For Release July 14, 2015
New York’s Bravest Sues City Council Speaker, Charging Total Lack of Transparency & Open Government - Lawsuit Documents City Council Leader w/ Agenda Shrouded in Secrecy
UFA President Steve Cassidy, the UFA Executive Board and FDNY firefighters hired since 2014, announced a lawsuit against the NY City Council Speaker regarding her office’s obstruction of debate and open government, and for fostering a lack of transparency in New York City Council.
The lawsuit was filed in New York State Supreme Court, County of New York. The court papers are available at:.
The UFA alleges that over a 10-month period, the City Council leadership refused to acknowledge a council resolution (by CM Elizabeth Crowley) that achieved a supermajority of votes, ignored its 2014 transparency and inclusiveness reforms and then blocked a public hearing on FDNY Firefighters lacking real disability protections, should they be permanently disabled in the line of duty and forced to live on $27/day.
To make matters worse, since late spring 2015 council leadership has refused to answer FOIL requests related to its own cloak and dagger activities, hiding behind “attorney-client privilege provisions” to avoid disclosing public information that should be available under New York State’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), Public Officers Law, Article 6.
The lawsuit alleges that despite CM Crowley sponsoring a resolution in 2014 and then resubmitting it on January 14, 2015 for legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Peter Abbate (A6046) and Senator Martin Golden (S4269), the Council leadership refused to hold a hearing within 30 days, as mandated by its rules.
10 weeks later, the Council Speaker’s Chief of Staff informs CM Crowley she is not the principal councilmember on this home rule request, because an “unidentified councilmember” submitted the same, exact bill in advance of her in January 2015. The Speaker’s office refuses to identify the other Council sponsor, despite a policy of not permitting another legislator to simply take over ownership of another councilmember’s legislation.
Thereafter the Speaker’s office unlawfully and repeatedly denied the UFA General Counsel’s FOIL requests and an appeal to simply provide a name of the Councilmember and date that he or she requested a home rule message.
The UFA lawsuit says the denial creates a veil of secrecy on the legislative process. Under FOIL §84, “A free society is maintained when government is responsive and responsible to the public, and when the government is aware of governmental action” and “The people’s right to know the process of governmental decision-making and to review the documents and statistics leading to determinations is basic to our society. Access to such information should not be thwarted by shrouding it with the cloak of secrecy or confidentiality.”
In her February 11, 2015 State of the Council Address, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito remarked that last year, “We started by making government more accountable, more democratic and more transparent by reforming the Council’s rules.”
She along with CM Brad Lander, Chair of Rules Committee, and Ben Kallos, Chair of Governmental Operations Committee, have consistently touted the significance of a transparent government.
When Mayor Bill de Blasio signed two transparency bills into law in August 2014, the Speaker said, “The Council is committed to making this City government as transparent and inclusive as possible, and making important documents more accessible to the public is a simple, but significant way to contribute toward that goal.” 1
After the Council proposed new transparency rules for its 2014 Session, CM Lander said, “By strengthening members’ offices and making our processes more transparent, the City Council will make itself more accessible and responsive to our constituents.” 2
When campaigning for election, CM Kallos said, “Transparency and accountability are crucial for eliminating government waste and corruption.” 3
UFA President Steve Cassidy said, “The UFA considers the availability of public information under the FOIL integral to New York State’s commitment to providing open, democratic leadership and legislative processes for all New Yorkers, and deems the New York City Council are Council Speaker are no exception. We expect the court will have the last word on this.”
UFA Litigation Issues Timeline
June 2009: Governor David Paterson vetoes a Tier 2 extender bill that covered all FDNY Firefighters’ and NYPD Police Officers’ disability pension protections equaling 75% of final salary, if determined by city-appointed doctors to be disabled in the line of duty.
Following this, probationary firefighters and rookie police officers hired after 2009 would get only 50% of final salary minus Social Security disability payments they may be eligible for. This amounts to as little as $10,000 annually or $27/day from their employer, the City of New York.
January 2013: Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis orders FDNY to begin rehiring, giving preference to previously discriminated against applicant classes.
May 2013: First FDNY Firefighter class graduates from Fire Academy since Justice Department lawsuit settled. Since then, 46% of over 1,400 hires hail from minority communities as mandated by the federal court.
September 3, 2014: Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, Chair of Fire & Criminal Justice Committee, submits LS request to City Council leadership regarding a resolution that would “call upon the Legislature to pass, and the Governor to sign, legislation to create parity among the different pension tiers for employers of the uniformed services.” In Albany the legislation is sponsored by State Assemblyman Peter Abbate (A6046) and State Senator Martin Golden (S4269).
November 19, 2014: Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) and impacted NYC Firefighters hold a rally/press conference at City Hall to address disability protection concerns of firefighters hired since May 2013. Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley announces her new resolution is supported by a majority of Councilmembers.
November 25, 2014: Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley formally introduces Resolution 474 to City Council asking for home rule messaging supporting legislation by NY State Assemblyman Peter Abbate, Jr. and Senator Martin Golden. A majority of councilmembers rapidly sign on in support.
December 2014: Despite support of a majority of NY City Councilmembers, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito’s office blocks bill from receiving a public hearing in the remaining weeks of the 2014 session.
January 7, 2015: First stated City Council Meeting of 2015 Legislative Session.
January 14, 2015: Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley resubmits resolution in support of disability protection correction legislation by Abbate/Golden, as required with each new City Council session.
January 21, 2015: Councilmember Crowley achieves a supermajority of councilmembers to co-sponsor her 2015 version of Resolution 494.
February 11, 2015: Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito delivers State of the City address. In it she states that last year, “We started by making government more accountable, more democratic and more transparent by reforming the Council’s rules.”
March 16, 2015: Some 400 NYC Firefighters rally at City Hall, demanding a long requested public hearing on the disability issue.
March 17, 2015: UFA launches T.V., online and social media campaign “$27/day” featuring two :60 video commercials and a #standwithbravest social video awareness effort attracting thousands of supporters, including all five borough presidents, City Comptroller, Public Advocate and thousands of New Yorkers.
March 25, 2015: Councilmember Crowley requests from Speaker’s office an explanation as to why no public hearing has yet been scheduled for the firefighter/police officer disability resolution.
March 26, 2015: Wrote to City Councilmember Brad Lander, Chair of Rules Committee, to request a hearing pursuant to the Supermajority Rule
April 1, 2015: 10 weeks after submitting the January 14, 2015 legislation/resolution and a hearing request, the Council Speaker’s Chief of Staff, Roman Martinez, informs Councilmember Crowley she is not the principal councilmember on this home rule request, because an unidentified councilmember submitted the same, exact bill in advance of her in January 2015. The Speaker’s office refuses to identify the other Council sponsor, despite a policy of not permitting another legislator to simply take over ownership of another councilmember’s legislation.
April 9, 2015: Uniformed Firefighters Association (UFA) General Counsel submits written FOIL request to City Council Speaker’s office for factual information to support Speaker’s office claims of another sponsor.
May 21, 2015: City Council Records Access Officer Ms. Danielle Barbato denies official written UFA FOIL request, claiming “attorney-client privilege.” In response, UFA General Counsel appeals denial to City Council FOIL Appeals Officer Mr. Jason Otano.
May 29, 2015: Hearing by State and Federal Legislation Committee on Mayor’s version of bill and not on Councilmember Crowley’s home rule resolution request.
June 4, 2015: City Council FOIL Appeals Officer Mr. Otano affirms denial, relying on the initial citing of attorney-client privilege rules.
July 14, 2015: UFA files litigation in NY State Supreme Court regarding lack of sunlight and transparency in dealings by the City Council Speaker’s office.
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