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The revelation that there was a phantom slush fund in which the City Council hid funds set aside for fictitious organizations has shaken New Yorkers' confidence in the City Council and may ultimately make it difficult if not impossible for Speaker Christine Quinn to run for mayor. The recent announcement that two City Council staffers were indicted on charges of stealing from the slush fund and putting the money in their own pockets makes it that much more important that the Council's use of funds be thoroughly investigated.
It may happen that, in an effort to bring transparency and integrity to the funding process by which the Council allocates money, all member items will be eliminated. In the future, all funding may be dispersed through an RFP process. Be very grateful that you didn't need an RFP to get your allowance when you were a kid. The process is tedious and cumbersome and moves slower than a glacier before global warming. Small community groups that do good work may not have the time or legal skills to take part in the RFP process, only to get a few thousand dollars.
At present, all Council members begin with the same allotment for member items: $151,700 for youth groups and $108,750 for senior citizen groups. This year approximately $47 million was set aside for "member items." The rest, as we understand, is doled out to Council members by Quinn.
According to published reports, Queens City Councilman David Weprin, chairman of the Finance Committee, sponsored more member items than anyone else: 194 items worth $16.8 million. City Councilman Eric Gioia came in sixth on the big spender list with $7,092,464 and Leroy Comrie came in eighth with $5,799,464.
It may well be that the organizations benefitting from the largesse of Weprin, Gioia and Comrie are worthy of the taxpayers' support. Nevertheless, the member item system is at best questionable. There should be some way to give worthy programs funding based on their merit and value to the community rather than the political connections of a sponsoring Council member.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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