City Issues Alarm as FDNY Monitor’s Bill Exceeds $3 Million

Chief Leader - December 24, 2013

by SARAH DORSEY

The Federal monitor appointed by U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis to prevent bias in FDNY hiring has sent the city an invoice for nearly $432,000 for just two months’ work, raising his total bill since November 2011 to $3 million.

In response, Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo again protested the steep cost, saying in a statement that the invoices “have been increasing, rather than becoming more reasonable, as he becomes more familiar with the issues” and calling the costs “extraordinary.”

Judge: Decades of Bias

Attorney Mark Cohen was appointed in 2011 to oversee the department’s hiring, promotions and human resources after Judge Garaufis deemed FDNY and city officials guilty of “decades of discrimination” against blacks and Latinos. The Judge presided over a 2007 lawsuit brought by the U.S. Justice Department and joined by the Vulcan Society of Black Firefighters.

Since the monitor began submitting invoices, Mr. Cardozo has been sharply critical of his hefty bills and their lack of transparency, unsuccessfully requesting itemized invoices. The monitor and his team charge between $165 (for paralegals) and $650 per hour, depending on the staff member’s level of expertise.

Mr. Cohen’s first bill, in March 2012, was for $310,759 for just 53 days’ work. His most recent was for $431,819, and included work on his fifth report to the court, billed at $80,526.

Mr. Cardozo has complained repeatedly to the Judge, claiming last year that some of the work was unnecessary, or that it could have been done by Mr. Cohen’s lower-paid employees. In August 2012 the city attorney noted that a bill he’d just received was only one page long. He said multiple lawyers on Mr. Cohen’s team sat in on meetings and that some of them were duplicating Law Department employees’ research, for instance on recruitment and attrition rates.

In response, Judge Garaufis ordered him to stop asking for itemized receipts.

The two classes that graduated the Fire Academy in 2013 have been the most ethnically-diverse in the city’s history. The most-recent class included 76 priority hires, whom Judge Garaufis gave a second chance at being Firefighters.

They’d taken the 1999 or 2002 entrance exam, both of which the Judge threw out as being poor measures of skills actually used in firefighting, and didn’t score high enough to gain appointment. They retook and passed last year’s exam, and Mr. Garaufis extended the FDNY’s 29-year-old age limit for them to enter the Academy.

The Federal monitor or his staff are said to have observed some drills at the Fire Academy this fall, including the tough obstacle course known as the functional skills test.