Tuesday, September 07, 2010

EDC You Later

The NYC Economic Development Corporation is as unaccountable a public agency as we have in this town-and the lack of oversight devolves from its "quasi" status-neither fully public or private, it escapes the kind of scrutiny that it merits-given its outsized role in the city's economic development.

So it's not surprising that the agency's living large at the tax payers' expense-as the NY Daily News reported on Sunday: "The agency that collects rent on city property failed to turn over millions to the city - but still managed to spend big bucks on extravagant travel. The Economic Development Corp. paid for luxury hotels in China, London, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami and Washington, expenses from January 2008 through April show. The records show that EDC operates under looser travel rules than city employees, who are supposed to fly coach, stay in economy hotels and limit how much they spend on food and drink. In contrast, EDC dropped nearly $17,000 to fly two workers to China to drum up investments, charging taxpayers $600 for a meal at a Beijing restaurant."

But this lifestyles of the rich and famous behavior is egregious for another rather compelling reason-the agency, or whatever you want to call it, is a notorious shill for the rich and famous; at the expense of the small business community that is victimized by EDC's policies. So, as the Marxists might say, it's no accident that its staff is going luxury first class-even while the city experiences record levels of small business foreclosures and bankruptcy.

The only elected official who seems concerned about EDC's unaccountability is Comptroller John Liu: "Still, Liu called the ostentatious travel spending "most unfortunate. This high-flying lifestyle further betrays the EDC's long-ingrained culture of being above the rules and of unchecked spending of the public's money," he said."

And Common Cause also weighs in: "There's no justification," said Susan Lerner, head of New York Common Cause. "It's economic development money, it's taxpayer-related funding. Why wouldn't they follow the same rules?" EDC is a quasi-city agency that manages city properties and tries to spark economic growth with tax breaks for developers and corporations."

It's long past time for this stealth group to be governed by the rules that other city agencies must comply with-after all, they also violate the very statutes that they are incorporated under-giving money to LDCs in Coney Island and at Willets Point without following established protocols. That these entities proceeded to engage in illegal lobbying on EDC's behalf merely adds more injury to insult to injury.

We would, however, be remiss, if we didn't mention EDC's effort to build a grand Malecón at Sherman Creek in Washington Heights. Whatever one thinks about the merits of the proposal, one thing is absolutely sure-this has nothing to do with economic development, and will, in fact, hurt the existing businesses in and around the proposed esplanade. Make no mistake about it, the malecón is a park project-and a reading of EDC's discussion of the project finds no mention of any economic benefits. So why is the agency engaged in this work? Yet beacoup bucks are being spent to develop a master plan for this park-with no one questioning the agency about its activity.

All of which underscores the need for such oversight and public review; and we would suggest that the comptroller galvanize political support at the city council for the task. The leadership of the speaker would be helpful, but that would be true on any number of fronts, so why single this one out? But the unexamined role of EDC speaks to the lack of transparency of the Bloomberg administration and its overall insensitivity to the needs of the close to 200,000 small businesses in New York. But whatever the motivation, oversight is badly needed.