Friday, December 17, 2010

Hard Time

From CityTime to hard time-it's truly amazing how this massive defrauding could have taken place right in full view, and in of one of the most vaunted mayoral administrations in this city's history. This mayor, after all, styled all throughout the latter part of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 as the one man capable of saving the city from the ruinous effects of the Great Recession-all the while the city was being ripped off by thieves hired by Mike Bloomberg to bring greater efficiencies into NY's accounting systems.

The reason this was allowed to fester, and not nipped in the bud, was because of the manner in which this mayor governs-with a hauteur that allows for little feedback and no real system of managerial checks and balances. CityTime is Mike Bloomberg being hoisted on his own hubristic petard-tone deaf to the warnings being issued by the NY Daily News' Juan Gonzales about the ticking time bomb that exploded in the mayor's face the other day.

As Gonzales wrote yesterday: "Federal prosecutors have finally begun to unravel one of the biggest scandals of the Bloomberg era. But one major question remains: Where were city officials all those years that computer consultant Mark Mazer and his cronies allegedly stole more than $80 million in taxpayer money from the CityTime project? How did a cutting-edge payroll system meant to eliminate fraud and waste by public employees become what prosecutors say is a nest of even bigger fraud, waste and money laundering by private contractors?"

He goes on to ask why Joel Bondy hasn't been fired: "The first person who should answer that is Joel Bondy. As executive director of the Office of Payroll Administration for the past six years, Bondy was the man in charge of CityTime. He was the guy who kept defending the project at City Council hearings even as it fell years behind schedule and its cost spiraled from $63 million to more than $700 million. Why has Bondy not been fired?"

From Juan's mouth to Bloomberg's ear-as the NY Times reports: "The official in charge of the New York City agency at the heart of an alleged $80 million information technology fraud scheme was suspended on Thursday without pay by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Comptroller John C. Liu. The official, Joel Bondy, was chosen by Mr. Bloomberg to be the executive director of the Office of Payroll Administration in April 2004. But the payroll agency has been repeatedly criticized for its handling of the CityTime project, an automated system devised to streamline employee timekeeping, which has been dogged by delays and enormous cost overruns."

Looking at this mess, we are beginning to think that the mayor chose Cathie Black for the wrong job-here's where someone with true managerial expertise could have been put to good use. Instead, we get an almost classic case of managerial incompetence-with more indictments to follow: "The investigation is still continuing, city officials said, and could lead to more arrests. But the scandal has become one of the most serious that the Bloomberg administration has faced. And by casting a pall over an initiative that the mayor had championed as a hallmark of efficient, computerized management, the case also shines a harsh light on the administration’s outsourcing practices."

The unraveling of this scandal raises some serious questions about the mayor's own management style-and how his underlings relate to him. Could it be that those around the mayor were fearful about being too forceful about the CityTime mess? In the weeks and months to come, this question and others are going to be raised-and any thoughts that Bloomberg had about traipsing around the country as some kind of  éminence grise need to be immediately put aside.

This leads us into the editorial lambasting that the mayor receives this morning from the NY Post. Now we have been critical of the Post for being too cozy with the mayor-in particular, the paper's trumpeting of the issue of mayoral control. But here credit is due for the forthright manner in which the Post holds Bloomberg's hands to the fire: "Prosecutors have charged four consultants with ripping off $80 million from a program to develop an electronic-time sheet system for municipal employees. Yet still on the loose is the guy responsible for a possible loss on the project of nearly 10 times that sum. This would be Mayor Mike. After all, work on CityTime -- an automated time-tracking system for city employees, started just before Mike took office -- was supposed to cost $63 million. Its current price tag? A staggering $722 million. And the project still isn't done. Where's Michael Bloomberg been?"

In Bermuda? But the Post isn't through-and it links the current scandal to the PVB corruption that saw Bronx boss Stanley Friedman go to jail. Even Stanley, however, never dreamed to rake off this much money. As the Times points out: "Investigators searched safety deposit boxes and the offices of the defendants on Thursday and seized more than $850,000, said Diane Struzzi, a Department of Investigation spokeswoman. A defendant even showed up at one of the banks with a duffel bag in hand, but was turned away because investigators had a warrant for the seizure."

The Post puts this into historical perspective: "Hizzoner prides himself on his managerial prowess. And he recently said, with characteristic, um, modesty, that he should be in the running for best New York City mayor ever. But just as Ed Koch had to live for years with the Parking Violations Bureau scandal of the late '80s, Bloomberg is going to be wearing this albatross for a very long time indeed."

The Post also opines, as we have before, on the false pretenses of the third term extension-one that, truth be told, the paper led the way on and bears some responsibilty for. It also says, cease and desist on the national flirtation: "Now the mayor has to cut loose all city officials in charge of the project. And it can't end there. For starters, Mike needs to quit his oh-so-cute flirtation with presidential politics and resign himself to the reality of being mayor. After all, didn't he twist the city's term-limits law into a pretzel to glom a third term? Let him serve it."

And what a mess it is to be cleaned up-and a shout out to Gonzales for his role in doing what too many in the press corps have failed to do with this mayor. The current scandal will almost certainly rip the curtain away from this Wizard of Gotham

The Post deserves last word here: "For sure, that won't be easy. Already, critics are blasting him for negligence: "The cost . . . is way beyond $80 million," City Councilwoman  Letitia James said. "We can save all of the proposed layoffs" of city workers for that money. She's got a point. Let's face it: Being mayor of New York requires laser focus; Gotham, remember, spends some $65 billion a year. Yet Mike remains fixated on pedestrian plazas, bike lanes and "not running for president." Plus, of course, his "bipartisanism" bushwa. All at New York's expense, it seems. Fact is, the city needs him right here. Doing his job. When $722 million goes up in smoke and nobody notices, there has been a fundamental breakdown. Mike needs to fix it."