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Civic leaders suggest audits for Liu to run

When he visited the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights Monday evening, city Comptroller John Liu not only told those who attended his town hall how his job works but asked them how he could do it better.

“We’re here to talk about audits and how to save money for city taxpayers,” Liu said.

The town hall, held at the center on 37-06 77th St. in Jackson Heights, was the second of five Liu plans to hold — one for each of the city’s five boroughs. As he spoke to the more than 100 people who attended the meeting, Liu touted the initiatives his office had implemented, such as making the city’s checkbook available online, creating a report card to determine if the city hired enough women- and minority-owned contractors and elevating the audit bureau.

He said the comptroller’s job is to make sure city agencies are using budget money properly and as efficiently as possible. Citing two significant audits under his watch since he became comptroller in 2010, Liu said one revealed the city Economic Development Corp. was holding on to $120 million in payments it received leasing out space in Times Square and another found four consultants for the city’s CityTime software payroll and their relatives allegedly took $80 million from the city through steering contracts to businesses they controlled.

Liu also emphasized the office could only audit agencies within the city, not state or other agencies and not people.

“We are not the IRS,” Liu said.

Liu and H. Tina Kim, deputy comptroller for audit, took down suggestions for city agencies in need of auditing from about 20 residents, most of them members of civic groups across Queens or former and current city employees. Some city agencies mentioned as candidates included the Port Authority, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Corrections Officer’s Benevolent Association, the city Board of Elections and the city Department of Education.

“I think for the most part these are good suggestions and good points of view,” Liu said.

Some members of the audience said the city needed more regular audits, to which Liu said all parts of city government had to be audited every four years. But organizations in need of increased scrutiny, such as the DOE, which is currently having its method for determining school utilization audited, would get audits more often. Liu also emphasized his office is limited in auditing some agencies, such as the MTA, which is operated jointly by the city and the state.

“There are many city agencies where we feel there are many problems that need to be addressed,” Liu said.

Jim Jordan, a member of the Yachting Club in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, said he was glad Liu came to hear suggestions.

“I don’t recall anything like this before, certainly not from the comptroller’s office,” Jordan said.

Toby Coles, a member of the city Department of Corrections, said he was also pleased with the meeting.

“I’m very happy that they actually have someone in the executive office who can come out and engage the people,” Coles said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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