2008-08-08 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

When Times Are Tough, Cut The Fluff
Commentary By Howard Schwach

I love the city's Green Book. This year, it's actually green, after two years of some sort of orange to honor the drapes of the same color that were pasted all over Central Park and called art.

The 700-page book details all of the people who work for government and how to get in touch with them. It's something that every journalist who works in New York City needs to survive and that might even interest others who have an obsession with where their tax money goes.

For example, did you know that you pay for MOSPCE? That's the Mayor's Office of Special Projects and Community Events.

There's a Director of MOSPCE and a Deputy Director of MOSPCE and lots of little MOSPCE workers and coordinators. Want to bet on what it costs you each year? I don't.

What does MOSPCE do, you ask.

It organizes, coordinates, manages and directs all public ceremonies, celebrations, receptions and similar functions under the direction of the mayor.

You'd think that before cutting teachers and parent programs, the mayor would get rid of MOSPCE and do the job himself.

The Department of Education is important, of course, even though nobody who works there from the Chancellor on down knows anything about education. Of course, that doesn't keep them from making decisions that are anathema to real education. After all, when you're a manager, you can manage anything. Sure!

The Chancellor is important, of course.

So are the people who work for him in his office - not in the schools, where real education should take place.

There's the Chief Operating Officer, the Chief Accountability Officer, the Chief of Staff, the Senior Instructional Manager for Assessment and Accountability, the Chief Executive Officer for Empowerment, the Executive Director of the Integrated Service Center, the Chief Equality Officer as well as thirty or forty others, all earning more than $100,000 a year.

How about art supplies for local schools? Sorry, no money. Come back next year when the stock market is doing better.

How about textbooks? Don't you know that we stay away from textbooks? They're old school. Today, we do groups and interdisciplinary work. We don't need no stinkin' textbooks.

In fact, the officials that work in high-level jobs for the Department of Education take up a full ten pages in the Green Book.

And, not one of them will talk with you should you call the telephone numbers in the Green Book.

Neither the NYPD nor the FDNY take up more than five pages, and they have real jobs to do. It makes you wonder, doesn't it?

There's DoITT, of course, the new city agency whose main job is to put cell towers and antennas on the roof of the building across from your home.

You all know about DoITT, of course, because it has a penchant for putting electrical equipment on the roofs of local synagogues without telling the community about it.

There's the Water Board, the Water Finance Authority, the Waterfront Commission as well as several other water related groups.

There's even a Director of Bus Stop Management.

Wonder what he or she earns.

Surely, there are dozens of these bloated agencies and senior positions that can be cut before schools and emergency responders feel the cuts.

Then, there are the heavy-hitters — two institutions that remained alive after the City Charter was changed, out of inertia and political expediency rather than out of any real need.

The Borough Presidents and the Public Advocate are vestigial organs, just like the money's tail or our appendix.

Cut them out, and the organ bleeds for a few minutes, but then nobody cares.

There are five borough presidents. Ours here in Queens is Helen Marshall, a nice person who says that she loves Rockaway, but has done virtually nothing for us in the past few years.

What do the borough presidents really do?

They appoint community board members, although in reality those locals are really appointed by local politicians and vetted by the borough president.

They issue purely advisory opinions on land use matters such as the Beach 116 Street rezoning. Advisory means that other city agencies don't have to pay any attention to what they say.

They make budget recommendations. The controlling word is recommendations.

They hold public hearings.

They promote their borough through a public relations campaign and personal appearances. In reality, the only BP who does a good job in this area is Brooklyn's Marty Markowitz, and all I can say is I wish he represented Queens.

They run a topographical unit that maintains borough maps and helps the post office provide addresses for new construction.

That's what they do. Is there anything there without which we cannot do? Didn't think so.

What do they cost you each year to name community board members and hold public hearings?

Marshall, 78, and soon to be replaced with our own Audrey Pheffer, if you believe the political pros, has a staff of 54 people, which earns in the aggregate $3.5 million. Marshall alone earns $160,000, more than a city council member, who earns $112,500 a year.

She has four cars at her disposal and drivers to match. She has a discretionary budget (which means she can spend it any way she wants) of $280,000.

Markowitz is even tougher on your tax dollars.

He has a staff of 84 that costs city taxpayers more than $5 million a year. He has seven cars and three drivers. His discretionary budget comes to more than $300,000 a year.

The Public Advocate represents the consumers of city services, which means she has a lot of press conferences and issues lots of press releases. She does nothing else for her $150,000 salary, and it has been impossible for me to find out what her extensive staff costs us.

Could we do without all of those people? Of course we could.

Should we? We should. Let's start a movement.

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