The city governments watchdog wouldn’t mind a longer leash.
Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters said Monday he was supportive of proposals from Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx) that would require council approval before a mayor can fire a DOI commissioner.
I clearly welcome both the support and any steps that will strengthen and that will further strengthen the independence and the nonpolitical nature of the DOI, Peters said when asked about the proposals.
Peters, who served as the mayors campaign treasurer in 2013, has gone on to become a thorn in his side most recently revealing that the city had gone years without doing required lead paint inspections in public housing and then falsely certifying theyd been done on federal paperwork.
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There is nothing more important than an independent, nonpolitical law enforcement force in civil democracy, and there is nothing more important to me than the independence of DOI, Peters said.
But Torres believed there was a potential threat to that independence Mayor de Blasio, who he said had attacked independent watchdog journalism and Peters.
Expressing disdain for good-government law enforcement and investigative journalism, as the President has done nationally and as the mayor has done locally, represents a profound disservice to the public interest, Torres said in his opening statement.
He ripped de Blasio for under-funding the New York City Housing Authority Inspector General, whose staff he said are woefully underpaid compared to investigators overseeing other authorities. Torres said an entry level DOI investigator makes between $55,000 and $57,000 annually, but entry-level DOI investigators overseeing NYCHA make only $42,000 a year.
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We have in fact had some staff leave the NYCHA IG for other parts of DOI, Peters said of the funding gaps. Stability at the NYCHA IG is deeply important.
Peters said hes tried to update the DOIs memorandum of understanding with NYCHA to boost the budget and had met with Deputy Mayor Alicia Glenn about it.
The deputy mayors response was that NYCHA didnt have the money, she said.
In addition to requiring a Council OK for firing a DOI commissioner which is required for hiring one Torres also suggested amending the charter to give DOI an independent budget, so its operational needs can no longer be at the mercy of City Hall officials.
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In his remarks, Torres noted another group scrutinizing the mayor and drawing his ire the press. He noted that in a single interview on Fox 5, the mayor derided a Daily News reporter as one reporter who has an axe to grind and went on to dismiss DOIs findings that the NYCHA chairwoman offered false testimony at a Council hearing.
Fortunately for the public, the independence of the media is guaranteed by the First Amendment, Torres said. But what guarantees the independence of DOI?
Peters also noted that a backlog of background checks revealed by the News last summer has continued, with more than 6,050 checks of city employees unfinished, a problem he said will get worse without more staff.
And, in discussing investigations into the Department of Correction, Peters also expressed skepticism that the agencys problems would go away once Rikers Island was closed. He said the issues that plague Rikers Island have also been prevalent at smaller DOC jails in Brooklyn and Manhattan, which would continue to be used after Rikers is closed.
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Closing Rikers and moving the population of Rikers to localized facilities in and of itself will not eliminate the violence or the contraband smuggling or the other issues we are talking about at Rikers, he said.
A spokeswoman for the mayor said he and experts believed the borough-based jails would be safer.
The mayor and corrections experts believe smaller jails with modern design will be far safer for staff and inmates than Rikers facilities built last century, Natalie Grybauskas said.