We’ll eye board’s il­le­gal vote his­tory From now on, we’ll do the right thing

New York Daily News - - NEWS - BY GREG B. SMITH

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.

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