The head of the city Board of Elections stunned City Council members on Tuesday by claiming that the long-battered agency was purposely shorted funds by the city so it would fail.
BOE director Michael Ryan made the conspiracy-laden accusation as part of a pitch to secure a whopping $55 million in additional funding from the city’s coffers, even as his agency remains under investigation by the city.
A recent Department of Investigation probe identified a host of failings at the agency — including nepotism, voter roll deficiencies and poor training of poll workers.
“While the board has historically been a convenient foil for public criticism, it has at the same time been the victim of a funding scheme that seems to have been intentionally designed to ‘cash starve’ the agency to accomplish some unknown and ultimately inconceivable goal,” Ryan said of the city’s preliminary $75.6 million fiscal 2015 budget for his agency.
The adopted fiscal 2014 budget for BOE was $135 million – but the higher amount was largely because of the slew of citywide elections, according to council officials.
Council member David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn), who asked Ryan to elaborate on the “grand conspiracy” targeting the BOE, called the claim “a bit out there.”
“Wow. Those are some fighting words,” he said during the committee on governmental relations hearing at City Hall. “I think we’re just adding to the hyperbole when the executive director comes in and says, ‘Hey, we’ve got this vast conspiracy of folks who are out to get us,’” he added. “I think we need to step it down a notch.”
Committee chair Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) also questioned the Board’s request for nearly $7 million to fund multi-purpose kiosk machines – at $4,500 a pop – when cheaper solutions like smart phones and paper maps would serve many of the same functions.
The kiosks would help voters identify their assembly and election districts, serve as attendance scanners for poll workers and help upload election results directly to police precincts, board officials said.
“Many of the things you’re asking for a [$4,500] piece of hardware to do, could be done just as easily with a text-messaging gateway and a $10 feature phone,” said Kallos.
Ryan responded to much of the criticism by saying he was open to other options. He called the extra $55 million sought from the city a “wish-list” that included pay equity for agency staffers.
“Spending the taxpayers’ money wisely is something that is near and dear to my heart, and I stress it with our staff on a daily basis,” he said.