BY NATALIA KOZIKOWSKA
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer has only been in office for a month but said he has hit the ground running.
Last week, the Comptroller stopped by the Queens Tribune office to speak with the editorial staff about his recent progress and to weigh in on some of the Borough’s biggest fiscal stories of the year.
Stringer noted that the majority of jobs at his office have already been filled, including all eight Deputy Comptroller positions – seven of which were filled by women. His relatively quick appointments, he said, have made for an easy and smooth transition.
“For us, the last 30 days have been about filling the capacity of the office. We can do bigger things,” Stringer said. “The transition was very important for us and it seems to be going very well.”
In addition to hiring staffers, Stringer said he has been busy with auditing City-funded agencies, most notably the Queens Library. The nonprofit and its CEO, Thomas Galante, have been in hot water after media reports alleged that taxpayer money was used to fund Galante’s $391,594 salary and $140,000 in lavish office renovations, which included a private outdoor smoking area.
In light of the scandal, Stringer, who gave the library notice of the audit last Tuesday, said he will be making sure New Yorkers are getting the best bang for their buck by auditing all three of the City’s library systems, which operate in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan.
“I think there have been some serious issues raised and some allegations that I think need to be addressed. We’re going to look at the financials, we’re going to look at performance and we will evaluate all the systems,” he said. “Eighty-six percent of their revenue comes from City money so I expect them to cooperate with the City audit by the City Comptroller.”
Although the cash-strapped library has laid off more than 100 employees over the last five years, Stringer was hesitant to comment on Galante’s six-figure salary, noting the sensitivity of the pending audit.
“I’m concerned about the issues raised but I don’t want to speak specifically to some of these issues because I don’t want to prejudice the audit that’s going on,” he said. “But I wouldn’t be doing this audit if I didn’t think there were some issues raised.”
Stringer also briefly spoke about the City’s decision to audit the New York City Housing Authority, following a series of reports that claimed the agency’s administrators were sitting on millions of government dollars while repair requests continue to pile up.
“I want people to get the sense that I am going to be an activist comptroller working very hard for the people of the City,” he said. “It [the audit] was one of the first things I was working on as comptroller.”
“I want to be a constructive voice on the issues that matter so looking at the New York City Public Housing Authority, for example, I think that’s in our reach because we can make good, sound audits that will help the City Council and the Mayor make informed policy decisions,” he added.
In addition to his City audits, Stringer said he spent the first month as Comptroller focusing on insuring his office is held to “the highest of ethical standards.”
“First and foremost, we’re banning placement agents. Those are the middle men who have been part of previous comptroller scandals,” he said. “Basically, they get paid a large fee to bring business to the pension fund and I made it clear, I don’t need a middleman for us to talk to the businesses.”
“Second, we are also going to implement a risk management process within our fund. Right now, we do not have professional risk management protocol to look at our assets allocation and see if the decisions we’re making are balancing the market,” he continued. “We are also setting up an audit committee so that I can continually look at way to make the pension fund more transparent.”
Although Stringer does admit there have been obstacles, he believes his office is handling them with stride and said he is excited to see what the future holds.
“The challenge for us is can we build the capacity of this office to meet the work that we want to do. It’s a new job, it’s a big city, but I think we’re doing very well on the issues I care about,” he said. “Part of this job is getting out into the community and learning what people have to say and I’m going to be doing more of that in coming year – getting out to the neighborhood and talking to real New Yorkers.”
Reach Natalia Kozikowska at (718)357-7400 Ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org or @nkozikowska.