Jun 072014

Given that Civic Virtue was moved to Green-Wood over the objections of local officials and residents, and that City taxpayers footed bills totaling $99,265.00 to not only conserve Civic Virtue but to aid and abet its move to Green-Wood, the Task Force was amazed to find during a recent visit to Green-Wood that the cemetery has installed a sign in front of Civic Virtue that denies both of those facts, and conveys false and misleading information about the circumstances of Civic Virtue’s temporary loan to Green-Wood.

Greenwood’s plainly inaccurate sign states (1.) that the City of New York “could not afford to conserve” Civic Virtue and was “without the funds to do so”; and (2.) that the City could not afford the conservation expense because Civic Virtue “lacked the support of local officials”. Those statements only promulgate the self-serving, false narrative that Green-Wood has concocted around Civic Virtue, and they could not be further from the truth.

“Green-Wood may have hauled Civic Virtue into the cemetery, but that doesn’t entitle Green-Wood to re-write history, and to mis-inform the statue’s visitors about the taxpayer funding of the statue’s cleaning and conservation, or the fact that elected officials and the public actually pleaded to keep Civic Virtue on Queens Boulevard,” said Task Force member Robert LoScalzo.

Accordingly, on June 5, 2014, the Task Force sent letters to Green-Wood President Richard Moylan and to Public Design Commission President Signe Nielsen, demanding that Green-Wood immediately remove its false and misleading sign, and that any prospective replacement sign be subject to a public hearing and approval by the Public Design Commission.

 Posted by at 3:44 am
Jun 072014

Triumph of Civic Virtue Task Force announces initiative to return the newly-cleaned Civic Virtue statue to its Queens Boulevard home; demands immediate removal of false information from sign installed in front of Civic Virtue by Green-Wood cemetery

Contact: Richard Iritano / Civic Virtue Task Force

Queens community activists and art appreciators have formed the “Civic Virtue Task Force” to plan and advocate for the return of the newly-cleaned and conserved Triumph of Civic Virtue statue from Green-Wood Cemetery, where it was moved temporarily in 2012, back to its home on Queens Boulevard where it had been on display for 71 years. The Task Force has met with representatives of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and has inspected the colossal statue at the cemetery where it is on temporary loan.

“Civic Virtue really sparkles and shines now. It must be seen to be believed. The cleaning has done wonders for it,” remarked Task Force member and activist Richard Iritano upon seeing Civic Virtue at Green-Wood cemetery. “Now that this public art has been restored at taxpayer expense, it needs to be put back on display on Queens Boulevard so the public can enjoy what our tax dollars have accomplished – not banished to a graveyard among the dead.”

At present, the Civic Virtue Task Force counts among its members Mary Ann Carey (District Manager, Queens Community Board 9), Ralph Gonzalez (Chairperson, Queens Community Board 9), Richard Iritano (activist), Robert LoScalzo (documentary media producer who sued the City in 2013 to obtain Civic Virtue records) and Jon Torodash (activist and founder of www.triumphofcivicvirtue.org). The Task Force has the support of City Council member Elizabeth Crowley.

On June 5, 2014, the Task Force sent letters to Green-Wood President Richard Moylan and to Public Design Commission President Signe Nielsen, demanding that Green-Wood immediately remove its false and misleading sign, and that any prospective replacement sign be subject to a public hearing and approval by the Public Design Commission.
Meanwhile, the Task Force is not only advocating the return of Civic Virtue to Queens Boulevard, but also wants the statue’s fountain base there to be repaired and the fountain to be turned on every day as an accessory to the restored statue. “The plumbing infrastructure is all there and in decent condition,” says Queens Community Board 9 District Manager Mary Ann Carey. “It would require some maintenance, and then the water can be turned back on.”

A newly-restored Civic Virtue statue returned to a functioning fountain base on Queens Boulevard would be a sight to behold – and far superior to the plan already shown by the City for the Queens Boulevard site, which leaves the fountain inoperative as a mere “planted ruin.”

At a meeting held at Queens Borough Hall on April 8, 2014, the Civic Virtue Task Force met with Barry Grodenchik of the Queen Borough President’s Office and Nayelli Valencia, the Office’s Director of Cultural Affairs and Tourism. The Task Force advocated for the return of Civic Virtue to the Queens Boulevard site, and against the City’s preposterous plan to leave the site as a planted ruin. The discussion also touched on the fact that Queens Borough President Melinda Katz is promoting the restoration of the 1964 World’s Fair New York State Pavillion, with an estimated cost of $40 million – but Civic Virtue, which is already restored, can be returned to display on Queens Boulevard for just a small fraction of that cost – perhaps $100,000.00. In that sense, Civic Virtue is low-hanging fruit, and its return to Queens arguably should be prioritized. Its presence again on Queens Boulevard, this time accessorized by a functioning fountain base, would provide a spectacular new image for the Borough of Queens and would enhance public appreciation of sculptural art.

In the eight weeks since the meeting at Borough Hall, neither Mr. Grodenchik nor Ms. Valencia has returned multiple telephone voicemails seeking to follow up and ascertain whether or not Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will support the efforts of the Task Force. As we see it, Ms. Katz has before her a golden opportunity to help correct the wrong that was done when Civic Virtue was evicted from Queens, against the will of the residents of Kew Gardens and beyond – and we hope that Ms. Katz will recognize the importance of taking action on this worthy cause. In any case, the Task Force will work to garner the support of as many officials and residents as possible.

Triumph of Civic Virtue is expected to be a topic during the upcoming meeting of Queens Community Board 9 on Tuesday, June 10, 2014 at 7:45PM, to be held at Majestic Marquise, 88-03 101 Avenue, Ozone Park, New York 11416.

 Posted by at 3:44 am
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