We’ll eye board’s illegal vote history From now on, we’ll do the right thing
The city Housing Authority opened a review Wednesday of its own board's voting his-tory after a Daily News exposé revealed it held closed-door sessions to approve a lucrative contract to an outside firm — a violation of state law
The statute permits public boards to go into "executive session" to discuss certain topics. But it also mandates that all votes on the appropri-ation of taxpayer dollars take place in public.
In 2016, NYCHA's board met behind closed doors and illegally approved a contract with the law firm of Wilmer-Hale to handle ongoing inves-tigations of the authority The News reported Wednesday.
To date, the firm has billed the New York City Housing Authority nearly $10 million.
In the case of WilmerHale, the board's initial vote in-cluded a "not-to-exceed" amount — a figure the public can't see. In at least two subse-quent votes also behind closed doors, the board amended that cap to pay the law firm more. In response to The News' revelation, NYCHA manage-ment promised to release the • details of all the WilmerHale votes — and hold all further votes on appropriations in public.
NYCHA also acknowl-edged that it's reviewing exe-cutive sessions over the past several years to see if there are other improper votes on other appropriations.
The News on Wednesday filed a Freedom of Information Law request demanding that NYCHA release all information on votes for appro-priations made behind closed doors since Jan. 1, 2014. "Our new leadership is cur-rently reviewing active legal contracts, and we will post all past votes for these contracts online in the coming days," NYCHA spokeswoman Jas-mine Blake told The News. 'All future votes will be held in the open, and we will continue to identify ways to strengthen our compliance regime." In January, The News filed a FOIL request seeking infor-mation on how much Wilmer-Hale was being paid — which NYCHA ignored for months. The agency released the in- only after The News threatened to file suit.
On Tuesday, The News revealed WilmerHale had billed the authority for $9.7 million through April.
The final bill will be dramatically higher. The firm negotiated a consent decree with Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman that was filed in June and continues to represent NYCHA as the agreement is reviewed by a federal judge.
The NYCHA board’s noncompliance with the open meeting law is yet another example of the authority’s problem following rules. The U.S. attorney has found, for example, that the authority’s management has for years failed to perform required lead paint inspections and cleanups, and then lied to cover up its failures.
The consent decree WilmerHale helped craft for NYCHA calls for the appointment of a monitor whose job will be to make sure the agency follows all city, state and local laws and regulations to ensure the city’s 400,000 public housing tenants are living in habitable apartments.