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Bill de Blasio

City Hall Redacts de Blasio Correspondence About Teacher Placard Giveaway

An email from de Blasio to his aides and DOE officials after the press caught wind of the mayor’s teacher placard deal, blacked out by City Hall.

What led Mayor de Blasio to reissue tens of thousands of parking permits to Department of Education employees? City Hall isn't telling us the whole story.

Seven months after Streetsblog filed a freedom of information request for emails and other records pertaining to last spring's rollback of Bloomberg-era parking placard reforms at the DOE, City Hall responded with a handful of heavily redacted emails from and to de Blasio and other top officials.

A little background: In 2008 Mayor Michael Bloomberg cut the number of DOE placards from 63,000 to around 11,000 to align the number of permits with the number on-street parking spots reserved for school staff. Until then, DOE handed out placards to teachers and other employees regardless of the numbers of reserved spots, leading to endemic illegal parking around schools. Sidewalks, crosswalks, bus stops, no-standing zones, and other areas where parking is normally prohibited were fair game, since a placard is in practice a license to park basically anywhere with no fear of getting a ticket.

The Bloomberg reforms aimed to reduce that traffic and parking dysfunction. After some resistance, the United Federation of Teachers accepted the cuts -- Randi Weingarten, UFT president at the time, said the old system caused "huge frustration." But the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the school principals union, sued the city to get placards for its members restored.

Last spring, an arbitration ruling led the city to reissue CSA placards. But according to the CSA, City Hall's hand wasn't forced. The de Blasio administration “decided on its own” -- in an election year -- to extend parking privileges to every DOE employee who owns a car and requests a permit.

In addition to the 6,200 principals and other school administrators represented by the CSA, City Hall made placards available to 94,000 UFT members, along with 25,000 DOE employees who belong to DC 37. Thus de Blasio revived a broken system that encourages DOE employees to drive to work and park illegally, making congestion worse and increasing traffic hazards for students and their families.

DOE employees who walk, bike, or take transit to work, meanwhile, got nothing from the deal.

Last May, when City Hall and DOE declined to say what prompted the city to reissue permits to UFT and DC 37 members, Streetsblog filed a freedom of information request for documents related to the decision. In September, City Hall said it would release the records in late November, after the mayoral election.

When City Hall told us our request would apply to some 50,000 emails, we narrowed the parameters to cover all relevant correspondence sent to and from city email accounts belonging to the mayor and certain high-level aides and department heads.

The emails ultimately released by City Hall were limited to 19 pages of correspondence [PDF], all of it dated after Streetsblog broke the news of the placard deal.

We received no documents that shed light on how the deal came about.

Mayor de Blasio and UFT President Michael Mulgrew. Photo: Rob Bennett/Office of the Mayor
Mayor de Blasio and UFT President Michael Mulgrew. Photo: Rob Bennett/Office of the Mayor
Mayor de Blasio and UFT President Michael Mulgrew. Photo: Rob Bennett/Office of the Mayor

Of the 19 pages we received, 10 pages were press clippings. The rest consisted of a single email thread, with de Blasio and other officials hashing out a response to the wave of coverage that followed Streetsblog's initial story on the placard giveaway. Virtually all of the remarks by the mayor, DOE Communications Director Devora Kaye, and DOE Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff Ursulina Ramirez, were blacked out.

Looped in on the email thread were First Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, de Blasio Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Emma Wolfe, Office of Labor Relations Commissioner Robert Linn, OLR First Deputy Commissioner Renee Campion, DOE Deputy Chancellor of Strategy and Policy Josh Wallack, and other de Blasio aides: Deputy Chief of Staff Rachel Lauter, Deputy Chief of Staff Kevin O’Brien, Deputy Chief of Staff Avi Fink, and Senior Advisor for Strategic Planning Andrea Hagelgans.

City Hall counsel cited Public Officers Law §87(2) (b) and (g) to explain the redacted text. The law exempts disclosures that would "constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" and "inter-agency or intra-agency materials" that don’t cite statistics or factual information.

Streetsblog will be challenging the redactions. Even if they are determined to be legally justified, however, that doesn't account for the paucity of records turned over by City Hall.

Administration officials named in Streetsblog's records request -- including de Blasio and Wolfe -- are on the thread discussing the press response to the placard deal. It strains credulity that none of them sent or received correspondence about the deal before it was announced.

Furthermore, none of the senders or recipients in the emails released by City Hall work outside of government, but emails are subject to disclosure as long as one party was named in Streetsblog's request. If there is correspondence about the placard deal between the mayor and UFT President Michael Mulgrew, for instance, that should be included in City Hall's response.

"Assuming that there are communications with the union, with Mulgrew, with people outside of the government, they would not fall within the scope of the exceptions that were mentioned," said Robert Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government. "My guess is that they must exist."

Streetsblog is preparing additional freedom of information requests in light of City Hall's response.

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