2008_04_quinnsp.jpgIn the wake of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn's admission that her finance staff allocated money to fake groups, details are emerging about where the now-resigned top finance staffers now. And it turns out former finance director Michael Keogh, managed to get a job with big lobbying firm Bolton James (here's his bio), which is where Emily Giske, a friend and supporter of Quinn, is a partner.

A City Hall insider told the Daily News, "If [Quinn] was looking to keep someone who knew information that she wanted to keep close, Giske would be the person she would turn to." The Observer's Azi Paybarah writes while it cold be "perfectly coincidental," given "Giske has a lot of friends" and Keogh "has been around long enough" and could have landed the job himself, but, still, "it's a question of timing, and an explanation...would be welcome."

The NY Times has a lengthy article about Quinn and the matter, noting her reputation as a reformer may take a beating, but "there is no evidence that anything about the system was illegal or that any money was misspent" (the money was held in reserve to give to legitimate groups). Still, her "defense hinges largely" on her claim when she found out the finance staff was doing this, she told them to stop, only to find out months later it was still happening. Though Quinn said many people heard her say the practice had to stop, the only person who recalled her saying so was her chief of staff.

The slush fund accounting, used at Speaker's discretion, apparently dates back to 2001, which is when Peter Vallone Sr. was Speaker. He denied the practice on Wednesday; Gifford Miller, Speaker between 2002 and 2006 has not commented yet. And the government watchdog group Citizens Union issued this statement:

Citizens Union is troubled to learn of the City Council's practice of appropriating taxpayer funds for member items in a way that was outside an accountable and transparent budget process.

We also are troubled that this reported two decade-old practice seems not to have been questioned or discovered by either the Office of Management and Budget or the City Comptroller's office given that both are involved in the post budget process involving the accounting, contracting, and dispersal of member items.

The revelations are all the more disconcerting because Speaker Christine Quinn has been a champion of reform, bringing about needed improvements to our campaign finance program, lobbying laws, and the council's review and approval of the city budget.

We appreciate Speaker Quinn's public disclosure yesterday of the practice and her steps to end it, but are nonetheless concerned that information surrounding the practice and her efforts to end it were not made public until now. It would have been in New Yorkers' best interests had she made ending the shadow practice public when she also implemented new procedures and added transparency to the decision-making process of member items.

We appreciate the need for elected officials and city agency heads to have the flexibility to respond to emergency needs that occur during the year after a budget has been adopted, but believe that such flexibility must be transparent, above board, and accountable, which this practice was not. Hidden flexibility, as was the case with the place-holding of false member items with phantom non profits, allows for unaccountable discretion that can be used in inappropriate ways.

Citizens Union today is calling for two actions:

1. That Speaker Quinn a) release all relevant information and materials related to this practice, b) explain more fully why her directive to staff was not followed, c) explain why she did not seek to end the practice in her first year, and d) announce what steps she is taking to bring even greater accountability to the process of member items. Such additional disclosure will help assuage the public's need to know and heal the rupture in the integrity of the city budget decision-making process.

2. That an additional level of review and scrutiny be established to ensure that all budgeted member items are a) fully and completely disclosed, b) given to legitimate and legally chartered non-profit organizations and c) serve a legitimate public purpose. The city should implement a process similar to the one established last year by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, whose office now formally reviews each approved member item to ensure that the appropriation and its use complies with state law. Either the Corporation Counsel, or Department of Investigations, or similar entity, could be empowered to perform such a function.