[Image courtesy of geektyrant]

The ongoing war of words between the New York City Board of Elections (NYC BOE) and policymakers heated up again yesterday when the agency’s executive director accused the Coty Council of a pattern of deliberate underfunding. The New York Post has more:

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.

The accusation caught council members by surprise – and their reaction suggests that the NYC BOE may be facing even tougher sledding in the weeks and months to come:

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.”

Capital Playbook got even more of his reaction:

“I’ve never heard a government agency tell us before that they believe there is conspiracy effectively to have them fail, which is essentially what you said, and I don’t think that’s fair.”

Greenfield insisted the Council “consistently” called for more funding for the agency. He said that when [DOI] testified, “I specifically said that I think that you need more funding. I just think that’s a little bit out there, honestly.”

It also doesn’t help that budgeters are already underwhelmed by some of the NYC BOE’s budget requests. The Post again:

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.

It would seem that NYC BOE’s strategy in the wake of the DOI report – and widespread frustration with its operations in city government generally – is to go on the offensive (and not the charm kind). I find it hard to believe that such a strategy will work when coupled with a request for a budget increase … but I’m not a New Yorker.

Stay tuned; it’s all over but the shouting – and you know there will be LOTS of shouting.