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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Public School Parents and Community Activists Sue Bloomberg Administration Over Randall's Island Fields Controversy

Mayor Bloomberg has won accolades for his plan of sustainable growth, PlaNYC 2030, which he calls "our plan for a greener, greater New York". While his intents are laudable, his actual record on city parks has shown that some people get more green than others.

His plan for 171 acres on Randall's Island will double the number of playing fields. Unfortunately, he intends to grant exclusive access to 66% of these fields during after-school hours to an elite group of twenty private schools for the next twenty years. The Franchise and Concession Review Committee approved this controversial no-bid contract in February with the sole dissenting voice from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

Last week, public school parents represented by the District 4 (East Harlem) PTA Presidents Council and the Citywide Council for High Schools, the elected and legally mandated representatives of high school parents, joined East Harlem community activists Marina Ortiz and Matthew Washington to sue the Bloomberg Administration.

The NY Times quoted Eugenia Simmons-Taylor, president of the Parent and Teacher Association of the Young Women's Leadership School:

“The Parks Department never met with the parent associations of District 4 in East Harlem to discuss their plans. Our PTA presidents voted unanimously to be part of this lawsuit because it’s wrong to deprive public school children of these fields, in their own district, for the next twenty years. Also, I faithfully follow the Chancellor’s regulations and Robert’s rules of order as a PTA president. The Parks Department should have to abide by the law, like everyone else.”

In response, the Bloomberg Administration claims the review process was adequate. The Times quotes Law Department spokesperson Connie Pankratz:

“A full and fair public hearing appropriately addressed citizens’ concerns prior to the approval. While we have not seen the lawsuit, we intend to vigorously defend the decision to approve the sports complex, as it was entirely lawful and in the city’s best interests.”

When was this hearing? Febuary 13th. When was the deal approved? February 14th. Not so much time to address "citizens concerns". Private school headmasters testified they had been working with the Parks Department for over a year. Some citizens apparently get more attention from the mayor than others.

The City Charter says concessions considered "major" need to go through an extensive land use process including review by the local community board, borough president and the New York City Council. To be considered "major" the contract must cover use of more than .7 acres. With this concession involving 171 acres, the mayor's attempt to avoid review by forcing the deal through various loopholes has been particularly brazen.

Public school parents and community activists are represented by Norman Siegel, the noted civil rights attorney and Alan Klinger of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, LLP.

See additional news of the lawsuit in the NY Times here and Metro here . Our earlier post on the topic has more in-depth coverage here.

For the latest, including text of the legal documents, check East Harlem Preservation's website.

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