Opinion

The sweetest gig in NYC government pays $250 for 12 minutes

Take a moment to think of something that you can do in only 12 minutes. Walk home from the subway? Make dinner? Give the kids a bath? It’s tough, but keep your mind outta’ the gutter – this is serious.

Here is a 12-minute activity that never occurred to you: participating in a meeting where you are responsible for reviewing whether the 60 agencies that comprise New York City government are in compliance with federal equal employment laws.

If you can do that in 12 minutes you are eligible to collect $250 per meeting. I'm not kidding.

If you can manage two of those meetings a month, you are qualified to serve as a member of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Equal Employment Practices Commission. Half of the commission members are appointed by the mayor, and half by the City Council

Rest assured, there will be no heavy lifting. When asked if the commission will review the recent Department of Citywide Administrative Services report that revealed, for the first time, significant racial disparities in city hiring under Mayor de Blasio, the senior staff answered with a resounding: “No.”

Two days later, the commission literally locked the door to keep out a reporter who returned with more questions. The following day, the commission denied public access to their Nov. 5 public meeting, which had been posted on their website.

One member of the commission, Arva Rice, did not return a request for a comment left at her office at the New York Urban league where she serves as president. Fellow commissioners Angelina Cabrera, Malini Cadambi Daniel at the Services Employees International Union, and Elaine Reiss at Brooklyn Law School, did not return requests for comment.

An investigation of the Equal Employment Practices Commission clarifies why it does not want to rock the boat and put their commissioner's appointments at risk by investigating the troubling racial disparities in Mayor de Blasio’s hiring practices. Commissioner appointments at the Equal Employment Practices Commission apparently are the sweetest gig in New York City.

The bi-monthly commission meetings are so short that they end before the ink on their rubber stamps can dry. The average length of New York City Equal Employment Practices Commission meetings is 33 minutes, according to commission meeting logs that staff members were extremely reluctant to share.

Furthermore, nearly three-quarters of their meetings were 30 minutes or fewer. Fifteen percent of the meetings they conducted were fewer than 20 minutes. The 12-minute meeting? It was on Sept. 21. It ran from 9:55 am to 10:07 am.

It actually takes more time to process the paperwork for the commissioners’ per diem than the amount of time they spend to conduct city business. City records show that commissioners collected a $250 per diem for each meeting. The chair collects a $275 per diem. With an average meeting time of 33 minutes, that makes the commissioners’ rate about $500 per hour while the chairman’s rate works out to about $550 per hour.

This “money for nothing” arrangement is clearly why the staff refused to turn over the commission meeting minutes for more than two weeks, a direct violation of the City Charter, and the state’s Freedom of Information and Public Officer’s laws, said Robert Freeman, executive director of the Committee on Open Government. Freeman would know - he wrote the law 41 years ago. Even then, they did not provide meeting minutes for months which records show that they paid per diems. 

Unfortunately, while this kind of civic malfeasance is poor optics for a commission designed to hold city agencies accountable for their hiring actions, the law does not provide a minimum work or time requirement for commissioners to collect their per diem.

Government watchdogs found this troubling. Gene Russianoff of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the length of time of these meetings “is clearly a sign that they don’t do as much work as they’re supposed to.” Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, said, “The people’s business needs to be discussed, not just voted on at these meetings.”

Meanwhile, Equal Employment Practices Commission Executive Director Charise Terry said they will not review the 36-page EEO-4 report the Department of Citywide Administrative Services prepared and submitted to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on September 25, because, “We do our own audits where we ask a lot of questions.” 

The bi-annual EEO-4 report is the principal tool by which the U.S. government monitors local government compliance with federal law.

The report submitted by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services validates the concerns of the city’s Hispanic leaders about the pronounced pattern of racial disparities in city hiring since Bill de Blasio took office in January 2014.

New York City’s population is one-third white, 29 percent Hispanic, 25 percent black, and 19 percent Asian, according to the most recent U.S. Census.

According to the EEO-4, during Bill de Blasio's first full fiscal as mayor, 42 percent of new hires were black, 28 percent white, 20 percent Hispanic, and nine percent Asian.

Despite the significant, and troubling, racial disparity that these numbers in the Dept. of Citywide Administrative Services report reveal, the Equal Employment Practices Commission said they would not ask their sister agency for a copy of the report for review and action.

“We don’t look at it,” said Deputy Director Juanita Garcia Quinoñes.

That’s the last word on why the Equal Employment Practices Commission will not fulfill its legal mandate to investigate the racial disparities that lock out the city’s poorest population from jobs that would contribute towards lifting individuals, families, and communities out of concentrated poverty, in places like the South Bronx, the home of the poorest congressional district in the U.S.

It’s too bad that the commission is not taking the lead of their colleague just two blocks away, on the other side of City Hall Park. New York City Commission on Human Rights Chair Carmelyn Malalis explained the problem quite eloquently in an opinion article, published in City & State last week, promoting the enforcement of new anti-discrimination statutes recently passed by the City Council and signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Discrimination continues to be one of the biggest barriers to employment for job seekers today,” Malalis wrote. “Otherwise talented New Yorkers are being denied access to jobs they are qualified for, and with it, a chance at an economic future.”

DATEMEETING STARTEDMEETING FINISHEDTOTAL MEETING TIMETOTAL PER DIEMS PAID
2014        
April 3 9:48 am 10:12 am 24 mins. $1,275
Aug. 14 9:43 am 10:00 am 17 mins. $1,275
Sept. 18 9:00 am 10:00 am 60 mins. $1,075
Oct. 30 10:16 am 10:39 am 23 mins. $750
Dec. 18 9:30 am 10:00 am 30 mins. $775
2015        
Feb. 5 9:37 am 10:00 am 23 mins. $750
Feb. 19 9:50 am 11:00 am 70 mins. Not provided
Mar. 12 9:45 am 10:40 am 55 mins. $750
May 18 9:45 am 10:40 am 55 mins. $1,000
May 22 9:40 am 10:00 am 20 mins. Not provided
June 26 9:40 am 10:00 am 20 mins $750
July 30 9:27 am 9:52 am 25 mins. $750
Sept. 21 9:55 am 10:07 am 12 mins. $1,000
    AVERAGE MEETING LENGTH 33 mins.  
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