The recent revelation that millions of dollars in city taxpayer funds were being surreptitiously hidden under dummy organizations by the Council Speaker’s Office came as a shock to most New Yorkers.
Members of the City Council, it turns out, were no more pleased, or prepared, for the news.
The scandal has sent the legislative body of New York City into a tailspin, with the speaker’s office trying to conduct at least a modicum of damage control, all while facing a federal investigation.
As the situation has unfolded, more information has come to light. Two council staff members were hit with federal indictments for having their hands in the cookie jar, and a Brooklyn Councilman, Erik Dilan, directed nearly $200,000 to a non-profit organization run by his wife.
Some of Queens’ council members have been strongly affected by the revelation, and weren’t afraid to talk about where the council was headed.
“Members are angry that this has happened,” said Councilman and Democratic Whip Leroy Comrie, of St. Albans. “It tells me two things: that there needs to be better transparency, and there also needs to be a lot more responsibility on the city’s part to make sure groups are meeting their stated goals.”
One source said that in light of the ongoing investigation, anything could still happen, and that members were trying their best to press onward and work, as there were more questions than answers for the time being.
“The use of phony organizations should never have happened and will not happen again. The indictments of two staff members, that is something that was uncovered as the prosecution was doing their job; now the criminal justice system will take its course,” said Councilman John Liu, of Flushing. “What binds both events together is unfortunately a shaking of confidence in the council, and we’ll have to work much harder to restore that confidence.”
Councilman Eric Gioia, of Sunnyside, agreed. “Government needs to operate honestly and transparently. … Deep reforms are necessary to reestablish the public trust in our local government.”
Reform in the hopes of transparency has been bandied about in recent days, including the possibility of giving oversight over the council’s discretionary funding to the Mayor’s Office, or eliminating it entirely.
“I’m not in favor of eliminating discretionary funds. Many small groups would close their doors if we did that,” Councilman Tony Avella, of Bayside, said. He was also very much opposed to surrendering control to the Mayor’s Office. “We have a hard enough time being equal to the mayor as it is.”
Avella said the wheels of governmental reform only seemed to turn one way in recent years.
“It’s unfortunate, but the only way you get reform these days is by scandal. We can only hope that out of this will come transparency,” he said. “I hope people are listening. Time will tell.”