This open letter was sent over the weekend to City Manager Charles B. Strome and copied to all members of the City Council.
As you all know, I have made a mission of bringing greater transparency and accountability to public agencies in New Rochelle with a particular focus on FOIL and OML.
For those who know their history, you know that there were two particular changes made in our form of government from that of England at the time of the American Revolution -- British citizens were not allowed to attend parliament and were not allowed to obtain records of the business of parliament. Our Constitution specifically addressed these two points as anyone who has sat in the visitors galleries at the U.S Capitol can tell you.
Our Republic is constructed to rely upon an informed electorate to make decisions on who should represent them in government. An informed electorate requires access to public records and public meetings as well as a robust, independent press to promulgate information derived from those records and meetings. FOIL and OML are thus the linchpins upon which rests the legitimacy of any government agency in our country.
Since founding Talk of the Sound in 2008, and constantly agitating on the issue, and gaining support from various elected and appointed officials, including some on this email, New Rochelle has made great strides with regard to FOIL and OML. While there is still work to be done, the progress has been marked. For example, from one in 2008, today every single public meeting (city, school district) is video taped, broadcast live and on tape and archived online...save one.
The New Rochelle Municipal Housing Authority has a $4mm budget, controls tens of millions of dollars in property and services over 2,000 residents including the elderly, special needs persons, veterans and other groups not to mention many families with young children.
Yet they operate almost completely in the dark without respect for FOIL or OML.
In discussions with some of you there is a tendency to throw up your hands and say "we have nothing to do with the housing authority".
Of course, that is not remotely true.
- 5 of the 7 commissioners are appointed by the City Manager, a super-majority
- The City provides funding and services which is, in turn, funded by taxpayers
- The Heritage Homes is built upon City property contributed to the project
- The City provides roads and other infrastructure
- The City provides policing, fire and paramedic services
- All of those things are provided by taxpayer money
- Every resident in a NRMHA is a New Rochelle resident, your constituents
My intention here is not to address the content of the function of the NRMHA as a whole - policy decisions, building maintenance, funding decisions, contracting of services, etc. - but rather the form of the NRMHA board and the commitment of the board to FOIL and OML. I view my mission is to make it not just possible but easy for the public to see what a public body does and then form their own opinions and act on them as appropriate.
The City can help in several ways.
1. Formally notify the NRMHA that the City expects the NRMHA to comply with the letter and spirit of FOIL/OML including some, if not all, of the recommendations in my article including those that go beyond the law such as not serving food and drinks during the meeting or putting board member information on line.
2. Offer to subsidize OML compliance by the NRMHA by hosting their public meetings in City Hall and to integrate their meetings into the existing system of broadcasting and archiving video of those meetings on the City's cable access channels and web site.
3. Set some requirements regarding the future appointment of Commissioners including a form of term limits - 4 commissioners have been on the board for more than 10 years, one for 24 and - and require some enforceable commitment to support FOIL/OML.
4. Promise that no incumbent commissioners will be re-appointed unless the FOIL/OML requirements of the City Manager (and by implication all of you) are fully implemented by the end of this year, starting with not re-appointing Dr. Woods, whose term ends in March 2015.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I am happy to answer any questions.
PS. Before anyone asks, of course, I know who Steve Horton is. Whatever anyone thinks, including him, it is the board that sets policy not the executive director and these are all policy issues.
For those readers who share these concerns that the NRMHA comply fully with OML and FOIL and wish to take action, I would encourage you to (1) contact the City Manager, the Mayor and City Council Members on this topic and respectfully express your concerns; and (2) join me at the next NRMHA meeting scheduled for July 14 at 5 pm at 50 Sickles Avenue in New Rochelle.
UPDATE: Looks like I will not be along at the 7/14 meeting.
I will be attending the July 14th NRMHA meeting at 5PM at your office. Please let me know if I am able to ask questions on the following items (giving you a heads up so that perhaps answers are provided then):
· Number and percentage of Latino Families in NRMHA unites in facilities in New Rochelle (non-section 8):
· Number and percentage of Latino families in the newly built Lincoln apartments;
· Number of Latino employees (both FT and PT) in the NRMHA.
New Rochelle, NY
Begin forwarded message:
From: "Capozi, Virginia"
Date: June 17, 2014 at 10:03:27 AM EDT
To: "[email protected]"
I am deeply concerned with the recent exposure of the NRMHA deficiencies. I would like to know why this body is not complying with OML and FOIL regulations. As a taxpayer, I am disheartened by the complete and total arrogance of this legislative body. Could you please explain why regulations are not being adhered to and compliance is not being met with regards to OML and FOIL?