City Council Member Seeks End-Run Around Lawsuit Against Mayor de Blasio

Flushing Meadow Corona Park

Flushing Meadow Corona Park with District Overlay.

A City Council Member submitted legislation to enact the very relief he is currently seeking from the courts. On October 13, 2016, City Council Member Rory I. Lancman, representative for the 24th council district in Queens, introduced legislation which would amend the City’s Administrative Code regarding local representation on park conservancy boards. The proposed law would require that every non-profit conservancy entity have a voting member on its board of directors designated by each council member representing the districts that the park may be located within. This proposal appears to be the result of an on-going legal dispute between Lancman and Mayor Bill de Blasio over representation in the non-profit conservancy group that helps maintain Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

Flushing Meadows Corona Park, which spans 900-acres, is the largest park in Queens, and falls within four City Council Districts—the 20th, 21st, 24th, and the 29th. It was famously the site of two World’s Fairs, and offers numerous sporting and recreational activities, including boating, baseball, soccer, tennis and cricket. In 2013, the U.S. Tennis Association, which operates the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the Arthur Ashe Stadium within the Park, completed a land use deal with the Parks Department that allowed the USTA to expand its complex within the Park. In exchange for the land, the USTA pledged $5 million to the City over six years for the City’s capital costs, and another $5 million to the City Parks Foundation over 23 years for maintenance, cleaning and improvements to the Park.

The Flushing Meadows-Corona Park Alliance, which was launched on November 16, 2015, was created to “support and promote the upkeep and enhancement of the 900-acre park.” The non-profit entity has taken over receipt of the USTA contributions previously made to the City Parks Foundation.

As written, the Alliance’s bylaws require a minimum of nine directors and maximum of 15 directors to serve on the board. Five of those directors are ex-officio positions held by the Queens Borough President, the First Deputy Mayor, the Parks Commissioner, the City Council Speaker, and the Cultural Affairs Commissioner. The ex-officio director positions, according to the bylaws, have full voting authority. Six of the board positions are appointed by the Mayor. One is appointed by the 21st city council district representative, Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, and one is appointed by a community advisory board.

Lancman argues that the right to appoint a member to the board was a reward given to Julissa Ferreras-Copeland from the de Blasio administration for negotiating the USTA land-use deal and for being a political ally of the Mayor. As evidence, Lancman points out that the other three council members whose districts also overlap the park have no such appointment authority: himself; Council Member Peter Koo; and, Council Member Karen Koslowitz. “Flushing Meadows Corona Park belongs to the public,” Lancman wrote in a published opinion. “Instead, the de Blasio administration has created yet another shadowy quasi-governmental entity to evade public scrutiny and reward its political allies with governmental favors. It’s unacceptable, it’s illegal, and it has to stop.”

On July 7, 2016, Council Member Lancman brought a suit against both the Mayor and the Alliance in New York State Supreme Court. In the complaint, Lancman alleged that the composition of the Alliance’s Board of Directors violated the City’s Administrative Code. Specifically, Lancman argued that Administrative Code Section 18-137(b) requires every licensed non-profit conservancy entity for a park to have local representation appointed to the board of directors by the council member of each district that the park is located within. Lancman also alleged that the Alliance’s funding structure violated the City Charter. Section 109 of the City Charter reads, “All revenues of the city . . . not required by law to be paid into any other fund or account shall be paid into a fund to be termed the ‘general fund.’” Lancman alleged that the USTA’s initial and annual payments violated this section of the Charter because the payments went directly to the City Parks Foundation and then the Alliance instead of the City’s general fund, which would then be subject to the Charter’s budget process.

The City moved to dismiss the case on September 22, 2016, as barred by the statute of limitations. On October 24, 2016, Lancman’s attorney filed a memorandum in opposition of the City’s motion.

Prior to his attorney’s motion, on October 13, 2016, Council Member Lancman proffered Introduction 1302-2016 to the City Council. The law was referred to the Committee on Parks and Recreation for consideration. The bill does not address the funding structure complaint raised by Lancman in the lawsuit. The bill does, however, explicitly require that every councilmember with a park in their district be entitled to appoint a board member to every non-profit with a conservancy agreement with the City to run the park. The bill defines a conservancy agreement as a written authorization allowing a nonprofit to (1) hire or provide funds to hire any person to work in a City park, (2) raise, accept, or administer public funds to improve or maintain a park, or (3) raise, accept or administer private funds, derived in any way from the use of a park, to improve or maintain that park.

If passed, half of Lancman’s suit against the Mayor and the Alliance would be moot.

By: Jonathon Sizemore (Jonathon is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2016).


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