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This Week in New York State Government

Governor:

Governor Cuomo Announces Administration Appointments

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the following appointments to his administration, adding to a team committed to implementing his bold agenda.

Roberta Reardon will be nominated as Commissioner of the Department of Labor. Previously, Ms. Reardon served as Special Liaison for Common Sense Economics at AFL-CIO, and as Founding Co-President of SAG-AFTRA, a 165,000 member union for the entertainment industry. She was the National President of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), and is a member on the Board of Trustees for the AFTRA Health and Retirement Fund, the Actors Fund of America, and New York City Labor Council, as well as a Fellow of the Workers Institute of Cornell University. Ms. Reardon holds a B.A. from the University of Wyoming.

David Contreras Turley has been appointed Director of Constituency Affairs. Prior, Mr. Turley served as the Associate Regional Field Director for the Human Rights Campaign where he worked to pass marriage equality successfully in Rhode Island, Maryland and New York. He worked as the Director of LGBT Outreach for Cy Vance’s campaign for Manhattan District Attorney, and as Director of Latino Outreach in Colorado with Obama for America. Mr. Turley holds a B.A. from Vanderbilt University.

Sherry Hwang Rodriguez has been appointed Senior Policy Advisor for Labor & Workforce within the Executive Chamber. Ms. Rodriguez joined the Administration as an Excelsior Service Fellow in September 2013 and served as FOIL Counsel since April 2014. During law school, she worked in her school’s Community Economic Development Clinic and interned at the New York City Council, National Financial Partners, and Samsung C&T. Prior to law school, Ms. Rodriguez served as Youth Department Specialist at Asian American Community Services, where she wrote grants and oversaw leadership and mentoring/tutoring programs for at-risk Asian American youth. Ms. Rodriguez also worked as an Executive Assistant at NuVision Federal Credit Union and at Spencer Stuart. Ms. Rodriguez holds a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law and a B.S. in psychology from The Ohio State University.

Catalina Cruz has been appointed Special Assistant for Labor and Workforce, and will serve as the Director of the Exploited Workers Task Force and the Joint Enforcement Task Force on Employee Misclassification. Ms. Cruz most recently served as the Counsel to the Immigration Committee at the New York City Council, where she worked on the oversight of the Key to the City outreach program, the Unaccompanied Minors Initiative and the implementation of New York City’s municipal identification program (IDNYC). Previously,‎ she served as Counsel to the Division of Immigrant Affairs (DIPA) at the New York State Department of Labor. As Counsel to DIPA, she managed the Agency’s anti-human trafficking efforts. Before working with the State, she was a Staff Attorney at the Goddard Riverside SRO Law Project, representing low income rent stabilized tenants. She serves on the boards of the Latino Lawyers Association of Queens County, and the Cypress Hills Child Care Corporation. Ms. Cruz holds a B.A. from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a J.D. from the City University of New York School of Law.

Mongthu Zago has been appointed FOIL Counsel in the Executive Chamber. Ms. Zago was previously a Law Clerk for Justice Lucy Billings of the New York County Supreme Court, as well as Acting Justice Kelly O’Neill Levy. She holds a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law and a B.A. from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Pam Widener has been appointed Speechwriter for the Executive Chamber. Previously, Ms. Widener served as a freelance writer and producer for VH1 and HBO, where she had various roles in documentaries and TV series. She was the Development Communications Writer at Baruch College, and was the Vice President of Development at Offline Entertainment Group. She was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2012 and received two CINE Golden Eagle Awards in 2008 and 2012. Ms. Widener holds a B.A. from Colgate University and did graduate work in nonfiction writing at The New School.

James Regalbuto has been appointed Deputy Superintendent of the Life Bureau at the Department of Financial Services. Mr. Regalbuto previously served as a Supervisor for Life Product Strategy & Support at The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. Prior, he was a Senior Competition Analyst at New York Life Insurance Company and a Life Insurance Consultant at Alliant Insurance Services. Mr. Regalbuto holds a B.B.A. in Finance from the University of Miami.

Heriberto Barbot has been appointed Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles, overseeing safety, consumer protection, and clean air. Previously, Mr. Barbot served as the Chief of Staff and Special Counsel for New York City’s Department of Youth and Community Development, as well as the Deputy Comptroller in the Office of the Comptroller of the City of New York. He has been the General Counsel for the William F. Ryan Community Health Network, Regional Counsel for Aetna, and the Assistant General Counsel for NYLCare Health Plans. Mr. Barbot holds a J.D. from New York University School of Law, a B.S. from Brooklyn College, and served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.

RuthAnne Visnauskas has been appointed Executive Deputy Commissioner for Housing Development of NYS Homes and Community Renewal. Previously, Ms. Visnauskas served as Managing Director of the Housing Advisory Board for the Robin Hood Foundation, where she sought to expand their affordable housing efforts in New York City. She also served in the City of New York’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development for eight years, holding various roles and culminating as Commissioner of the Agency. Ms. Visnauskas holds an M.U.P. in urban planning from New York University and a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania.

Betsy Mallow has been appointed Executive Deputy Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer of Homes and Community Renewal. Most recently, Ms. Mallow serves as Deputy Executive Director in the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, where she helped oversee New York’s long term recovery from Superstorm Sandy. Previously, she was the New York State Deputy Director on the White House Task Force on Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding, a Consultant at the Boston Consulting Group, and a Senior Program Manager for Impact Assessment at the Ford Foundation. Ms. Mallow holds a B.A. from Brown University and a M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

Nathaalie Carey has been appointed Deputy Commissioner for Administration and Chief Financial Officer at the Department of Labor. Ms. Carey previously served as Assistant Comptroller in the Office of the New York State Comptroller, as well as the Chief Financial Officer for Broome County Government in Binghamton. She has been a lecturer at various colleges and universities, including in Albany and Binghamton. Ms. Carey holds a B.A. and M.P.A. from the State University of New York at Binghamton where she was also a member of the university’s Council for approximately 5 years.

Brian Conley has been appointed Special Counsel to the Commissioner for Ethics, Risk and Compliance at the Office of General Services. Mr. Conley previously served as an Assistant District Attorney in Albany County beginning in 2006, and in Orange County beginning in 2002. He holds a J.D. from Albany Law School and a B.S. from Hartwick College.

Governor Cuomo Announces 75-Year Lease Deal Turning JFK’s Historic TWA Flight Center Into Hotel Complex

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the formal approval of a long-range lease deal to turn the landmark TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy Airport into a hotel complex which will honor the airport’s golden jet age era, while providing vital on-airport rooms and services for travelers. JFK is one of the few U.S. airports without an on-airport hotel. The $265 million construction project, which is expected to break ground next year, will generate 3,700 jobs – including approximately 2,500 union construction and restoration jobs – and is expected to open in 2018. Plans for the hotel were first announced by Governor Cuomo in July.

The project, approved by the Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners, calls for a 75-year lease agreement with Flight Center Hotel LLC, a partnership of MCR Development and JetBlue Airways Corporation, to remake the TWA Flight Center and its nearly six-acre site into JFK’s only on-airport hotel. MCR Development will maintain 95 percent ownership of the hotel and JetBlue will have 5 percent.

Flight Center Hotel LLC will invest approximately $265 million to continue renovations of the historical TWA Flight Center, while developing 505 hotel rooms, 40,000 square feet of meeting space, restaurants, a spa and a 10,000-square-foot observation deck. The complex will feature two six-story hotel towers and a micro-grid energy management system, allowing the building to generate its own power.

Additionally, preservationists will see the curving 1960’s-era stark white concourse with plush-red lounge area, designed by legendary architect Eero Saarinen, remain as it first looked a half-a-century ago following a $20 million renovation by the Port Authority to comply with the building’s historic designation. Development of an on-airport hotel fulfils a key recommendation provided by the Governor’s Airport Master Plan Advisory Panel for Kennedy Airport’s master plan. Along with the developer’s financial commitment, the Port Authority also will invest up to $8 million in a connector to the JetBlue terminal, a parking garage and AirTrain Station to serve the hotel complex.

Governor Cuomo Announces Fifth Annual MWBE Forum

Governor Cuomo encouraged business owners, community leaders and other interested parties to register for New York State’s Fifth Annual MWBE Forum, to be held October 1-2, 2015, at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, New York. The Forum, the State’s largest annual business event for minority-and women-owned business enterprises, helps small businesses from across New York navigate the State’s available contract opportunities to grow their businesses.

The Forum will examine critical areas of procurement in Transportation, Construction and Information Technology, as well as Financial and Professional services. This year’s theme, “Opportunities Start Now,” reflects New York State’s commitment to exceeding its statewide MWBE procurement goal by helping small businesses take on more business in new and emerging markets and increase their capacity to create more jobs. State leaders and industry experts will lead panel discussions on top State initiatives such as the $4 billion LaGuardiaRedevelopment Program and the Gaming Commission’s $1.3 billion casino project.

At this year’s Forum, attendees will learn about the State’s adoption of the new industry standard product and service codes for construction, professional services, and commodities, designed to facilitate quick and easy identification of qualified MWBE certified firms. The Forum will also showcase the Governor’s “Supply & Demand: Opportunities for Real MWBE Growth Initiative,” which will identify meaningful opportunities in industries that have low rates of MWBE utilization.In addition to workshops and panels that will help connect business owners with contract opportunities, this year’s Forum will feature two special guests. Ursula Burns, Chairman and CEO of Xerox Corporation, and David N. Dinkins, former Mayor of New York City and Professor of Public Affairs at Columbia University’s School of International & Public Affairs (SIPA), will join State agencies, Fortune 500 companies, MWBEs, and other small businesses at the Forum.

The Forum also features an Expo that provides MWBEs and small businesses with targeted networking opportunities that give business owners and entrepreneurs access to public and private sector decision makers working in a variety of industries. The Industry Expo will feature more than 50 private companies such as Goldman Sacks, Tutor Perini Corporation, and Herman Miller, Inc. Similarly, more than 50 State and local government agencies will participate in the Meet Government Expo. During Day 2 of the Forum, attendees will have the opportunity to join interactive, industry-based roundtables, meet industry leaders and professionals and participate in business capacity building sessions.

Governor Cuomo Announces $35 Million Transformation of Roberto Clemente State Park and Waterfront Has Begun

Governor Cuomo announced the start of construction on $35 million in projects to make Roberto Clemente State Park’s Harlem River waterfront greener and more storm-resilient. The projects will strengthen the park and surrounding neighborhood against flooding, as well as renovate the park’s upper plaza to create a more welcoming gateway for the park’s 1.3 million visitors.

The announcement comes during Climate Week, which Governor Cuomo proclaimed from September 22-29 to raise awareness about the challenges we face with a changing climate and to highlight New York’s actions to increase resiliency and curb emissions as global leaders meet in New York City this week. At Roberto Clemente State Park, construction has begun on two major portions of the park’s 1970s infrastructure: replacing the park’s 2,200-foot steel bulkhead and renovating the park’s upper plaza.

The two-year, $28 million project to rebuild the bulkhead with a more resilient design and enhance the adjacent esplanade area comes after discovering severe corrosion of the steel sea wall and loss of backfill beneath the park esplanade in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. The redesigned waterfront will provide enhanced flood protection, storm resilience and green infrastructure. The outdated esplanade will be rehabilitated into a more park-like setting; featuring a shared pedestrian/bicycle pathway; river overlook, new boat launch, new performance area, new plantings and a scenic 9,000-square-foot inter-tidal area that will provide natural habitat for plant and animal life and absorb heavy rainfall. These improvements will provide safe, new access to the Harlem River and spur unique environmental education opportunities.

The project is financed through a Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and is expected to be completed by summer 2017.

Governor Cuomo Signs Bill Strengthening Protections for Victims of Sexual Assault

Governor Cuomo signed legislation strengthening protections for victims of sexual assault. This ensures that, in cases where the defendant is convicted of sexually assaulting a family member, the order of protection for the victim extends at least through the end of the defendant’s probation term. Previously, orders of protection often expired while an offender was out of jail but remained on probation.

This bill, (A.1797-A / S.4340-B), requires a 10-year order of protection in cases ‎where a felony sexual assault conviction involving a family member includes probation. In the event of a misdemeanor charge, a six-year order of protection is required. Both terms match the maximum terms of probation orders under these offenses.

The Governor also signed legislation (S.5240 / A.2242) that will help protect the personal safety of those that legally change their name. By law, any name change must be published in a designated newspaper, however, in certain circumstances waivers can be issued if safety is at risk. This bill gives courts broad powers to consider a waiver application and makes clear that their discretion is not limited to a direct threat against a person’s safety.

Governor Cuomo Signs “Amanda Lynn’s Law”

Governor Cuomo signed “Amanda Lynn’s Law,” which strengthens penalties against those who seek to unlawfully conceal or dispose of a body.

The measure is named after Amanda Lynn Wienckowski, a Western New York woman who died under questionable circumstances in 2009. Although authorities were unable to prove the exact circumstances of her death, they did establish that individuals hid her body in an apparent attempt to avoid its discovery. That action had been only punishable by a misdemeanor.

“With this legislation, these vile and reprehensible acts will be treated under the law with the seriousness they deserve,” Governor Cuomo said. “The heartache and uncertainty that Amanda Lynn’s loved ones experienced is unacceptable and I thank the sponsors of this bill for working to help ensure this horrific situation is not repeated.”

Current law only regulates the manner in which cemeteries, funeral directors, and medical professionals can dispose of remains and fails to address situations where they are intentionally concealed, altered, or destroyed to prevent its discovery. This bill (S.2957-A /A.4085-A) makes this offense an E felony punishable by up to four years in prison and up to a $5,000 fine.

Governor Cuomo Announces Nearly 200,000 New Yorkers Have Registered to Vote Online

Governor Cuomo announced that more than 195,000 New Yorkers, more than 53,000 of which were registering for the first time, have registered to vote at dmv.ny.gov using the Department of Motor Vehicles automated online system, MyDMV. The service is the first and only online voter registration process in New York State. The deadline to register to vote in the upcoming November general elections is October 9.

Governor Cuomo announced the launch of DMV’s online voter registration service in August 2012 to expand access to voter registration and allow New Yorkers for the first time ever to apply to register to vote or update their address or party enrollment through a secure online site.

By following a few simple steps, it is easy to sign up for a secure MyDMV account. MyDMV offers customers quick and easy access to a variety of personalized and secure online services without mailing in forms or making a trip to a local DMV office. To create an account, individuals must use their New York State driver license, permit or non-driver ID, last four digits of their Social Security Number (SSN), and the ZIP code currently listed on their New York State DMV issued driver license, permit or non-driver ID record.

To register to vote, a New Yorker must:

  • Be a United States citizen.
  • Be 18 years old by December 31 of the year in which you submit the form (note: you must be 18 years old by the date of the general, primary or other election in which you want to vote).
  • Live at your present address at least 30 days before an election.
  • Not be in prison or on parole for a felony conviction, or be ruled mentally incompetent by a court.
  • Not claim the right to vote elsewhere.

Governor Cuomo Launches Statewide Initiative to Recruit Veterans to Help New Americans Learn English and Become U.S. Citizens

Governor Cuomo launched a statewide effort to recruit Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces to volunteer and assist immigrants who want to become American citizens. Veterans would teach newcomers English and help them prepare for the U.S. civics portion of the naturalization exam. The initiative will also encourage immigrants to volunteer with Veterans organizations, including the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs offices and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals to assist returning service members in their transition from military to civilian life.

The New York State Office for New Americans, the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs and the New York State Commission on National and Community Service are partnering to support and recruit military veterans interested in helping New Americans fully participate in our State’s civic and economic life. The Division of Veterans Affairs will use the more than 80 Veterans Affairs offices throughout the State to serve as Veteran Volunteer Recruitment Centers to help veterans who are looking for opportunities to continue serving the public. Partner Veteran support organizations will also assist in recruiting efforts, as will other State agencies.

Veteran volunteers will be connected to offer their time at any of the 26 Office for New American Opportunity Centers located throughout the State. Volunteer opportunities include:

  • Helping a New American use a computer or tablet device to practice English in an in-class or computer language laboratory setting.
  • Conducting or participating in a one-on-one or group conversation practice group based on classroom instruction.
  • Conducting mock testing sessions for new Americans on the U.S. civics component of the naturalization exam.
  • Assisting with installation of the U.S. Civics phone app on a client’s cell phone.
  • Providing logistical support during naturalization drives.

This volunteer initiative will also focus on supporting Veterans. Participation in this initiative will help Veterans transition to civilian life, advance their military skills into competitive workforce skills, and use their experiences and world knowledge to connect with people and help develop diverse communities. Additionally, ONA will encourage immigrants to volunteer with organizations, such as the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs offices and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, to serve New York State’s Veterans community.

Governor Cuomo Announces Expansion of Clean Energy Projects to Increase Resiliency and Lower Energy Costs

Governor Cuomo announced 53 state-supported projects are underway or set to begin in New York to provide clean, resilient on-site power for hospitals, schools and other buildings, as well as reduce demand on the state’s power grid. When completed, these projects will increase the total number of combined heat and power systems in the state by approximately 10 percent.

Combined heat and power is a technology that produces both electricity and heat to achieve greater energy efficiency, one of the goals of the Governor’s Reforming the Energy Vision strategy. Also known as co-generation, combined heat and power uses on-site power generation to provide efficient and affordable energy, often shaving 15 to 30 percent off existing energy consumption. It is currently employed in more than 500 buildings in New York State, which is equivalent to approximately 12 percent of the 4,100 buildings nationwide that use the technology. When the 53 pending projects are completed and join the ranks of previously-supported projects, total New York State Energy Research and Development Authority-supported combined heat and power systems will offset more than 200 megawatts of grid power, equivalent to the energy needed to power more than 32,000 homes. View a list of projects here.

These systems save energy in a variety of ways. By generating power on-site, the technology is more efficient than sending power over power lines, which lose an estimated 6 percent of power due to resistance. By capturing exhaust heat, the user reduces the need to run separate boilers, heaters or electric chillers. An additional benefit of many of the systems is that units are able to continue operating during a power outage, providing a measure of resiliency in the event of major storms. Combined heat and power also played a critical role in providing uninterrupted energy to facilities in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. In the event of wide-scale electrical outages, on-site generation improves a system’s ability to provide greater resiliency and reliability by acting as a main component of a community’s microgrid.

Governor Cuomo Announces Executive Actions to Reduce Barriers For New Yorkers with Criminal Convictions

Governor Cuomo announced that 12 recommendations made by the Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration, which remove barriers faced by New Yorkers with criminal convictions when attempting to re-enter their communities, will be fully implemented by his administration. The recommendations address issues ranging from employment to housing to health care, and make New York State a leader in the nationwide movement to successfully transition individuals who have served their time back into society, which saves taxpayers dollars and supports public safety.

Governor Cuomo created the Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration in July 2014 and tasked them with identifying barriers formerly incarcerated people face and making recommendations for change. On average, New York State releases more than 25,000 people from prison each year and research shows that without successful re-entry policies, that there is a higher rate of re-convictions. On average, New York spends $60,000 to house an incarcerated individual per year.

Governor Cuomo has accepted all twelve recommendations of the Council and committed to full compliance, implementation and enforcement by the State. New Yorkers with criminal convictions and representatives from the public safety and advocacy communities are greeting the Council’s recommendations and Governor’s actions with enthusiasm.

1. Adopt New Anti-Discrimination Guidance for New York-financed Housing
2. Set uniform guidelines that evaluate qualified applicants for state occupational licenses.
3. Adopt “fair chance hiring” for New York State agencies.
4. Amend 10 New York State licensing and employment regulations.
5. Include the formerly incarcerated as a target population for supportive housing.
6. Streamline the application process for documents creating a presumption of rehabilitation.
7. Provide a path to Obtaining Department of Motor Vehicles-issued ID for people exiting state prison.
8. Launch a job search effort aided by new technology donated by Apploi Corp.
9. Give individuals in State prison the ability to save more money to use after release.
10. Create new housing and treatment capacity for mentally ill people leaving state prison.
11. Increase the number of individuals leaving prison who are enrolled in health care coverage.
12. Allow individuals returning home to live with spouses and partners.

Governor Cuomo Announces $2.5 Million for Bomb Squads and Explosive Detection Canine Teams

Governor Cuomo announced $2 million in federal Homeland Security Grant funding to 12 local, FBI-accredited bomb squads across the state to sustain and enhance their capabilities. This marks the 10th consecutive year that New York State has provided dedicated federal homeland security funding to local bomb squads, with over $15 million being since its inception. As a condition of this funding, squads are required to work together regionally (based on FBI regions) to review their capability strengths and gaps and to develop a regional spending plan for these funds. Squads in each region must reach consensus on their respective spending plans to ensure that funds are being used in the most efficient and effective way possible.

The State is also allocating $500,000 to 14 local law enforcement agencies across New York to build or maintain an Explosive Detection Canine Team. This marks the 7thconsecutive year that New York has provided dedicated federal homeland security funding to build and sustain local explosive detection canine teams; over $3 million has been allocated to support this program since its inception.

Explosive Detection Canine Teams provide a visible, proactive deterrent factor in high-risk areas, such as mass gathering events and critical infrastructure sites. Local law enforcement agencies were required to compete for this funding and could request funds to either build a new team or to sustain an existing team.

To further support the state’s bomb squad community, the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services hosts annual “Bomb Squad Symposiums” that bring together local, state, federal, and international bomb technicians to share information, lessons learned, and best practices. New York State recently announced the “Excelsior Challenge” at the State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany, NY. The “Excelsior Challenge,” developed in conjunction with the National Center for Security and Preparedness, is designed to enhance coordination and integration among bomb squads, canine teams, and tactical teams.

Comptroller:

Comptroller DiNapoli: Scores Reveal Fiscal Stress Continues for Certain Communities

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli’s Fiscal Stress Monitoring System has designated 44 municipalities across the state as fiscally stressed, this includes 12 counties, 11 cities and 21 towns. For the third consecutive year DiNapoli’s office has evaluated the financial stability of local governments and has identified 70 municipalities in fiscal stress at least once during this period.

The latest round of scores is based on 2014 financial information provided to DiNapoli’s office by local governments as of Aug. 31, 2015 and includes only municipalities with fiscal years ending on Dec. 31, 2014. In New York, all counties and towns, 44 cities and 10 villages have a calendar-based fiscal year – a total of 1,043 communities. Based on their 2014 financial statements, 15 entities have received the highest designation of “significant fiscal stress.” This includes the counties of Monroe, Broome, Nassau, St. Lawrence, Franklin and Rockland; the cities of Glen Cove and Albany; and the towns of East Fishkill, Jasper, Ramapo, Pierrepont, Coeymans, Cherry Valley and Parish.

DiNapoli’s monitoring system evaluates local governments on nine financial indicators and creates a fiscal condition score. Indicators include fund balance, cash-on-hand and patterns of operating deficits. The system also evaluates environmental information such as population trends, poverty and unemployment. Each municipality receives a separate environmental score.

When examining the scoring results, DiNapoli noted 14 municipalities were designated in stress for each of the three years since he implemented the system, 21 were in stress in two out of three years and 35 for only one of three years. Most notably, four counties have been in significant stress for all three years (Franklin, Monroe, Rockland and St. Lawrence).

Other findings include:

  • Last year, 35 calendar year entities were designated as fiscally stressed;
  • Twenty calendar year entities moved into a fiscal stress category in 2014;
  • Eleven calendar year entities moved out of fiscal stress category in 2014;
  • In 2014, more than 21 percent of counties and 25 percent of calendar year cities were in a fiscal stress category, while just over 2 percent of towns were stressed;
  • Downstate had a larger percentage of calendar year entities in stress, with 25 percent of those on Long Island (4 of 16) and 8 percent of those in the Mid-Hudson region (10 of 123) listed; and
  • More than two dozen municipalities failed to file their financial data in time to receive a fiscal stress score in all three reporting years. This includes the city of Ithaca and 25 towns.

The fiscally stressed governments identified join the previously announced 115 municipalities and school districts that have been classified in some level of fiscal stress as of their 2014 fiscal year end date.

Last year, DiNapoli’s legislative proposal to help local governments across New York improve their long-term budget planning was signed into law. The law allows counties, cities, towns and villages identified as fiscally stressed to be reimbursed by the state’s Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments for all or part of the costs associated with long-term budget planning, including hiring financial advisors to assist in the development of multi-year budget plans. Multiyear financial planning is a tool that will enable these entities to develop revenue and expenditure trends, establish long-term priorities and goals, and take into consideration the impact of near-term budgeting decisions on future fiscal years. It also allows officials to assess alternative approaches to financing operations.

In addition, DiNapoli’s Division of Local Government and School Accountability conducts ongoing outreach with local government officials throughout the fiscal monitoring process and has created a number of tools to help municipal officials better understand their financial data, the impact it has on their score and their financial condition. The Comptroller’s office has also launched a new training academy for local government officials that will increase training efforts related to financial oversight and budgeting activities.

Comptroller DiNapoli: MTA’s Plan to Pull Trash Cans Didn’t Make Stations Cleaner, After Four Years, Experiment Has Little Evidence of Success

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s controversial, and seemingly counterintuitive, experiment to reduce exposed trash and rats in subway stations by getting rid of trash receptacles showed little evidence of success, according to an audit released by his office.

The MTA’s NYC Transit launched its “Trash Can Free Stations Pilot Program” to help mitigate straphangers’ “poor customer experience of exposed trash bags in stations and to eliminate the accompanying presence of rodents.” The pilot was based on the theory that removing trash cans meant no overflowing trash or full trash bags lying around for customers to see or smell or attract rats. DiNapoli’s auditors found little evidence the experiment achieved those goals.

Phase I, October 2011
The MTA first removed trash cans from the 8th Street station on the R line and at Flushing-Main Street on the 7 line in Oct. 2011 and evaluated the impact over the next four months.

In Feb. 2012, MTA reported mixed results. There was no noticeable change in the rat population at the stations. The MTA didn’t count exposed trash bags, despite the program’s stated purpose. Instead, it counted the number of trash bags it filled with litter at the stations every day. DiNapoli’s audit notes that subway trash is collected and stored in containers on platforms or storage rooms, so counting the number of bags collected each day isn’t the same as counting the number of exposed bags which are what attract rats.

Not surprisingly, there was less garbage to collect when there were no garbage cans. At Flushing Main Street workers collected 13 trash bags each day, down from 39 bags and three trash bags at 8th Street down from six bags.

Phase II, September 2012
The MTA expanded the pilot program to gather more data. It pulled trash cans from eight more stations in September 2012, two per borough. Again, it didn’t check whether it resulted in less exposed trash, but instead counted the number of bags collected each day. Collections dropped from an average of 6.2 bags a day to 2.1 bags after the trash cans were removed.

The MTA’s evaluation noted that the amount of trash collected from the tracks increased slightly during Phase II, as did track fires.  When it came to rats, the MTA reported that rodent activity dropped at the stations. However, based on the MTA’s rodent activity rating of 1 to 10, auditors found that 9 of the 10 stations in the pilot were at the lowest rat rating before the garbage cans were removed. The remaining station scored 5 out of 10 for rodent activity.

Finally, the MTA did not seek rider feedback on the removal of trash cans. Its broader passenger surveys showed riders initially gave lower cleanliness scores to the stations in the pilot program, which then rebounded to pre-pilot levels. The MTA’s Passenger Environment Survey did not find the stations were cleaner than before trash cans were removed.

Phase III, July 2014
In July 2014, the MTA expanded the trash can ban to another 29 stations, all elevated stations on the J and M lines. The MTA had not reported any results as of June 2015.

MTA’s Marketing Campaign
In Jan. 2014, the MTA indicated that it had launched a marketing campaign in support of the pilot that included notices on its website and in the affected stations. Auditors visited 10 of the 39 stations in the pilot from August through October 2014 and found notices posted at three stations but at two other stations they were posted where riders couldn’t easily see them. In response to preliminary audit findings, MTA officials said new notices had been posted in all pilot stations. When auditors revisited 18 of the stations in March and April 2015, two of them still did not have signs posted.

Recommendations
DiNapoli’s audit recommended that the MTA objectively assess the results of the pilot program based on its stated purposes and objectives and then decide whether to continue it. The MTA disagreed with the audit’s findings and stated its belief that the pilot did result in improving its customers’ experience by significantly reducing trash. In August 2015, after the audit concluded, the MTA announced a 36 percent drop in trash collected at these stations and its intention to continue the program.

Comptroller DiNapoli: Audit Finds Inadequate Oversight of Student Grade Changes

Student grades in five school districts were changed from failing to passing without proper documentation or supporting information, according to an audit issued by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The audit examined the computer and software systems that tracked, recorded and maintained student grades in the Arlington, Elmira, Fairport, Freeport and Saratoga Springs school districts. A sixth school district that was audited, Williamsville, does not detail or track the history of grade changes.

During the audit period of July 2013 to May 2015, auditors reviewed 90 grade changes made by non-teachers, which includes guidance counselors and other staff, at each district (450 grade changes in total) and found 196 changes (44 percent) were not supported with written documentation from the student’s teacher authorizing the change. Of these changes, 97 (50 percent) were changed from failing to passing, 36 (18 percent) increased a grade, 10 (5 percent) decreased a grade and 53 (27 percent) changed a grade from no grade to 65 or better.

In addition, auditors found these districts allowed 1,482 grade changes which pertained to previous school years as far back as 2007-08. Audit tests of these prior year grade changes found that 80 percent were not supported with written authorization.

District officials attribute the unsupported grade changes to a lack of policy guidance. For example, at the end of each semester, the number of grade changes can be voluminous and retaining emails or documenting discussions did not always occur. Other causes include unclear or no supporting documentation requirements and lax monitoring by district officials.

The audit also revealed five of the six districts are not effectively limiting access to student grading systems. The districts typically lacked proper policies for adding system users, establishing users’ access rights, deactivating or modifying user accounts, granting user permissions and monitoring user access.

DiNapoli recommended steps districts should take to safeguard student grades moving forward, which includes:

  • Implementing new policies that outline procedures and requirements for making grade changes in both current and previous academic years;
  • Restricting the ability to make grade changes after the close of a marking period to only designated individuals;
  • Retaining documentation to show who authorized grade changes and the reason for the changes;
  • Periodically reviewing grade changes to determine the appropriateness of the changes;
  • Strengthening controls to ensure that individuals are assigned only those access rights needed to perform their job duties; and
  • Updating annual reporting to the State Education Department to ensure accurate grade records are being reported.

Of the four school districts that responded to the audit, officials indicated that they plan to initiate corrective action. To read the officials’ responses and for a full copy of the final report, visit:http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/swr/2015/StudentGradingSystems/global.htm

Attorney General:

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Thirty-Two Count Indictment Of Two Defendants Charged With Illegally Trafficking Untraceable ‘Ghost Guns’

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a thirty-two count indictment of Thomas Weber and Antonio Himonitis alleging the duo sold untraceable guns—known as “ghost guns”—in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. Led by the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) and the New York State Police (NYSP), “Operation Ghostbusters” uncovered this alleged scheme to sell ghost guns over the course of two months.

As alleged in the original criminal complaint in June, Defendant Himonitis and a co-conspirator ordered unfinished gun parts from different manufacturers across the country and assembled them into at least a dozen fully-functional ghost guns, which they then sold to undercover investigators posing as gun trafficking gang members.  As alleged in the complaint, Himonitis and Weber were in prison at the time they first devised a plan to assemble and sell the illegal weapons. Weber and Himonitis were arrested on June 25th in Long Island.

These arrests mark the first time a state law enforcement agency has indicted individuals on charges of assembling and selling ghost guns. Weber and Himonitis are charged with Criminal Sale of a Firearm in the First Degree, Criminal Possession of a Weapon in the Second Degree, Conspiracy in the Fourth Degree, and multiple counts of Criminal Possession of a Firearm in the Third Degree. If convicted, Weber and Himonitis face up to 25 years in prison.

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