Monday, November 3, 2014

Cries of "Part-Time" Parks Commissioner Grow As Silver Travels The Globe

Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver is a busy man. The globe-trotting Parks Commissioner  was presented with an honorary member lifetime award at Oxford University in London on September 20, 2014.  Over the last five months he racked up more than fifty-thousand frequent flyer miles while also presiding over the country's largest urban park system. 


Where's Mitch-Waldo.

That's the question that is being asked with increasing frequency. 

The globe-trotting new Parks Commissioner has racked up more than fifty-thousand frequent flyer miles not counting his weekly trips to Boston over the last five months NYC Park Advocates has learned.

International destinations include South Africa, Singapore, Spain, London and domestic travel included Kentucky and  Raleigh N.C. for previous commitments which were not cancelled when he became parks commissioner.

Some park employees say they keep track of the whereabouts and views commissioner by his twitter account.

One day a week he travels up to Boston to teach a graduate planning course - Friday afternoon - 2:00- 5:00 at Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

Office Hours: Friday 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.

In between his personal traveling, teaching and lecturing gigs he presides over the largest urban park system in the country.

For the first time in the city's history a new parks commissioner began his job more than four months after a new mayor was sworn in.  Although he technically began his job on May 12,  he didn't move back to the city till June after packing up and selling his house in Raleigh, N.C. while his wife - a teacher - and daughter finished the school year. 

Parks insiders note that with the exception some high profile patronage jobs appointed by Mayor Bloomberg including Betsy Smith and Larry Scott Blackmon who have departed senior management has remained virtually unchanged in the new administration which is not a good sign for an agency that is widely regarded as being in desperate need of reform.

The grumblings have gotten louder within the agency among some long-time park employees who are frustrated that he has not made personnel changes and that he is not further up to speed on the inner workings of the Parks Department. 

"He keeps saying,  ''I don't know' and 'I'll have to get back to you on that,' said a long-time parks employee. 

"He can't be expected to know everything at this stage but certainly being away so much has impacted things here."

At least one long-time parks employee said they saw a silver lining in Silver's responses and even finds them refreshing compared to the previous administration.

"At least he says he doesn't know unlike the previous commissioner (Adrian Benepe) who would simply lie to your face… and smirk."

"He seems open and that he's listening but we'll see if that translates to any real change around here. That will be the proof." 

Several employees in interviews referred to Mr. Silver as a part-time parks commissioner.  

"Being in touch with Liam (Kavanagh First Deputy Commissioner)  and Kate (Spellman, chief of staff)  is not the same as being there running the agency that is what we need, true leadership not running around the world," said another long time employee who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

"That's great that he is traveling all around the world giving other places advice but our city needs planning."

On Friday the commissioner said that there was nothing to report for 2015 relating to any future travel and teaching plans and would share them as soon as he decides what his plans are and when they have been approved.  Approvals must come from the First Deputy Mayor and Conflict of Interest Board. 

"I have not made any decisions for 2015 and therefore nothing has been approved,"  Commissioner Silver said.

"Speculation at this point would not be productive."

The Parks Department’s controversial plan to continue to replace swaths of the historic Coney Island wooden boardwalk with concrete slabs has been met with fierce opposition.   

For six months area representatives Councilman Mark Treyger and Chaim Deutsch have been trying to get the De Blasio administration to address the environmental and public safety concerns to no avail.

On May 19th,  the council members along fellow member Deborah Rose and Parks Chair Mark Levine sent a letter to Bill De blasio urging the administration to place a moratorium on laying additional concrete slabs across on the boardwalk until adequate engineering and environmental studies can been done. 

"In October 2010... a Bloomberg-administered Parks Department began gutting wood from sections of the Coney Island Boardwalk and replacing them with concrete slabs through a series of “pilot studies,”  the letter stated.

"That designation enabled the replacements to circumvent environmental studies and regulatory oversight, as well as public scrutiny," it read.

"In addition to concerns about the aesthetics of the concrete slabs, there is potential evidence that the concrete may have exacerbated storm-surge damage during Hurricane Sandy."
The administration has blown off their concerns.

Treyger and Deutsch finally got a meeting scheduled with Silver in early September but the Parks Department canceled it at the last minute.

A former council member has fared no better. 

Former City Council member Carol Greiser has also been frustrated over not being able to secure a meeting.  

Since June she said she has contacted the commissioner's office close to a dozen times trying to get a meeting on behalf of The Union Square Community Coalition regarding the controversial Union Square Park restaurant issue.  

"They never got back to me, not once," said Ms. Greiser who represented the area around the park for twenty-one years. 

"They were passing the buck as to who was doing the scheduling," Greiser said. 

On Friday, after a reporter contacted the press office for comment, Ms. Greiser said she received a call offering her several potential dates in December, seven months after she first contacted the office.  

Parks Commissioner Silver returned to Raleigh N.C. to attend the Hopscotch Design Festival where he spoke on September 3, 2014.

He returns to his alma mater, The Pratt Institute on Wednesday, Nov 12, 2014 6:00 PM—8:00 PM  to present his vision of the future of NYC parks and public space under the new mayoral administration.  

Conference Destinations

•  Durban,  South Africa,  October 19- 22.  He was the International Keynote speaker at the Planning Africa 2014 conference. 

•   Lexington Kentucky - October 1-3 (which was announced on July 8th months after he was appointed) KeyNote Speaker at the American Planning Association organized  OKI Regional Planning Conference.

•  September 20.  The Royal Town Planning Institute presented Mitchell Silver with honorary member lifetime award at Oxford University,  in London.   

•  September 22. A few days later he scooted over to he University of Sheffield to give a lecture at the Department of Town and Regional Planning for students and the general public. 

•  Raleigh N.C.  September 3-4  Hopscotch Design Festival. 

•  Singapore - July 10-14.  World Cities Summit.   

•  Bilbao, Spain - June 11-14,  Bilbao Urban Innovation and Leadership Dialogues   


•  He is a  John T. Dunlop Lecturer of Housing and Urbanization at Harvard University Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, Mass.  where he teaches a graduate planning course on Friday afternoons - 2:00- 5:00 during the fall semester called,   "Planning for the 21st Century: Emerging Trends, Challenges and Opportunities/Fall 2014"  

On March 21, 2014 Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the appointment of Mitchell Silver as the city’s next parks commissioner a press conference at Seward Park on the Lower East Side. Commissioner Silver, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and First Deputy Parks Commissioner Liam Kavanagh who has largely been running the agency this year confer moments before the announcemnt.  (Photo: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on image to enlarge.

Read More:

DNAinfo - November 3, 2014 -  By James Fanelli

1 comment:

  1. Nice article! Did the Times use this as a source for their article today?