The library has released all requested financial documentation in accordance with the court-ordered agreement of 1997. The audit rules have been the standard for several previous administrations. It appropriately includes audit authority over every dime provided by the city, fines and fees collected and book sale funds. As an additional layer of transparency, the library voluntarily provided access to the Worker’s Compensation Fund as requested.”

Additionally, the institution wrote to the city’s Independent Budget Office on Friday, requesting a review and analysis of its capital program, according to a library spokeswoman Joanne King.

In April, Comptroller Scott Stringer filed a lawsuit seeking to nullify the 1997 agreement, according to published reports. In late January, Stringer announced that he would perform a comprehensive audit of the city’s three library systems that would “examine a broad range of fiscal controls,” including the funding of capital improvements, the use of city tax levy funds and the oversight role of the library systems’ individual boards of trustees.

The announcement came after news reports revealed Queens Library President and CEO Tom Galante’s salary and that he spent nearly $140,000 to renovate his office, while many workers have been let go in recent years.

Borough President Melinda Katz penned a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio in March, asking him to suspend the ability of the library to spend any funds on renovations until the issues are resolved.

“No public entity is above the law. Parliamentary maneuvers may buy them some time, but rest assured that I am determined to make sure that taxpayers know how their money is being spent at this library system,” Stringer said.
Katz also criticized the Board of Trustees’ decision saying it “has put itself firmly on the wrong side of any resident of Queens who wishes to see their library run properly.”

 

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Queens’ Morning Roundup


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

morning roundup

TODAY’S FORECAST 

Thursday: Mostly sunny. High 51. Winds ENE at 10 to 20 mph. Thursday night: Mainly clear. Low 36. Winds ENE at 10 to 15 mph.

EVENT OF THE DAY: Happy Hour with QNSMADE & SingleCut Beersmiths

Come hang out at SingleCut Beersmiths in Astoria and try some locally made Queens craft beer. QNSMADE’s mission is to give a voice to the people that make up this borough and provide a space to bring together all the amazing things that are happening in the many pockets of Queens. With seven days left to go on its Kickstarter,  let’s come together and make this happen. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

Police arrest man accused of making anti-Muslim statements toward teen on Queens bus

A man wanted for making anti-Muslim statements toward a 15-year-old girl aboard a Queens bus while spiting at the teen and threatening to punch her has been arrested, cops said. Read more: The Queens Courier

Bratton issues new guidelines for jaywalking stops 

Less than four months after officers started cracking down on jaywalkers in New York City, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton is telling officers to use more discretion when stopping people who cross the street illegally, according to law enforcement sources. Read more: NBC New York

EXCLUSIVE: City Controller Scott Stringer launching audit of Build it Back Hurricane Sandy home re-building program

The City’s troubled Build it Back program, which has only served a handful of Hurricane Sandy victims since the 2012 natural disaster struck, is going under the microscope. Read more: New York Daily News

Plane evacuated at JFK Airport after bomb threat: officials

A plane was evacuated at John F. Kennedy International Airport Wednesday evening after a bomb threat was made, officials say. Read more: NBC New York

Contract talks heat up between transit workers, MTA

Transit workers came closer to making a deal with the MTA Tuesday more than two years after their labor contract expired, union sources told The Post. Read more: New York Post

Queens Library board hires consultant to probe CEO’s salary, contract


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

The Queens Library has hired an outside consultant to probe its embattled CEO’s whopping $392,000 salary and perks, the nonprofit’s top executives said Monday.

“We need to absorb the information we get from the study, as a board,” said Board of Trustees Chair Gabriel Taussig. “We’re committed to doing these things expeditiously and thoughtfully.”

The board is paying Hay Group $25,000 for a one-time review of Queens Library President and CEO Tom Galante’s entire compensation package and contract terms, officials said. The library boss is embroiled in news reports that claim he spent nearly $140,000 on a private smoking deck and office renovations.

The controversy also includes Galante’s $392,000 salary, $2 million severance package and $140,000 annual income from his side job consulting for the Elmont Union Free School District on Long Island.

Hay Group, a global management consulting firm hired last week, will size up Galante’s job against other comparable organization heads, which could lead to new contract negotiations, said Jacqueline Arrington, chair of the board’s administrative committee.

The firm has less than 90 days to report back with its findings and another 30 days after that to hammer out a new contract, library spokesperson Joanne King said.

“Whatever the end result is will be fair, reasonable, equitable and competitive,” said Galante, who declined to comment on whether he would take a pay cut.

The chief executive — when he wasn’t touting the library’s achievements — defended claims against him.

He reiterated his right as a “workaholic” to engage in outside employment, saying he sometimes puts in 125 total hours a week from both gigs. And he only consults as an “independent contractor, not an employee” from either Elmont or his home, he said.

Galante added his $2 million severance package is not considered a “golden parachute” and is only given to him if he is fired without wrongdoing.

The high exit payout is because of an “evergreen” clause in his five-year contract, amended in 2012, that allows it to be renewed automatically every year, Galante said.

The board plans to ax the clause in future contracts, according to Taussig, who would not confirm if that included Galante’s.

The consultation study is the first in a series of new measures the board plans to take to restore public trust and ease discontent amongst Queens lawmakers, board members said during a Feb. 25 sit-down meeting with several Queens reporters.

Since reports surfaced, State Senator Tony Avella has asked Galante to resign. Other state legislators and Borough President Melinda Katz say they are committed to getting a bill passed that would require financial disclosure from top library executives.

An audit committee within the Board of Trustees is underway, Arrington said. The board will decide if there should be more oversight into the hiring of top level executives, she added.

“I don’t want people to lose sight of what Queens Public Library has done for this borough,” Arrington said.

 

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Audit finds city high school placement flawed


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Rosa Kim

The city’s high school placement system denied a handful of youngsters a chance at being admitted to a competitive Queens school, a comptroller’s audit found.

Four middle school students were not ranked last year for possible enrollment at Townsend Harris High School’s Intensive Academic Humanities even though they were eligible, according to City Comptroller John Liu.

“Our audit confirmed what many frustrated parents and students have long suspected — the city’s high school placement process is often unfair and deeply flawed,” Liu said.

Students who apply to Townsend Harris — a screened school which accepts students based on past performance over where they live — must have stellar attendance, at least an overall 90 average and a standardized seventh grade reading and math score in the 90th percentile before they are considered, its website said.

The four students in the audit had met those requirements, Liu’s office said, although their names and scores could not be disclosed.

Students can apply to up to 12 high schools and order their choices by preference before the city’s Department of Education (DOE) enters their picks into an enrollment program.

If applicants meet the high school’s criteria, they are ranked on a list for possible enrollment. The screened institutions then offer seats to top scoring students in the system.

But the DOE’s “arbitrary and unfair” placement process, Liu said, did not rank nearly 2,000 eligible students who applied to five screened city schools last year. It ranked about 300 ineligible applicants instead.

“Applying to high school is an important and stressful enough experience for students and parents,” Liu said, “and it must not be left to a sloppy and random system like the one our audit found.”

DOE spokesperson Devon Puglia said high school admissions transparency has never been greater. More than 75 percent of the 70,000 annual high school applicants land in one of their top three school choices, he added.

“This report goes out of its way to ignore the enormous strides we have made to provide information to families and implement a clear, fair high school choice process,” Puglia said. “As always, we have more work to do and appreciate the recommendations for how to improve high school admissions.”

Townsend Harris officials did not return calls for comment.

Nearly 5,300 students applied for 270 seats at the school’s competitive humanities program last year.

The DOE did not say whether the four students in the audit were notified of the glitch.

 

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Audit finds Department of Buildings is ‘incapable of improving itself’


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

The city’s Department of Buildings (DOB) is falling down on the job.

“The Buildings Department is just dysfunctional and incapable of improving itself,” said Comptroller John Liu. “Its inability to perform basic tasks … bode poorly not just for the department, but for residents and neighborhoods too.”

A recent audit by the comptroller’s office found the DOB is slow in responding to complaints, and has not improved or resolved problems found in earlier audits.

A 2009 audit found DOB inspectors failed to gain access to nearly 40 percent of properties they received complaints about in 2008. The department also sought warrants for less than one percent of inaccessible properties and did not follow up on vacate orders.

Since then, the rate of failed inspection attempts has more than doubled, according to a new audit. The department also only partially implemented a handful of 14 recommendations made in the last audit, Liu said.

But a DOB spokesperson said many recommendations in the report have already been implemented. The department has also launched citywide safety campaigns, a task force to inspect illegal dwellings and “undercover investigations” to target illegal apartments for rent.

“The department is doing more than ever to combat the dangers of illegal conversions,” the spokesperson said. “The department has aggressively targeted illegal apartments most at-risk for fire — with a vacate rate nearly five times greater than before.”

Roughly 20,000 complaints, mostly from Queens, regarding illegal conversions get fielded through the department annually, the DOB said.

But grievances about illegal conversions garner a B rating on the DOB’s priority-arranged scale of complaints — the same level earned by improper fencing, exposed elevator shafts and malfunctioning boilers.

Illegal conversions have been the root of many fire-related deaths at home, including a 2011 blaze that killed one and injured five in Woodside.

 

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Comptroller says tutoring center owes city $850G


| mchan@queenscourier.com

A state-approved tutoring firm that is in contract with the Department of Education (DOE) may owe the city $850,000 after an audit uncovered questionable payments and dubious timesheets, according to the comptroller’s office.

According to City Comptroller John Liu, Champion Learning Center — which assisted over 12,000 city students last year, including 3,369 in Queens — failed to submit adequate documents that proved students were actually tutored and received payments by the DOE for services supposedly performed between midnight and 5 a.m., the comptroller said.

“Taxpayers can’t afford to write multi-million dollar blank checks for tutoring services that may not have taken place,” said Liu. “The DOE’s lack of oversight not only shows serious mismanagement, but may have also enabled fraudulent billings.”

Under the federal “No Child Left Behind Act,” eligible students enrolled in schools in need of improvement are provided free tutoring. Champion was one of 52 state-approved tutoring providers last year. It entered into a $40 million contract with the DOE to offer tutoring services, primarily in students’ homes from September 1, 2009 through August 31 this year, Liu said.

“Every education dollar wasted robs students of the education they deserve,” said Liu. “DOE should investigate these billings and recover all the money the city is owed. Doing so will send a clear message to companies that do business with the city that New Yorkers will not be taken for a ride.”

According to Liu, Champion billed the DOE and was paid $836,254 for services reportedly provided during barred hours or at odd times from 2009 to 2011. Liu said auditors also examined a random sample of 164 attendance sheet cards paid by the DOE and determined that 10 percent did not contain the tutor’s name or signature as required, and 47 percent did not have necessary signatures by supervisors.

Abraham Sultan, president of Champion, said the company took steps to improve its internal controls last year and said officials are taking additional measures to improve record keeping and billing.

“We respectfully disagree with the Comptroller’s conclusion that a payment was improper even if services were in fact rendered based upon the hour of the day when they occurred,” he said, “but [we’ll] work with the DOE to appropriately resolve those issues.”

Education Department spokesperson Marge Feinberg said the agency will “seek to recoup all payments for services that were not permitted or that could not be verified.”

 

Audit finds co-op, condo property values inflated


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/PHOTOS

A series of missteps by the Department of Finance (DOF) caused drastic upward swings in co-op and condo property taxes, according to two audits released by the city’s comptroller office.

“The department failed to adequately explain significant changes it was making in the calculation of market values. What’s more, in numerous cases, they assigned arbitrary values to co-ops and condos, and in other cases made flat out errors,” said Comptroller John Liu.
According to a summary report released by the DOF this year, taxes are expected to rise by 7.5 percent for co-op owners and 9.6 percent for condo owners across the city, while owners of single-family homes will see an increase of 2.8 percent. Last year, officials said, some co-op and condo valuations saw astronomical increases as high as 147 percent.

The pair of audits, Liu said, found the agency at fault for causing upheavals in condo and co-op property values — a determining factor in property taxes — when it changed its formula for calculating them in Fiscal Year 2011-12. He also said the agency operated “in the dark” without warning the public of the consequences.

According to Liu, the DOF compounded the increases in market value by sticking many co-ops and condos with questionable values instead of comparing them to equivalent, nearby rental properties. The agency’s faulty computer system, Liu said, also led to flaws in assessments, in which a Brooklyn co-op was wrongfully compared to a parking lot, a Staten Island co-op to an adult care facility and a Flushing condo to a rental property in Far Rockaway.

At least 10 percent of all 859 co-op buildings in Queens received much higher property values than the DOF’s formula should have allowed, the comptroller said, including one co-op in Forest Hills that received a market value 227 percent higher than expected.

The DOF did not return The Courier’s calls for comment. However, according to Liu, the DOF said it ensures properties are valued properly and does not agree that properties were over-assessed or under-assessed. The agency, Liu said, agreed that “continual improvement of the modeling criteria for selection of comparable properties is appropriate.”

Breakdown of affected units by neighborhood:

BAYSIDE

14

BEECHHURST

3

BELLE HARBOR

1

CORONA

1

DOUGLASTON

6

FLUSHING-NORTH

11

FLUSHING-SOUTH

8

FOREST HILLS

3

GLEN OAKS

20

HOLLIS

2

HOLLIS HILLS

2

JACKSON HEIGHTS

2

JAMAICA

1

LITTLE NECK

3

OAKLAND GARDENS

5

QUEENS VILLAGE

1

REGO PARK

1

SOUTH JAMAICA

1

WHITESTONE

7

Audit finds Parks Department lost green


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation recently endured a procedure that can send chills down the spine of any American — an audit.

City Comptroller John Liu announced on December 5 that an assessment of the Parks Department’s control over recreational, dining and retail concessions from July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2010 unearthed management errors that could have yielded a total of $8.8 million in revenue.

The Parks Department is responsible for soliciting and presenting concessions for various attractions across the 29,000 acres of the city parkland it controls, and concession operators typically pay a fee or provide a percentage of their total receipts to Parks.

“Parks are not just about concessions, but concession contracts should be better managed so that revenue flows to the city without unnecessary interruption,” Liu said.

Of the nearly $9 million that was reportedly squandered, $728,358 was from Queens, amounting to the second highest borough total behind Manhattan.

Premier Queens locations that were underutilized include the Clearview Café, which could have created an additional $379,167, the ice skating rink at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, which could have produced an extra $119,667, and the Meadow Lake pathway, which lost $20,000 in potential revenue.

The auditors made 22 recommendations to Parks, including tracking the solicitation and award process, retaining written explanations of rejected proposals and examining why only a small number of responses to solicitations are received.

Parks has refuted many of the audit’s findings and claims that revenue cannot be sought above all other considerations. The department also maintains that various “extenuating factors” had to be taken into account before executing license agreements.

“Regarding the comptroller’s audit on Parks’ controls over the awarding of concessions, we disagree fundamentally with its process and analysis, and we believe it is inaccurate and misleading in its conclusions,” said the Parks Department in a statement.

“The comptroller’s report implies that Parks, in managing a portfolio of over 400 concessions, should ignore clear business and legal circumstances that necessitate, from time to time, a course of action that delays the commencement of new license agreements. These occasional delays are the result of decisions made in the best interest of the city.”

According to the Parks Department, the amount of foregone income detailed in the comptroller’s report represents less than 4 percent of the agency’s $230 million in total revenue generated over the three-year audit period.

The department also prides itself on being able to “maintain the level of revenue from its concessions at a generally constant level despite the severely stressed economic conditions.”

Based on the audit, however, Parks has seen a significant decline in concession revenues during the fiscal years of 2008, 2009 and 2010, with totals of $52.6 million, $46.1 million and $39.8 million respectively.