City & State New York: Council members accuse City Hall of telling contractors to stay away from Council hearing
By ETHAN GERINGER SAMETH
September 21, 2023
Mayor Eric Adams is deliberately obstructing oversight of over $1 billion in city contracts for asylum-seeker services, City Council members alleged at an oversight hearing Thursday.
At a joint hearing held by the Council’s Committee on Contracts and Committee on Oversight and Investigations, the mayor took punches in absentia over his administration’s handling of emergency contracts to meet the needs of over 110,000 asylum-seekers who have entered the city since last year.
Council Members Julie Won and Gale Brewer, the respective chairs of the Contracts and Oversight committees, accused the Adams administration of encouraging vendors who have lucrative city contracts to snub the Council’s invitations to testify. Won said the move violated the City Charter, which gives the Council the authority to investigate contracts for city agencies.
“We understand that the administration directed them to not come here,” she said. “These executives did not have the courage and respect to the City Council as well as the people of New York City to testify before us today.”
The Adams administration has already faced criticism for limiting public oversight of contracts initiated under emergency procurement orders over the last year, including a $432 million no-bid contract to medical services provider DocGo to run operations across a range of migrant services sites. That contract triggered a real-time audit from city Comptroller Brad Lander, who threatened to suspend the mayor’s blanket emergency procurement authorization, following allegations of mismanagement at DocGo and a lack of transparency from City Hall.
The Council invited the CEOs or deputies of six companies with major contracts with the city to testify: DocGo, SLS Co., Arrow Security, Executive Medical Services, HANYC Foundation and Rethink Food NYC. The six firms’ contracts with the city total $1.25 billion. None of them showed up at the hearing.
Their absence prevented Council members from asking questions about how the companies and subcontractors procured the city contracts and are delivering services. It also denied the companies the opportunity to address concerns raised in news reports over their performance.
Zach Iscol, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management Commissioner, said the Council and the media have misled the public about the nature of contracts during the state of emergency, noting that many of the city’s nearly 200 immigrant services contracts were secured through a competitive bidding process. Won said that information her staff received showed that only three contracts had been secured through a competitive bidding process.
“I think one of the problems that we’re dealing with, Council Member (Won), is that there is a lot of conflation going on with members of the press and, dare I say, members of the City Council in terms of what are emergency contracts and what are not,” Iscol said.
Members of the Council balked at the suggestion. “One of the reasons…is because it is really hard to get this information,” Brewer said. “Sometimes the material is redacted when we’re trying to get the contract. And I have to also say just by not enabling the contractors to be here…it’s not transparent.”
“I’m offended and also confused by the very broad categorization of the Council, that we’re personally trying to spread misinformation,” said Council Member Nantasha Williams, a Queens Democrat. “We asked the administration for information. We can’t know something if we’re not told.”
Besides Iscol, representatives of the administration who attended the meeting included Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management Chief Financial Officer Chris Blanco, Department of Social Services Commissioner Molly Wasow Park, Health + Hospitals vice president Ted Long and Housing Preservation and Development Deputy Commissioner George Sarkissian.
“There are a lot of bad faith assumptions that people aren’t doing things,” Blanco said. “I think before attacking us for saying that we’re not doing something, I think a lot of the time the goals is for us to kind of unpack how things work.”
Williams shot back: “I think you confused ‘attack’ with our obligations to provide oversight…Asking questions isn’t to attack; it’s to find accurate information that we were accused of not having,” she said.
City Hall did not respond to a request for comment.