Appointments and meetings, including with companies doing business with the City, don’t show what was discussed
By Progress New York Staff
Progress New York is publishing the 2017 official calendar for New York City Councilmember Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), which was obtained under the State’s Freedom of Information Law, or FOIL. The calendar was redacted by City Council staff before its release.
The FOIL Request was filed by, and the FOIL Response was obtained by, Progress Queens, an affiliate of Progress New York.
From information remaining on the redacted records, it was possible to determine that Councilmember Dromm was scheduled to meet with representatives of Taser International on Jan. 26, 2017, for example. Taser had hired at least two lobbying firms, Kostelanetz & Fink, LLP and Patrick B. Jenkins & Associates, to pressure the City of New York to win control of a body camera contract from the New York Police Department. Less than two weeks after Councilmember Dromm was scheduled to meet with representatives of Taser, the New York Times published a report, revealing that the NYPD’s body camera contract, which had been awarded to a company named Vievu, was under investigation by law enforcement authorities. Taser faced financial pressures to win control of the contract ; the value of Taser’s common shares collapsed by 14 per cent. on the day news was released that it had lost the contract to Vievu, according to a report broadcast by the cable business new channel CNBC. It is not clear whether Councilmember Dromm was aware that the NYPD’s body camera contract was about to face an initial disapproval by Comptroller Scott Stringer (D-New York City). According to online records, Taser was lobbying both the agency investigating the body camera contract and the Office of the Comptroller. One year after the lobbying meeting, Taser, operating under a new name, acquired Vievu for its valuable contracts, according to a follow-up CNBC report. For this report, Councilmember Dromm did not answer an interview request.
Besides showing scheduled meetings with political over-tones, such as attending protests against President Donald Trump (R) on Jan. 19 and against the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, on Feb. 16, Councilmember Dromm’s 2017 calendar also showed scheduled meetings with officials with special interest groups Queens Community House, on Jan. 27 ; the United Federation of Teachers on several occasions ; and NY-CLASS, on Nov. 28. His calendar also showed heavy redactions. The subject matter of appointments were entirely redacted for scheduled entries on the morning of Jan. 17, the morning of Jan. 23, the early afternoon of March 6, and so on. These were days during the traditional work week. When City Council FOIL Officer Danielle Barbato released the redacted records, she explained that the redactions were made pursuant to exemptions under FOIL, including privacy, the making of non-binding determinations, and security of information.
On Feb. 3, Councilmember Dromm was scheduled to meet with District Attorney Richard Brown (D-Queens) for a legislative breakfast. The Queens District Attorney’s Office has resisted any calls for substantive criminal justice system reform, because no elected official dares to stand up to District Attorney Brown or the powerful Democratic Party county committee that supports him. Councilmember Dromm’s calendar also showed an entry to attend a dinner and dance party for the New Visions Democratic Club on April 27, 2017. New Visions has been accused of misogyny by political candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for excluding her from a debate with U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Queens), who chairs the Democratic Party county committee in Queens.
Meetings with Queens delegation late in year coïncides with Council speaker race
It was noteworthy that, near the end of the year, Councilmember Dromm was scheduled to attend at least two private meetings of the Queens delegation to the New York City Council. The meetings, of public officials, took place in private settings after the November 2017 general election — on Nov. 17 and Dec. 28, 2017. During this time, it was being reported that U.S. Rep. Crowley was obtaining pledges for a T.B.A. Council speaker candidate from Municipal lawmakers before the lawmakers had authority to cast such votes, because the next legislative session had yet to be sworn in. Ultimately, U.S. Rep. Crowley effectively installed Councilmember Corey Johnson (D-Chelsea) as the new Council speaker on Dec. 20, according to a report published by the New York Post.
Redacted calendar doesn’t show nature and topics discussed during meetings
For all the information that survived the redactions, the exact nature of discussions or the topics discussed during scheduled meetings was not revealed, prompting some concern for one prominent Government reform activist.
“Progress Queens has done a public service by submitting a FOIL request to obtain Council Member Daniel Dromm’s 2017 calendar ; there are three problems with the calendar as I see it. First, Council members have the ability to redact items from their supposedly public calendars, which is arguably a violation of the principle of openness and transparency in government ; any redaction of a public document such as this should only be made after it is approved by a body entirely independent of the City Council and certainly of the individual Council member him/herself,” said Pauline Park, chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, or NYAGRA, an LGBT activist who led the campaign for the transgender rights law enacted by the City Council in 2002. “Second, what is available on a calendar is simply too general to use to effectively scrutinize the relations that Council members cultivate and maintain with individuals and organizations outside the Council ; there need to be more mechanisms made available for this purpose. And third, there is a problem with the fact that it requires a FOIL request in order to access the calendars of elected officials who claim to be public servants : as such, they should be required to make their calendars available on a regular and timely basis, perhaps monthly at the end of each month.”