Monday, August 27, 2012

City Not Complying With Park Private Funding Reporting Law


Four years ago, the City Council passed a law to shed light on how much money was flowing into different parks across the city. Advocates were concerned that the parks system was splitting in two: in wealthy areas of the city, gleaming, innovative green spaces, buttressed by private financing sources; elsewhere, ailing parks with far fewer resources at their disposal.

The legislation required the Department of Parks and Recreation of New York City to prepare an annual report that would detail, park by park, the contributions of nonprofits and other private donors.
“We wanted to see just how large the disparity is,” said Geoffrey Croft, the president of NYC Park Advocates, which supported the legislation. The City Council agreed, and after the measure was approved by a vote of 48-0, the new reporting requirements became Local Law 28 of 2008.
Yet the reports from the parks department fall far short of the law’s requirements, according to The New York Times. 
A report on the 2010 fiscal year fails to list the city’s largest parks nonprofit, the Central Park Conservancy, which spent $28 million during that period. Other major parks groups, including the Union Square Partnership, the Madison Square Park Conservancy and the Friends of Washington Square Park, are also missing.
“It doesn’t reflect a real effort to comply with the law,” Alan J. Gerson, a former councilman who sat on the parks committee in 2008, said.
“Whether it’s for schools, or parks or any public place, the public should know where the private money is coming from and what it’s buying. It’s basic good government,” Mr. Gerson, a Manhattan Democrat, said.
“That’s what we wanted to establish,” he said.
In 2008, the law was praised by council members and the parks department during public hearings. Liam Kavanagh, the first deputy commissioner for parks, said at the time that the legislation was in sync with the Bloomberg administration’s efforts to increase government transparency, adding, “I want to reiterate our shared commitment to full disclosure.”
The reports, however, were never posted on the Web sites of the City Council or the parks department.
Of the over three dozen park conservancy groups listed in a 2007 study by the Citizens Budget Commission as having expenditures high enough to meet the law’s reporting thresholds, the parks department included only seven in its 2010 report.
Dozens of other donors are also missing from that report, including Columbia University, Cabot Creamery, and real estate and construction firms that do business with the city. At least 40 such donors contributed to the parks department during fiscal year 2010, according to filings at the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, but the 2010 report lists only six of them. Columbia and Cabot were listed on the latest report encompassing the 2011 fiscal year.
Many organizations that are listed on the reports appear without the precise dollar amounts of their contributions. The Prospect Park Alliance, for example, is listed on the 2010 report, but its expenditures of $10 million are not. Instead, the group appears with a code indicating expenditures of “$1 million or more.” The codes are borrowed from the Conflicts of Interest Board, where they are used to protect donors’ privacy.
“It’s clearly not the most illuminating,” said Doug Turetsky, chief of staff at the city’s Independent Budget Office, referring to the 2010 report. “You’d want to see more detail in terms of specific amounts.”
The parks department initially defended the reports. But after receiving detailed questions about their content, a department spokeswoman, Vickie Karp, wrote in an e-mail that “questions about who should be reporting through this document are fair and deserve further review.” The department did not offer an explanation for the missing data and declined to make a parks official available for an interview.
The current chairwoman of the parks committee, Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito, a Manhattan Democrat, declined to comment.
A spokesman for Councilwoman Helen D. Foster, a Bronx Democrat who was a co-sponsor of the bill in 2008 and shepherded it through the parks committee, which she led at the time, said Ms. Foster “did not feel she remembered the legislation.”
The disparities are evident in Pelham Bay Park, which sprawls over 2,700 acres in the northeast Bronx. It is the city’s largest green space — three times the size of Central Park — but its budget is far smaller, and clearly strained, despite the efforts of parks employees and an active volunteer group.
“The staff is passionately committed to the park,” said Lizbeth González, the president of the Friends of Pelham Bay Park. “But we need more resources.”
Along the park’s eastern edge, the waters of the Long Island Sound lap up against a crumbling retaining wall. A quiet beach alcove is strewed with meteor-size chunks of brick and mortar, and piles of trash in decay.
“We would collect all the trash and burn it,” said Aníbal Lugo, a retired handyman who was angling for bluefish along the shore. “Then the police gave me a ticket.”
He produced the citation, which he carries in his wallet, and explained that now, they let the trash be.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: September 14, 2012
An article on Aug. 27 about the compliance of the Department of Parks and Recreation of New York City with a law requiring annual reports on nongovernmental support of its parks included several errors.
A report covering the 2010 fiscal year is not the most recent report. A report encompassing the 2011 fiscal year has indeed been submitted by the parks department; it is not the case that the 2011 report, due in December, is still incomplete. (The 2011 report was not made available to the reporter until after the article was published.)
While the 2010 report did not include information on the city’s largest parks nonprofit, Central Park Conservancy, or donations from Columbia University and Cabot Creamery to the parks department, some of that information was included in the 2011 report.
And Pelham Bay Park is about three times the size of Central Park, not four. That error, introduced during the editing process, was repeated in a picture caption.
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New York Times  - August 26, 2012  - Jacob Hodes

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