The Saga of Yonkersites’ Continuing Travail
The City of Yonkers (CoY) was recently admonished, perhaps “scolded” is a better term, by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, for not engaging in RFPs (Request for Proposals) from companies and/or individuals for services rendered. Comptroller DiNapoli validated his “warning” by advising CoY that the taxpayer was ill served when long held relationships, while satisfactory by many or most measure, may deter CoY from finding less expensive, comparable vendors. In fact, the only way to learn if similar goods/services are available is to issue RFPs.
And, while it may seem Comptroller DiNapoli is proficient in scrutinizing The People’s money on the State level, Yonkers continues to scoff at his financial and fiscal acumen by defining him as being smug, derisive, condescending, and impertinent. Upon reflection it can be said that CoY’s too cozy relationship with Harris Beach, CoY’s bonds counsel, has skirted any and all scrutiny that can prove they are “best” engaged for CoY. And that is the rub. Yonkers should take Comptroller DiNapoli’s advice.
While Harris Beach has been a vendor for all the years this reporter has covered CoY, one must define whom Harris Beach serves. Is it Yonkersites who are served under the conduct of “best practice”? Does the relationship with Harris Beach blur by its pretense of so-called transparency with respect to the public interest while engaging in an opaque cloak that serves Yonkers City Hall rather than the Yonkers taxpayer. Former Corporation Counsels serving both Mayors Spencer and Amicone have been employed by Harris Beach, as will current Corporation Counsel Michael Curti, Esq. Yonkers Corporation Counsel Frank Rubino and Counsel Mark Blanchard departed Mayor Phil Amicone for employ by Harris Beach, as did Mayor Amicone’s son. Mayor Mike Spano hired Michael Curti as Corporation Counsel under his administration. He is slated to leave that position for employment by Harris Beach within weeks’ time.
Yonkers City Hall with full support by Harris Beach will soon convene the Yonkers Board of Ethics, a misnomer, if ever there was one. In fact, this “supposed” august membership allowed its terms to lapse; their credentials as members of the Yonkers Board of Ethics expired in 2017. When it was recognized they lost their appointments, the little semblance of credibility they falsely believed they held in the minds of Yonkersites, their collective membership was resuscitated by reappointment. They will soon be charged with rendering a decision over whether the future employ of Yonkers Corporation Counsel Michael Curti is an inherent conflict of interest. Just imagine the Yonkers Board of Ethics will be entrusted to decide in advance whether Harris Beach can within weeks employ Michael Curti and not be a conflict of interest. Truth be told it is a conflict of interest though that outcome should not be exacted from the Yonkers Board of Ethics. Were Yonkersites aware that the Yonkers Board of Ethics membership is comprised of many names from Yonkers historical past and that they have evolved into a group of sychophants that have betrayed almost every standard of ethics that came before them to the detriment of the Yonkers taxpayer, a reassessments of their ability to delve into issues of pertinence to the public interest would be questioned. The connecting dots follow…
Most people are unaware that Bond Counsel Harris Beach holds a most sought after contract. Harris Beach’s fee is incorporated into the cost of the bond, known to Harris Beach, the Office of Mayor Mike Spano, Yonkers Finance Commissioner John Liszewski, and Yonkers Corporation Counsel. Were Finance Commissioner Liszewski to be forthright, he would speak to the cost for the bond and then further advise the fee paid to Harris Beach. This is the way Wall Street operates. Were someone interested in buying a stock or a bond of any kind, they would be quoted the cost of the stock or bond, and then advised the brokerage fee, that is the cost above and beyond the instrument purchased. Think of Harris Beach as the CoY’s stockbroker. Some people have come to know that you can purchase as well as sell stocks and or bonds at different price points. Company A will charge one rate; a second, third, or fourth firm may charge more or less or the same. So the next time an ignorant Yonkers City Councilmember asks the question of Yonkers Finance Commissioner John Liszewski or a member of his Staff what the cost of the bond was and what the fee that is paid to Harris Beach for each transaction accomplished, a response often heard expressed is “we got a good price” is not an acceptable response. It is a dishonest answer and not a forthright response. It is high time Yonkers City Councilmembers learn how to ask a knowledgeable and erudite follow-up question so they, as well as all Yonkersites understand the complexity of the issue as well as the concerns that are hidden from sight and scrutiny because most people are unaware of the process in all its complexity. As in my case, were I not familiar with the many Stock Market Exchanges, and Bond Markets, I too, would be easily fooled and not be able to explain circumstances and issues such as these. This is another reason why on the job training so many would-be politicians believe is tolerable is not, and has proven to diminish Yonkers’ prospects for decades. Thank goodness Yonkersites are not as ignorant as Yonkers City Hall would have them believe.
Yonkers Board of Ethics have most often convened on the second floor of Yonkers City Hall, in the Mayor’s Conference Room. In the past, their meetings were held without fanfare. They most likely did “officially” notice it somewhere. Where is beyond me. But even so, for many years, having learned of their gatherings, I dutifully attended their hearings. If memory serves me well, and it does, they convened at approximately 7pm. The meetings would be called to order and within under five minutes time, a motion to conduct an Executive Session was proposed and seconded, requiring all those in attendance other than the Board of Ethics membership to leave. I was the only one in attendance. I awaited for the conclusion of the Executive Session outside the Mayor’s Conference Room, so advising the Board. Approximately an hour later, I was asked to re-enter the Mayor’s Conference Room to be advised the Executive Session had concluded. In the most nebulous and meaningless terms the subject matter was neither told then nor was the outcome divulged in future minutes written by or under the aegis of the Yonkers Board of Ethics or the Yonkers Inspector General. This happened years on end. Eventually I had to admit to myself that their intention was to keep me in the dark. I was ‘thick headed; I wanted to hound them. Truth be told the six members were loud enough to be overheard. Within a week or two I would divulge what I learned in the Yonkers Tribune, at a later date, so there could be no inference as to how I learned certain information. They never caught on.
The Yonkers Board of Ethics proved themselves deficient in many disciplines, including ethically. It is unlikely any of the members where studied in the standards and discipline of ethics. The takeaway is that the Yonkers Board of Ethics had and continues to succeed in maintaining Yonkers City Hall’s cover that mostly benefits those who appointed them with little or no benefit to Yonkersites learning issues or outcome. The purpose of a Board of Ethics is to teach others among society what acceptable standards are, what may be considered a conflict of interest, and that issues that are studied of potential conflict are after discourse judged not to be.
Exonerating Corporation Counsel Michael Curti Esq., before he has been officially hired by Harris Beach, deflects attention from why Harris Beach should be desirous of the Yonkers Board of Ethics waiver and questioning their own ethical standards. They know there is a conflict of interest. So Harris Beach plays CoY to do their dirty work for them, believing they have dodged the bullet that will put them out of future contention by employing a former disgraced Senator Nick Spano associate as their future conduit to CoY; this time as an employee. Harris Beach has an internal division that studies such concerns. Review of Mayor Mike Spano’s Proposed FY2018-2019 Budget has not and will not reveal the fees charged by Harris Beach. A Request for Proposal from other Bond Counsel brokers would reveal whether Yonkers taxpayers have been overcharged, whether Harris Beach has engaged in underwriting campaign and re-election campaign efforts in the past, that would go toward proof of or be deficient of proof of quid-pro-quo.
Has anyone questioned why so many Yonkers Corporation Counsel have found employment at Harris Beach? Are they giving Yonkers taxpayers a per transaction purchase / sell price that is competitive? Why is Yonkers not paying the lowest rates available? Is Yonkers under financial stress or not? Will 400 plus employees be fired? Why is CoY not engaging in lowering its cost outlays? Have any of the Executive, Legislative, or Judicial Branch of government engaged in studying whether CoY’s fees to Harris Beach are competitive? Why not? is there such a report? If not, why not? And why is there no distinction between the cost of a bond and the brokerage fee charged by Harris Beach?
While it seems illogical to suffer one warning after another from the Office of New State Comptroller DiNapoli, his purview is limited to suggestion only. He does not have the legislative means to force any jurisdiction to engage in best practice or to cease and desist their errant conduct. Something to which CoY has adeptly accomplished.
Yonkers Tribune has recently learned that while those presently employed in CoY face the chopping block, Yonkers City Hall has hired another one of former Majority Leader John Larkin’s family member. Now four in total. Former Yonkers City Council President Liam McLaughlin can also beat his chest knowing that his two brothers are likewise employed at the behest of Yonkers City Hall.
This crisis of deflect, deny, and deny, again, is never ending!