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Dec 102013
 

Ever since plans to exile the Triumph of Civic Virtue statue to Brooklyn came to light, enquiring minds have wanted to know: What will replace the statue at its former location on Queens Boulevard?

On July 29, 2013, DNAInfo reported that Queens Borough President Helen Marshall was “in negotiations with the departments of Design and Construction and Citywide Administrative Services” concerning the future use of the Queens Boulevard site, but that “renderings that were presented to Marshall ‘were not acceptable to the borough president.’”

Thanks to a new Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) Request made by Robert LoScalzo (who has previously successfully sued the NYC Department of Citywide Administrative Services (“DCAS”) to obtain Civic Virtue records), now we know how DCAS intends to utilize the former site of the statue: As a “planted ruin”.

Records obtained by LoScalzo discuss the fountain that served as the base for the Civic Virtue statue. The statue has been exiled to Brooklyn, but what is left of the fountain base is still at the Queens Boulevard site. According to the records:

DCAS wishes to keep the original fountain as a planted ruin, a scenic backdrop to a busy and important intersection in the borough. … [T]he fountain, although left as a ‘ruin’, will be planted with grades and groundcovers and act as a landscape folly to enhance this prominent corner.

An artist’s rendering of the proposed “planted ruin” shows the fountain area closed off behind a cyclone fence, with wildflowers sprouting from the fountain and surrounding property.

Is DCAS serious? They’ve removed the colossal statue and artwork from Queens, and intend to leave behind a “planted ruin” to “act as a landscape folly”?

A “landscape folly”?

Who writes this stuff, and how dumb do they think we are?

Read the full prospective from the NYC Department of Design and Construction.

NYCDDC-Civic Virtue Proposal

Removal of the statue should not have resulted in any “ruin” being left at the Queens Boulevard site. Memo to DCAS: Flowers sprouting from your “ruin” does not make it any less of a ruin. The operative word here is “ruin”; you aren’t fooling anybody.

We call upon incoming Borough President Melinda Katz to hold a public hearing concerning any City proposal for the future use of the former Civc Virtue site, and to reject any proposal that does not have public support.

As for who was behind the secretive plan to remove the statue and whether it was carried out lawfully, supporters of triumphofcivicvirtue.org still have multiple pending FOIL requests.
We will post such findings as they become available.

 Posted by at 9:32 pm
Sep 162013
 

The attorney for DCAS and its Commissioner, Edna Handy, has been granted an extension in order to perform more research in response to potential documents required for release under Freedom of Information Law.

The new court return date is Monday, October 7th. If the city’s law department should provide a written response to the petition before then, we will dutifully report on what we learn.

We note optimistically that citizens have won similar cases in the past, in particular when journalist Sergio Hernandez successfully sued Mayor Bloomberg to release information about the ill-planned decision to hire media magnate Cathie Black as the chancellor of the NYC Department of Education.

 Posted by at 1:08 pm
Jun 292013
 

We have an important update on the ongoing saga to unravel what happened in the furtive and mysteriously quick removal of the statue.

Robert LoScalzo, an independent investigative/documentary media producer, Queens resident, and supporter of triumphofcivicvirtue.org, filed a bombshell Article 78 petition in New York State Supreme Court against the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and separately against its commissioner, Edna Wells Handy.

The petition (PDF 340KB) alleges that the agency acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner, and/or failed to do its duty altogether in handling the Freedom of Information Law request, which was for all communications that took place between DCAS, other city agencies, the Green-Wood cemetery, and contractor firms pertaining to relocation plans for the statue.

Having consulted with LoScalzo as he prepared the petition, triumphofcivicvirtue.org stands by his allegations and demands in the suit, and shares his belief that e-mails and possibly other documents have been improperly withheld.

Although some records were trickled out haphazardly prior in appealing DCAS’ non-response to LoScalzo’s FOIL request as we documented, the agency drew a line in the sand, and claimed its communications with the cemetery or contractors are exempt from disclosure.

LoScalzo however, won a powerful ally to his cause. The NY State Committee on Open Government, which oversees FOIL, rendered for him an advisory statement (PDF 88KB) supporting his contention that the records DCAS denied had no right to be withheld.

There remain too many unanswered questions surrounding the city’s unpopular treatment of the statue, questions which triumphofcivicvirtue.org and LoScalzo are fairly certain can be answered once the e-mails, memos, faxes, or other communication documents are turned over, namely:

  • Who in city government came up with the idea of removing the statue, with whom did they discuss the idea?
  • Did someone at Green-Wood reach out to a member of city government, and to whom specifically?
  • When and why was this idea of removing the statue hatched after it had been neglected for so long while under the city’s jurisdiction?
  • How did the contractors who performed the armature construction and conservation know the agency was seeking relocation, and what were they told?
  • How did Greenwood know to watch the Design Commission for the three days notice of the public hearing in order to have a presentation prepared?

The public’s right to know the truth must not be denied. We have faith that although the statue may temporarily reside in another borough, its spirit will prevail in Robert LoScalzo’s pursuit of truth and justice on behalf of the people of Queens.

 Posted by at 5:26 pm
Mar 182013
 

It has been a while since our last update, and we have much to tell.

In addition to failing to reply to the initial request within the required time for FOIL compliance as reported in February, DCAS did not properly address the appeal, a failure which alone would expose the agency to legal action.

After declaring the appeal “moot” without citing their authority to do so, and not responding with either the information we asked for or a reason for denying it, DCAS did send some documents, including the Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for conservation services, and construction of the custom armature for the statue’s transport. The first of these (PDF 8.4MB) fell to Krellick Conservation based out of Pennsylvania, for $49,464. (So much for Helen Marshall’s “Keep it in Queens.”) The second (PDF 5.4MB) went to SurroundArt in Brooklyn for $49,801. These amounts are listed on the cover pages. As of this time, we believe that both companies are qualified contractors with the city operating in good faith. (Green-Wood itself also covered about $165,000 for the rigging, crane, and transport of the statue.)

However, the RFPs were released on October 18th, 2012 and October 19th, 2012 respectively, with a due date of October 26th, 2012 for both. (Pages 28 and 20 respectively.) Most RFP submission deadlines are designated 3-4 weeks after release – even for office services, let alone heavy construction. At the time of this posting, every other RFP at DCAS falls into the 3-4 week range, not 7 or 8 days. This hasty turnaround time is not only virtually unparalleled in the RFP procedure, and not only unusual for DCAS, but it is potentially against the law. The City Charter states in chapter 13 § 312 (8) b.1., as well as § 325 a., and potentially elsewhere, that the Procurement Policy Board (PPB) sets the policies and procedures for competitive sealed bidding. The rules of the PPB in Section 3-03 (d) Public notice. 1. Notice of solicitation i. Distribution, state that publicly accessible notification must be given twenty (20) days prior to the due date.

Let the reader be clear: DCAS cannot arbitrarily set its own time line for releasing and closing RFPs, nor can it decide on how or when it will comply with the state’s Freedom of Information Law. As a city agency, it is bound to the statutes in the City Charter when issuing contracts under RFP. As an agency of a NY state county, it must comply with state regulations, and supply information requested under FOIL within the proper time frame, or cite why such information is exempt. Upon failing to respond to the initial request and receiving an appeal, it must answer the appeal. The initial request and the appeal asked very clearly for all records of communications, in either direction, between DCAS or any City agency other than DCAS, and Green-Wood Cemetery or any contractor firm considered to provide services (whether contracted or not), that pertain in any way to the attempt to relocate Triumph of Civic Virtue. DCAS did not provide this, or cite any justification for why they would be exempt to. That is a FOIL violation.

DCAS was informed in a follow-up letter meant to avoid litigation that the records turned over were insufficient to satisfy our request, which was for all communications, not just some finalized bids. DCAS then responded with a copy of the contract (PDF 3.6MB) struck on September 28th, 2012 between the Design Commission and Green-Wood formalizing the long-term loan, and stipulations related to their handling of the statue. Apparently, the statue’s fate was apparently decided even before this website went live, before the RFPs were released, and no one at DCAS would speak candidly until petitioned to turn over some records months after the fact. Also included in this loan agreement are slides from Green-Wood’s presentation at the so-called “public” hearing. This was still not what we were seeking, and it is also curious why DCAS chose not to provide it in their original non-FOIL-compliant response.

Russell Ann Nobles, DCAS’ General Counsel/Record Access Appeals Officer, rendered the final administrative determination of our FOIL request, stating that,

Any records of communications with Green-Wood cemetery pertaining to the possible relocation of “Triumph of Civic Virtue” or with any contractor firms regarding services related to such relocation are exempt from disclosure under FOIL pursuant to Section 87 (2)(a) and (g) of the Public Officers Law as, respectively, subject to attorney-client privilege or constituting pre-decisional, deliberative material which, unlike the Loan Agreement itself, does not reflect a final decision or determination.

(emphasis ours)

Does DCAS really expect us to believe that from the moment the idea to obtain Civic Virtue was hatched in someone’s head – politician, agency official, cemetery employee or other – up to the point of fulfillment of the contracts for services and the loan, that no phone call was made, no e-mail exchanged, no meetings held, that involved anyone who was not a lawyer?

  • It defies common sense in coming up with the relocation idea. Green-Wood cemetery would have surely had someone with professional curator experience – not an attorney – to present a qualified solicitation before the public hearing. Or, there must exist communications within DCAS or another agency in search of a qualified agent for the statue’s long-term loan.
  • It strains credibility by the dates of the contract. DCAS signed the long-term loan contract with Green-Wood in September 2012. It somehow then managed to push through the entire process for construction RFPs through to completion in 7-8 days, 2 days of which fell on a weekend on which they would not be open for contact. We believe there may exist prior communications from DCAS to interested parties regarding these solicitations, or discussions about the general nature of these services.
  • It is still unknown how Green-Wood cemetery was privy to the public hearing. Green-Wood delivered a presentation at the November 13th public hearing. As we exposed and received implicit admission by the Design Commission itself, the notice on the night of November 9th was the first public announcement, as is the Commission’s right. Unless representatives from cemetery were told to watch for the announcement in advance, it is difficult to imagine how the cemetery found out about and prepared for this hearing without being tipped off directly.

Other questions may be raised as we continue to uncover new facts. We do not, as DCAS does, consider this information request satisfied. Attorneys at the Committee on Open Government advised us that DCAS does not appear to be citing valid FOIL provisions that would exonerate them from handing over records they are implying that they have. We reserve our rights to petition for these.

We will post further updates as soon as we receive them.

 Posted by at 3:54 am
Feb 012013
 

In mid-December, shortly before the statue was removed, a FOIL request was put in with DCAS for all records related to the plans to move Civic Virtue, and communications with all other agencies and private parties involved.

As we expected, DCAS initially attempted to wear us down bureaucratically by ignoring the request. We were unfazed. Fully prepared for this eventuality, state-level government was consulted to determine DCAS’ eligibility to be appealed, which we can confirm DCAS has by now received. DCAS now has an NYS-mandated deadline of 10 business days to respond to the appeal in order to produce the requested records.

The request clearly asks for all communications between DCAS or other city agencies, and Green-Wood cemetery or other agencies contracted or considered for contract, pertaining to the removal of Triumph of Civic Virtue from the grounds of Borough Hall.

We thank The Daily News for continuing to report on the effort.

Stay tuned for the latest developments…

 Posted by at 7:32 pm
Dec 182012
 

On December 15th 2012, Queens lost the Triumph of Civic Virtue.

We are still waiting upon the findings from our FOIL request, to see if anything can be done.

For now, we would like to thank Able Rigging and any other contractors involved on the ground that day. The work was carried out with care. We also learned from one of the workmen that the statue weighs 27,000 pounds from mechanical determination during the lifting phase. We would also like to thank all of the media outlets which helped bring this issue to the public’s attention.

 Posted by at 6:16 pm
Dec 142012
 

Tomorrow, December 15th, Triumph of Civic Virtue is slated for removal. We have heard from a supporter, who has been serving jury duty in the area and spoke with the workmen, that removal will start at 7 AM. Apparently, they have already been sawing through the base.

Jon Torodash will be down at the site filming the removal, both to make sure that it is done properly and to take record of the disgrace the event symbolizes.

We welcome you to come out and witness this sad event.

 Posted by at 11:56 pm
Dec 122012
 

triumphofcivicvirtue.org has helped to deliver a FOIL request in writing to the Office of the General Counsel at DCAS for all records that between DCAS and Green-Wood Cemetery regarding Civic Virtue. We will post the salient points of these findings as soon as they are available, and share them over our subscriber lists.

 Posted by at 1:51 pm
Dec 062012
 

Saturday December 8th, at 11:30.

Councilman Vallone will be there, as will representatives from triumphofcivicvirtue.org.

We will post any updates to this as we hear of them.

We expect to get press coverage. Come out and show your support!

 Posted by at 11:50 pm
Dec 052012
 

Further investigation into the City Charter reveals that we may have a tough fight ahead of us. The Design Commission apparently has special rights that apply to its own public hearings, and is allowing what may be the minimal notice (3 days) within the bounds of the law as it applies exclusively to itself. The commission posts these notices and holds these hearings as closely around a weekend as possible, as if to minimize public awareness of what they are doing. This also constitutes an deliberate discouragement to public involvement, because each bulletin requests (but does not require) that members of the public submit a copy of written testimony 3 business days prior, which in almost all instances of these bulletins’ posting do not exist.

If you or someone you know is an attorney interested in helping the community find legal recourse either to contest the hearing or appeal the decision, we want to hear from you.Please contact:

info@triumphofcivicvirtue.org

 Posted by at 2:47 am