2014-02-21 / Editorial/Opinion

Beware Of The Fine Print

It’s taken us a while but we’re catching on. When a government official uses the word “should” the proper translation is “probably won’t.” If sand should start being pumped onto the beach in September it really means it probably won’t be.

The fine print says the contractor has to be finished by the end of the summer. And even that fine print isn’t exactly a deadline. We’ve learned the contractor is such a big company that the threat of a fine or penalty won’t matter much to them. They’ve got plenty of money and a fine won’t register. After that, the contractor can say, what are you gonna do, fire me?

Remember what the Army Corps said regarding beach protection: “this time it’s different.” Well, so far, not really. The promise of beach replenishment keeps getting kicked down the road. And the big thing, the Reformulation Plan, doesn’t have a deadline at all. It’s no fun being annoying but it’s really necessary to ask when, when, when. And if they’re pushed and give you a date, you then have to ask, what if it’s not done? You have to be annoying to get some clarity. You have to be annoying to learn there is no real deadline. And no deadline means it might never happen.

And, of course, we’re not just talking about the Army Corps of Engineers.

Schumer, Gillibrand, and the Bloomberg administration patted themselves on the back in July when they announced that HUD was backing off its rule that SBA loans would count against homeowners seeking grants. The Senators issued a joint press release: Schumer, Gillibrand Announce, After Their Push, HUD Will Not Require Those Offered SBA Loans to Accept it as Prerequisite to Receiving CDBG Funding. Great news, we thought.

Ah, but Schumer, was clever. He added, “The devil is in the details and HUD should make the upcoming changes as expansive as possible.”

See? HUD should. Schumer could have added, but “probably won’t” because, well, HUD did no such thing. Months later, we learned it’s up to individual case workers to decide whether or not SBA loan offerings count against registrants. So, Build It Back gets to use fine print to wear people down.

Schumer, Gillebrand and the new administration in City Hall haven’t been heard from again on this.

On another front, some hard working locals have put in a lot of time crafting proposals about how millions of dollars might be used to benefit Rockaway. The NY Rising Community Reconstruction program has fine print as well. The ultimate proposals from the communities are just proposals. They are non-binding. The State can say thanks, but no thanks. Or, of course, the State can say, let’s go back to the drawing board and rehire the consultants for more of the same. Warning to the volunteers: beware of the fine print.

You want to see use of fine print as an art form, just follow Parks and EDC as they stretch out the boardwalk rebuild. If we’re not careful the boardwalk will become like the courthouse and the Neponsit Health Care facility --- monuments to fine print and excuse making. Piping plovers, permits, funding, inevitable contractor excuses (see Army Corps above!). Oh, boy.

So, everyone, be cynical. When a government rep (or a government hired consultant) says should, they mean probably won’t. When they give a date – ask them where’s the guarantee, what’s the true deadline. Keep pushing. You’ll have a slightly better chance of getting the true picture.

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