How this will all iron out is unknown at this point, but I would love to have a one-to-one chat with Ms. Coleman! Is there a coverup of someone or something?
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Seeking Control, Investigation Chief Fires Schools’ Special Commissioner
The commissioner of New York City’s Department of Investigation, who recently tried to seize control of the agency that polices corruption in the school system, has taken another step in asserting his power, firing the new head of the schools' investigation office less than two months into her tenure.
The office, known as the special commissioner of investigation for the New York City School District, investigates allegations of corruption, criminal activity, conflicts of interest and unethical conduct in the 1.1 million-student school system. Though it reports to the investigations department, the agency has largely operated independently since its inception in 1990.
But the investigations commissioner, Mark G. Peters, sought to change that last month, saying the schools' office was under his authority. Mr. Peters has also subsumed three other offices into the Department of Investigation: the inspectors general for the New York Police Department, the School Construction Authority and the Health and Hospitals Corporation.
Mr. Peters last month appointed Anastasia Coleman, a former senior assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, to take over the schools' investigation office from Special Commissioner Richard J. Condon, who retired late last year. She objected to Mr. Peters’s efforts to restructure the office and eliminate its independence, and had told him and his senior staff that she believed his efforts violated the law, based on the municipal documents that created the office, according to memos, emails, and other documents.
On Wednesday, Mr. Peters fired her during a brief meeting, at which he was accompanied by five senior staff members. She was escorted to her office and then out of the building by one of the agency’s armed officers, people briefed on the matter said. He later demoted her top deputy.
Mr. Peters spoke for less than a minute, according to a recording of the session provided to The New York Times, saying that Ms. Coleman no longer worked for the agency and that he had named one of his deputy commissioners, Susan Lambiase, as the acting head of the office.
Then, with anger rising in his voice, he said: “I expect that everyone in this room will give her their full support and cooperation. Thank you.” After he left, Ms. Lambiasi told the staff that she was looking forward to working with them and went over a few administrative matters, remarks that lasted less than a minute.
Ms. Coleman’s removal seems certain to worsen Mr. Peters’ already frayed relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio, once his good friend. The mayor appointed Mr. Peters in early 2014, after he served as the treasurer for Mr. de Blasio’s first mayoral campaign. Choosing a friend and campaign treasurer to head the agency responsible for rooting out corruption, fraud and abuse in city government raised questions. The questions grew into concerns when Mr. Peters initially resisted recusing himself in 2016 when Mr. de Blasio’s campaign fund-raising activities — activities which did not involve Mr. Peters — came under scrutiny by federal and state prosecutors.
Before her firing, Ms. Coleman had sent a lengthy memo to the city’s top lawyer, Corporation Counsel Zachary W. Carter, detailing her legal arguments and concerns about Mr. Peters’s changes to the schools investigation office. She concluded with a blistering attack on the investigation department’s conduct.
“DOI has overstepped its authority by disregarding” the municipal records that created the office, she continued, “and by unilaterally dismantling the existing authority and structure of SCI.”
Her view is shared by the education department, which funds the office and has publicly resisted the changes, and, according to people familiar with the matter, senior City Hall officials.
In an email to Mr. Peters hours before she was fired, Ms. Coleman identified herself as a whistle-blower and noted that the city administrative code protects her and her deputy from adverse personnel actions for raising concerns about “the potential of criminality, wrongdoing, or mismanagement” to the Investigation Department.
Mr. Peters has steadfastly maintained that the changes he has sought to make were lawful, and he told a City Council hearing on Monday that neither he nor anyone from his staff had been contacted by anyone at the Education Department about the matter.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Peters declined to comment on Ms. Coleman’s firing and the demotion of her deputy. Spokesmen for Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Carter also declined to comment.
Some of the alterations Mr. Peters has sought could significantly change the way the office operates. He has sought the power to set salaries, hire and fire, promote and demote, discipline, and assign the duties and responsibilities of all those who work in the schools office.
He has endeavored to change the title of the head of the office from special commissioner of investigation to inspector general, a less prestigious position that is equivalent to more than a dozen other department officials. That was a sticking point for Ms. Coleman, who, according to documents and emails, was told she would hold the more prestigious title when she was interviewed for the post.
Mr. Condon had the authority to sign subpoenas, compel testimony and publish reports. Ms. Coleman was told she did not have those powers, and needed to seek approval from senior officials at the department.
Mr. Peters said the changes would ensure consistency and add little time to investigations.
When he fired her, Mr. Peters gave Ms. Coleman a letter in which he wrote that he had asked earlier in the day for her resignation because of their “intractable disagreement” over the degree of oversight his agency could exercise over the special commissioner of investigation. He disputed her legal interpretation of the municipal documents — an executive order and two Board of Education resolutions — that created the office, arguing that his changes were lawful.
He also wrote that his agency “found her performance lacking,” although that contention appeared to be something of an afterthought, limited as it was to the last two paragraphs of his two-and-a-half page letter.
|Mark G. Peters, commissioner of the city Department of Investigation, has tried to take control of the office|
that polices corruption in the school system. Kevin Hagen for The New York Times
It was a municipal scuffle: The commissioner of the city Department of Investigation tried to seize total control of the semiautonomous office that polices corruption in the school system. The Department of Education has since pushed back — hard.
The move by the investigation commissioner, Mark G. Peters, resulted in an unusual legal skirmish between the two agencies, pitting an archaic set of municipal records against a series of new documents drawn up by the investigation department.
On one side was a series of mayoral executive orders, the earliest dating back to 1990, and two Board of Education resolutions of similar vintage, which give the office its authority. On the other was paperwork prepared by Mr. Peters’ staff that would have given him full control. The outgoing schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, has refused to sign it.
The office, known as the Special Commissioner of Investigation for the New York City School District, investigates allegations of corruption, criminal activity, conflicts of interest and unethical conduct in the system, the largest in the country.
Without her signature, those responsibilities remain with the office of the special commissioner.
Mr. Peters said his actions were prompted by the retirement late last year of Special Commissioner Richard J. Condon. A widely respected former New York Police Department commissioner, Mr. Condon was appointed special commissioner in 2002 and earned the respect of many at the education and investigation departments, and elsewhere in city government.
Mr. Peters has made additional unilateral changes that appear to run afoul of the orders and resolutions, and which, along with his other actions, would largely eliminate the autonomy that the office has had since it was created in 1990 and which has helped enable it to aggressively root out corruption.
He has changed the title of the head of the office from special commissioner of investigation to inspector general, a less prestigious position that is equivalent to more than a dozen other investigation department officials. The old executive orders provide that the special commissioner has the authority to sign subpoenas, compel testimony and publish reports. The new inspector general, Anastasia Coleman, a former senior assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, would not have those powers, and would have to seek approval from senior officials at the department.
Mr. Peters said those changes would ensure consistency and add little time to investigations.
He has also done away with the special commissioner’s separate website, consolidating it with his department’s. In addition, he has changed the reporting structure. Instead of reporting directly to the investigation commissioner, Ms. Coleman will report to an assistant commissioner, who reports to a deputy commissioner, who reports to the first deputy commissioner, who reports to Mr. Peters.
The changes were needed to create uniformity, Mr. Peters said, and so that his agency could take a more systemic look at the Department of Education, the way it has focused on the city’s Department of Correction and the New York City Housing Authority, where the investigation department has looked into on corruption, mismanagement and other problems.
He also contended that an even older executive order, from 1978, gave him the authority to make the changes he has undertaken because the city school system is now under mayoral control.
In recent weeks, the investigation agency has moved quickly to act on the new authority it has sought over the special commissioner’s office, posting a job vacancy notice for an assistant commissioner level job there, which it has attempted to fund through the education department, according to documents and emails.
But the post, chief information security officer, with a salary of $120,000 to $150,000, would serve the investigation department, according to the posting, which said the job would “increase the agency’s overall security posture.”
Mr. Peters said that the education department funding for the position was only temporary.
Toward the end of the interview, he seemed to be loosing patience with questions about his actions in connection with the special commissioner’s office.
“Either people cooperate with our investigations or they don’t,” he said. “Everything else is just noise.”