[VIDEO IN EXTENDED ARTICLE]
Following a stunning admission Tuesday that the Department of Consumer Affairs “flags” inspectors failing to meet a threshold for issuing fines, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio called for DCA Commissioner Jonathan Mintz to step down and announced new legislation to eliminate quotas, protect the integrity of appeals, and add new oversight of small business fines.
Reports of internal DCA documents and interviews with employees in recent days have brought to light a “25 percent threshold,” meaning inspectors are expected to issue one violation for every four businesses they inspect. Those same accounts confirm agency staff pressured Administrative Law Judges to rule against small businesses’ appeals.
Commissioner Mintz’s admission of added scrutiny for inspectors failing to hit a target number of violations comes after years of denying the existence of a secret quota system. As recently as last week, he responded to an investigation of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio by writing, “DCA does not place or impose on its enforcement personnel any quotas or numerical markers when issuing notices of violation.”
De Blasio labeled those denials a complete breach of the public trust. “A quota is a quota. There is no other word for setting targets for inspectors and making clear they’ll face added scrutiny if they fail to meet the threshold. The people of this city have been lied to, and now the truth is finally coming to light. There have to be consequences. We need new leadership and new oversight to protect small businesses,” said Public Advocate Bill de Blasio.
“Many of our small businesses are barely making it and apply a lot of blood, sweat, and tears just to keep the doors open for business. It is wrong and unfair to indirectly install a system that puts people out of business,” said City Council Member Andy King. “Small businesses are the backbone of our communities. Why is the administration trying to break their back?”
“Small businesses in our community have been reeling from petty tickets that are aimed at raising revenue for the city. The DCA should be helping educate businesses on what the laws are and aren’t—they should be there to support these businesses, which are the lifeblood of our community. Instead, these businesses are being shaken down. We have long suspected a quota system was in place, and now it’s finally clear that this shake down of small businesses is being mandated from the top,” said Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
De Blasio demanded that DCA Commissioner Mintz step down in order to restore the agency’s mission and to repair the public’s trust. He also announced a plan to right the agency by putting forward new legislation to:
1 – Establish more effective oversight of DCA, beginning with ongoing monthly reporting of its inspections, violations and fines to the City Council, Comptroller and Public Advocate. De Blasio was forced to sue the Department to secure this data in 2012.
2 – Eliminate all quotas related to the issuance of violations. The new law would ban the use of quotas or performance metrics tied to the frequency of issuing violations. Any use of the current “25 percent threshold” to evaluate or investigate DCA inspectors would be banned outright.
3 – Restore the integrity of the appeals process by putting DCA’s Administrative Law Judges under the jurisdiction of the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH). Independence from DCA would prevent intimidation of judges that failed to rule in DCA’s favor, and prevent tampering with appeals. OATH already oversees the operations of administrative judges for the Department of Health, Taxi and Limousine Commission, and Environmental Control Board.
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(YWN Desk – NYC)