Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Christine, meet Bill: Why didn't De Blasio demand dope on Council slush fund?

Editorials

Tuesday, April 20th 2010, 4:00 AM

So much for asking City Council members to come clean voluntarily about who's dipping into Council slush funds and for what end. Public Advocate Bill de Blasio gave it a try and pretty much got stiffed.

Rather than demand the information as a matter of good government and legal entitlement, de Blasio asked Council members, pretty please, to disclose individual wish lists of the groups they hoped to bankroll.

A grand total of five of 51 members agreed to give the data to de Blasio for public dissemination. Much credit for openness goes to members Jumaane Williams and Erik Martin Dilan of Brooklyn; Jessica Lappin and Ydanis Rodriguez of Manhattan, and Dan Halloran of Queens. Shame on the secretive 46.

We hate to say we told him so, but we offered this in February, when de Blasio said he'd ask members to let the public peek into the realm of Council Speaker Christine Quinn: "Forget voluntary. A public advocate worth his salt would demand the data from Quinn so the public could review every pitch for money and track those that Quinn grants and those that she rejects."

Then we added: "Actually, Quinn should have instituted this type of disclosure long ago."

Indeed Quinn should have. By all rights, the Council should post the identities of all organizations that have pitched for so-called member item funding, the names of the groups that members favor and the amounts eventually awarded.

Pressed on these matters, the speaker's aides said she would be happy to turn over the records to de Blasio: He need only make a request. Dare he? Not so far.

Meanwhile, the posture taken by Quinn's aides begs a question: If she is such a fan of disclosure, why does she refuse to put the information before the public as a matter of standard business practice? Dare she do that? Not so far.

The Council's $50 million-a-year slush fund is an open invitation to corruption. It was plagued by false bookkeeping, since cleaned up, and has generated federal indictments.

Former Councilman Miguel Martinez is in federal prison for embezzling slush funds. Councilman Larry Seabrook was indicted on charges of siphoning slush funds out of nonprofit groups he controlled. Two aides to ousted Councilman Kendall Stewart pleaded guilty in similar schemes.

Council members compete for so-called member items from the slush funds. While some recipients are legitimate, such as Little Leagues, others have had ties to family and friends of Council members and have been of little apparent usefulness.

At the same time, Quinn's authority to bless or deny grants gives her inordinate power to use taxpayer money to buy loyalty.

Since the Council insists on maintaining these odious practices, she should make them transparent. However meekly, de Blasio was on the right track. Let there be a competition between the public advocate and the Council over which branch of the municipal administration better informs the public. All that's needed is political will.

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