Tag Archives: City Comptroller Scott Stringer

City Comptroller says no to Pan Am homeless shelter proposal once again


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Updated 3:38 p.m.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer stood his ground on Thursday and sent the resubmitted proposal to convert the former Pan American Hotel into a permanent homeless shelter back to the Department of Homeless Services (DHS).

Stringer’s response comes after DHS resubmitted their application on June 12. The initial proposal was originally rejected by Stringer’s office in May due to health and safety concerns such as fire code violations, rodent infestation and lack of kitchen facilities in the units.

The city comptroller had until the following week to accept or reject the proposal, and he decided to continue to urge the agency to make the changes he first asked to be made before they could be considered for approval.

“The Department of Homeless Services has not yet provided sufficient documentation to show that the Pan American Hotel facility is safe, and that all outstanding violations and complaints have been corrected. As a result I have sent the contract back to allow the agency additional time to address the outstanding issues we identified,” Stringer said.

Stringer’s decision comes two days after local elected officials stood with residents and community activists calling on the rejection of the resubmitted proposal.

The emergency homeless shelter at the former hotel on Queens Boulevard was supposed to close last December, yet even after facing large opposition from community members, an application was submitted to convert it into a permanent shelter under a five-year, $42 million contract with DHS.

State Senators Tony Avella and Jeff Klein, who held the rally Tuesday, praised Stringer for his decision.

“Today, the voices of homeless families and the community as a whole have been heard. While I thank the comptroller for his leadership on this issue, our work is not yet done. We must continue to work to fix this broken system,” Avella said. “I urge the Assembly to pass companion legislation to Senator Klein’s bill to protect our neighborhoods going forward. We must ensure that our communities have a stage on which to raise their voices against future Pan Am sites.”

Klein’s bill, which would require the city’s Planning Commission to hold a public community forum before the approval, modification or rejection of a homeless shelter site, recently passed in the state Senate.

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, who has voiced her opposition to the shelter before, joined numerous other elected officials who applauded Stringer’s decision. Stavisky suggested that the DHS use this time to “search for other sites around the city as well as more permanent housing for families.”

“I want to thank New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer for carefully considering the troubling conditions at the Pan American Hotel and reaching the same conclusion that I have — that the Pan Am facility is not safely serving the families being housed at that shelter,” Stavisky said. “Rejecting this contract is in the best interest of everyone. The Pan Am is far too cramped and lacks basic amenities, such as kitchens, which all families, especially those with babies and young children, desperately need and that are required by the city’s administrative code.”

Local grassroots organization Elmhurst United, which has been against the proposed homeless shelter since day one, also thanked Stringer for his decision and ask DHS to stop resubmitting their proposal.

“Samaritan Village and DHS should cease resubmitting this contract as the Pan Am shelter is too costly to upgrade in order to comply with state and local laws, in particular, providing a cooking facility in each living unit and a childcare facility at this site,” said Jennifer Chu, president of Elmhurst United.

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After Queens Library audit findings, Crowley wants new legislation passed


| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

RIDGEWOOD TIMES/Photo by Anthony Giudice

On the heels of the first audit of Queens Library executives in almost 20 years by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley introduced legislation that would require officers of city-funded, nonprofit organizations to disclose any conflicts of interest regarding their income.

After the audit revealed that former Queens Library CEO and President Thomas Galante and current interim CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey had amassed over $310,000 in personal expenses over a three-year period, including $115,000 in taxable, undeclared income, Crowley said it was “vital” to get this piece of legislation heard and ultimately passed.

The bill would mandate all individuals in leadership positions at charitable, city-funded, nonprofit organizations report sources of outside income to the city annually.

“Now that we know more of the discrepancies committed by library executives, it’s important that going forward, we ensure this corruption is stopped before it can begin,” Crowley said. “We the public should be aware of all sources of income and benefits of each executive and close family member. No executive receiving city monies should be immune to these disclosures. In their positions, they should voluntarily assure the city they are acting in accordance with the law.”

This legislation is currently in the City Council Contracts Committee awaiting a hearing in the fall.

“Last year the City Council learned that Tom Galante, president of the Queens Public Library system, spent public dollars for personal use. He continues to be under investigation for that and other irregularities,” said Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, chair of the Contracts Committee. “I applaud Council member Elizabeth Crowley for her leadership to shine light on conflicts of interest involving these executive positions. I am eager to hear her legislation in the Contracts Committee later this year.”

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Costly corruption at Queens Library ran deep: comptroller’s audit


| agiudice@ridgewoodtimes.com

QUEENS COURIER/Photo by Anthony Giudice

Executives at the Queens Borough Public Library (QBPL) spent millions of dollars on themselves while claiming the library was in debt and reducing both staff and services, according to an audit that City Comptroller Scott Stringer revealed during a press conference Wednesday morning outside the Astoria public library.

The investigation revealed that Thomas Galante, former QBPL CEO and president as well as other library executives — including current interim CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey — spent over $300,000 on prohibited, extravagant items such as meals, alcohol, concert tickets and airline upgrades. The spending occurred all while library officials claimed the system was running a deficit, according to the audit.

“For years … Galante and his executive team used the library as their personal piggy banks,” Stringer said. “Today, that era is coming to a definitive close.”

Prior to this investigation, a stipulation put in place by a previous administration blocked the comptroller’s office from looking at any QBPL financial records, except for two funds that the library claimed had city money. This roadblock allowed library staff to spend money with impunity. In December 2014, a newly formed QBPL board of trustees fired Galante and voted to give Stringer’s office full access to library financial records.

Carl S. Koerner, chair of the Queens Library board of trustees, said in a statement Wednesday that Queens Library was working to reform the system from top to bottom.

“Like other investigations into the library’s finances over the past year, today’s audit confirms many disturbing practices of the library’s prior director and its complacent former trustees —which is why the current board reversed an earlier decision and unanimously voted to give the comptroller’s office full access to all of the library’s bank accounts,” Koerner said.

But Stringer pointed out that Galante’s interim replacement, Quinn-Carey, was also involved in unscrupulous spending of city funds, as noted in the audit.

“Former COO and interim CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey also made a number of prohibited purchases totaling more than $48,000, including $11,500 for food and booze, 70 gift cards and 22 charges worth $4,000 with no explanation at all,” Stringer said.

In addition to inappropriately spending, the comptroller noted, the library’s senior staff increased their salaries by seven percent and cut library operating hours during Galante’s tenure.

“As they were scaling back access to books, Internet and vital programs and services, they were lining their own pockets,” Stringer charged.

The audit found that during fiscal years 2008 to 2013, the library staff charged all of its operating expenses to the library’s “city fund” account, which is subject to review by the comptroller’s office. This led to the library to appear to be running a deficit that ranged from $5.7 to $6.9 million, which enabled Galante to ask the City Council for more funds, all while the library had between $17 to $27 million in unrestricted funds.

Library executives may also owe personal income tax on purchases made, and they may have made fraudulent purchases. Galante failed to disclose the three businesses that he owns on city integrity forms, only divulging the information when he learned of the audit.

The audit has been submitted to law enforcement agencies for further investigation and action, Stringer said.

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Juniper Valley Park has second most playground injury claims in city: report


| lguerre@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Salvatore Licata

Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village has cost taxpayers at least about $300,000 over the last decade due to personal injuries claims, according to a new report.

The green space tied for second place for playground-related personal injury claims filed against the city from 2005 to 2014, which cost more than $20.6 million citywide, City Comptroller Scott Stringer said.

Stringer’s analysis also found that annual claims in the city rose 53 percent from just 45 incidents in 2005 to 69 last year.

Of the 577 park- and playground-related injury claims over the decade, 111 accidents occurred in Queens. Brooklyn led the city in playground injuries with 209 accidents occurring in the last decade.

Juniper Valley Park had six injury claims filed against the city over the decade for accidents related to missing matting, holes and defective swings. Five of those claims recorded a combined $297,500, according to Stringer’s analysis. The amount of one was not given in the report.

Local residents say Juniper has a numerous issues, including holes, defective equipment, cracks and other trip hazards, and that the Parks Department neglects to take action and fix the park, even though problems have been reported.

For example, Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, emphasized the need to fix netting at the park’s batting cages, where high school children play. The netting is used to protect balls from being hit outside the field area, but has been broken since Hurricane Sandy.

Holden has complained about it for years but still hasn’t seen a fix.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the lawsuits were with somebody getting hit with a ball,” Holden said. “Perhaps if it were their own money, like let’s say it would come out of department leaders’ paychecks, they would fix it.”

The park is receiving $2.5 million, allocated by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley, for improvements to the track, but Holden said the fixes have been long overdue.

Citywide, parks have recorded injury claims for a range of problems, include protruding nails, debris, defective park equipment and improper surfacing — including cracked grounds, holes and missing matting.

In an attempt to reduce the city’s bill over the next 10 years and protect children, Stringer sent a letter to the Parks Department asking to increase efforts to make certain that parks are safe.

“With claims at their highest point in a decade, it’s clear that the Department of Parks and Recreation must find ways to improve safety in our city’s playgrounds,” Stringer said. “We owe it to our kids to adopt best practices for safety and install state-of-the-art equipment in our playgrounds that reduces the potential for injuries.”

Click here to see a full map of all the claims.

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City Comptroller Scott Stringer discusses community concerns at legislative breakfast


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Angy Altamirano

The conversion of an East Elmhurst motel into a homeless shelter was one of many topics addressed by the city’s comptroller during a breakfast last week with western Queens community leaders and elected officials.

Comptroller Scott Stringer was a guest at the United Community Civic Association’s 2015 Legislative/Executive Breakfast on Feb. 6 where members voiced their concerns about air, noise and traffic pollution, unaffordable costs of residential rents, and hospital closings.

“Many of you in this room are at this meeting not just because of yourselves. You believe in New York City, and you love it like I do,” Stringer said at the breakfast. “But we’re also doing this for our children, making sure that the economy is going to fit what they have to do.”

Stringer added that the key idea is to think about the economy in 10 to 15 years and start to think about it as a high-technology economy. He also said that the economy should no longer be Manhattan-centric; instead, all the boroughs should be transformed into economic hubs.

“The government cannot just be in sound bites telling people what they want to hear,” Stringer said. “We’ve got to create a five-borough economic plan and make sure that people can access the middle class. That is how this city was built.”

Residents and community leaders at the breakfast discussed in detail the issue of dealing with the city’s Department of Homeless Services’ decision to convert the Westway Motor Inn, located at 72-05 Astoria Blvd., into a permanent homeless shelter.

Recently, the community voiced its outrage against the city’s decision to house registered sex offender James Bryant at the shelter, which is home to over 100 families with children. Bryant was removed from the shelter on Feb. 5.

Since then, the DHS has proposed changes to its policy to prevent level 2 or 3 sex offenders from being placed in shelters with families and instead referring them to shelters for single adults.

In response, Stringer said that city agencies should have a dialogue with the communities and sit down with leaders to work out issues and “respect people.”

Stringer also said he will personally go to the Westway Motor Inn, tour the facility, look at the issues brought up by community members and take suggestions on what can be done differently.

“We have to make sure the voices of our neighborhoods are heard,” Stringer added. “We will monitor, we will watch and we will speak out.”

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Former Queens Library trustee defends Tom Galante’s reported expenses


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

One of the six Queens Library trustees dismissed by the borough president has stepped out to defend the expenses by suspended library chief Tom Galante, who could potentially face being fired at a board meeting scheduled for Wednesday night.

Joseph Ficalora, CEO of NY Community Bank and past president of the Queens Library Foundation Board, told The Queens Courier that the expenses Galante made during his time as library director were not “inappropriate” and had all been approved by the board.

According to the NY Daily News, Galante had been using funds “like a personal piggy bank” before being suspended in September, based on a preliminary review of library finances by city Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Some of the credit card charges that Galante rang up included dinners with groups of library trustees, concert tickets and various hotel charges while the library chief was on out-of-town library business.

However, according to Ficalora, the expenses that are being reported had all been approved by the board and were consistent to those of others who held Galante’s position. He also added that six of the board members who had approved the expenses are still on the board.

“This was nothing that they didn’t know and the board members that are still sitting knew this and there was nothing about the expenses that were inappropriate,” Ficalora said.

He also said that other reports that brought up international trips Galante took were a “miscarriage of justice” because he had been traveling around the world as the ambassador of the library and also to accept awards on the library’s behalf.

“These activities were board-approved and consistent with the library having earned awards,” Ficalora said. “Tom was invited to speak at world-class events because of the world recognition and awards the Queens Library was receiving. None of those expenses were inappropriate and they were all approved by the board.”

In regards to the “fine dining,” Ficalora added that these meals have been typical for library directors for decades and they took place to discuss library business such as new programs or any problems.

Galante was suspended in September and his duties have since been carried out by Bridget Quinn-Carey, the library’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

In July, Borough President Melinda Katz fired six trustees and Mayor Bill de Blasio fired two. Two others resigned. Four new trustees have since been appointed.

Six of the ousted trustees filed a lawsuit in August demanding to be reinstated. However, two weeks ago a federal judge granted the request of the former trustees to dismiss their lawsuit that challenged Katz’s decision to remove them from the board.

According to one of the lawyers representing the former trustees, the lawsuit was dismissed because the former trustees did not have the financial ability and emotional willpower to pursue the lawsuit.

A special meeting of the board of trustees will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the Robert T. Groh Board Room at the Central Library, located at 89-11 Merrick Blvd. According to sources, the election of officers might be taking place during the meeting.

In addition, the Audit Committee will meet at 5:30 p.m. and the Finance & Investments Committee will meet at 6:30 p.m.

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Stringer criticizes DHS for handling of homeless shelter placement process


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos by Salvatore Licata

Amid ongoing controversy over several Queens homeless shelters, the city comptroller has said the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) is “failing” in the way it deals with homelessness throughout the five boroughs.

In a letter to DHS Commissioner Gilbert Taylor, City Comptroller Scott Stringer addressed the ongoing “homelessness crisis, particularly among families” in New York City. He noted that there are different causes that contribute to the rise, however the “current playbook” in dealing with the issue needs to be changed.

“Especially concerning to my office is the emergency contracting approach that the Department of Homeless Services has employed to site new facilities in neighborhoods with minimal community consultation,” Stringer wrote in the letter on Thursday.

In one case, Glendale residents have been fighting for more than two years to stop an abandoned manufacturing plant from becoming a homeless shelter. The community complained that they were given little to no notice about the shelter.

“DHS must begin to immediately repair its relationships with local communities by creating a robust consultative process with community stakeholders for all of its currently planned sites and for those proposed in the future,” Stringer wrote. “This process should allow for meaningful input from local stakeholders, advocacy groups, and elected officials.”

In the past month, two western Queens neighborhoods have also had to deal with unannounced homeless shelters being moved into two hotels.

Hundreds of protestors spoke against the city’s initiative to house homeless families at the Pan American Hotel on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst without asking for any input from the community.

Last week, the DHS approved the conversion of the Westway Motor Inn on Astoria Boulevard into a shelter housing over 100 families. Residents and elected officials are outraged the agency let them know about the shelter just a day before the families began moving into it.

“If DHS continues to neglect communities until after emergency contracting decisions have been made it will neither benefit from local knowledge of the area nor engender harmonious integration with the surrounding communities,” Stringer wrote.

 

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Workers to receive nearly $400K in underpaid wages


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Office

After not being fully paid for contracted work, two workers, including an Astoria man, have been given what they were rightfully owed.

City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer announced an agreement with National Insulation & GC, Corp., in which the company admitted to “willfully and knowingly failing to pay two employees,” Astoria resident Angel Ribadeneira and Francisco Ayala from Brooklyn, a prevailing wage for contracted work.

Both men were hired by National Insulation to do insulation work at city public schools between December 2006 and November 2010, according to the comptroller’s office. An investigation by the comptroller’s office, prompted by a DOE referral and provided evidence, revealed allegations of under reporting hours, misclassification of workers and use of “ghost workers” on sites.

“We have found that all too often, employees are fleeced out of money to which they’re entitled by unscrupulous contractors looking to cut corners,” Stringer said. “These employees worked hard for their salaries and they deserve to get every cent that’s rightfully owed to them.”

National Insulation will pay a fine of $435,666.72, including more than $39,000 in civil penalties to the city, as a result of the settlement.

“I’m thrilled,” said Ribadeneira, who received a $102,000 payout. “I’m going to make certain my wife and I will have enough to live on comfortably and set aside money for my three sons and six grandchildren.”

Ayala is receiving $294,000.

 

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Elmhurst residents say no to homeless shelter at Pan-American Hotel


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

Photos by Salvatore Licata

Updated: 6/19/2014 2:17 p.m. 

SALVATORE LICATA

Hundreds of protestors flocked to the Pan-American Hotel in Elmhurst to push back on the city’s initiative to house more homeless families in the neighborhood.

“We must step up to the plate now and stop this from going any further,” Roe Daraio, president of the nonprofit Communities of Maspeth & Elmhurst Together Inc. (COMET) Civic Association and organizer of the Tuesday protest, said to the crowd. “We must call to attention the issue of homelessness and how the city is choosing to deal with it.”

In a plan that is supported by Mayor Bill de Blasio, nonprofit Samaritan Village proposed the Pan-American Hotel, located at 7900 Queens Blvd., to house 200 homeless people, including the 36 families already residing there.

This is the fourth homeless shelter in Elmhurst and for residents of the community, it is one too many.

“They did this without any input from the community,” Hilda Chu, one of the protestors, said. “We have three already and now they want to add a fourth. This is so unfair to us.”

Councilman Daniel Dromm addressed the crowd during the June 17 protest and said he was disappointed by the Department of Homeless Services’ (DHS) lack of communication with local officials. He was outraged that he was given no advance notice that the closed-down hotel would now house homeless families, but said protestors must act civilly in their protest and engage in a discussion to figure out the best way to combat the situation.

“Elmhurst is overburdened [with the homeless],” Dromm said. “It is bad policy to bring that many needy people into one place.”

Pan-American Hotel officials declined to comment on the subject.

The DHS will provide the families with three meals a day until the agency can move them to an alternate shelter, the agency said.

“As the number of families with children residing in temporary, emergency shelter grows, we must consider all available options to address our capacity needs and meet our legally mandated right to shelter,” the DHS said in a statement. “In the short term, DHS is using the Queens Boulevard facility to provide essential shelter and supportive services to families with children.”

Advocates previously claimed that both the mayor and City Comptroller Scott Stringer approved the plan, but Stringer’s office said he only approved payments for family shelters across the city but had not weighed in on any specific location.

“[Stringer] believes that communication and adequate community notification are critical parts of this process,”  said a Stringer spokesman.

 

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