Days after being fired, the outgoing commissioner of the city’s Department of Investigation accused Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday of attempting to block the watchdog from releasing reports on its investigations into city agencies in a memo that detailed intense arguments between his office and the mayoral administration.
In a 10-page letter addressed to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Ritchie Torres, the council’s Investigation Committee chairman,the ousted official, Mark Peters, said de Blasio and his staff "took actions to demonstrate their anger in ways that were clearly designed to be intimidating" whenever Peters declined to delay or squash reports on his team’s work.
Peters noted that City Hall officials pushed back against reports on investigations into how the administration handled lead paint hazards in public housing and how the city’s Administration for Children’s Services examined child abuse allegations. In January 2017, Peters said, the mayor chastised him as he was preparing to issue a report on what Peters described as ACS’s failures.
"When I informed the mayor that the DOI was obligated to make its findings public, he yelled at me [and] accused me of trying to bring his administration ‘down,’ " Peters wrote.
Ten months later, as the DOI was finalizing a release on its examination into NYCHA’s lead inspection protocols, Peters said in the memo that he received a call from then-Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris, asking him not to release the report. Shorris said Peters had an obligation to hold off and "protect the interests of the agency," according to the memo.
De Blasio denied interfering with Peters’ work, when asked about the memo at a Monday news conference on his administration’s plans to improve conditions in public housing.
"I’m sure I’ve had conversations with Mr. Peters, and I’m sure I’ve had disagreements, but that characterization is false," the mayor said.
De Blasio fired Peters on Friday following an investigation that found the commissioner had tried to take control of a separate office charged with investigating public schools, fired a whistle blower and otherwise conducted himself unprofessionally.
The mayor nominated Margaret Garnett, a deputy attorney general for the Southern District of New York, to replace Peters as commissioner. Her appointment awaits the approval of the City Council.
"Unfortunately, this is an individual who did some very inappropriate things," the mayor said Monday. "I am exercising my authority under the charter to make sure there is a change in the office, and we bring in someone new, independent and strong."
Peters has acknowledged missteps but denied some aspects of the alleged wrongdoing highlighted by investigators. He noted in his letter that he is willing to testify before the City Council.
Torres said the conduct described by Peters "bordered on unethical" and called on the council to protect the DOI.
"The next DOI Commissioner has a moral obligation to press ahead with pre-existing investigations without fear or favor," Torres said in a statement.
Council Speaker Corey Johnson also said the DOI must remain free from political interference and said he looks forward to hearing about Garnett’s plans for the office.
"There must be no doubt that those at the helm possess the utmost integrity and candor," Johnson said in a statement.
Before delving into developments at the DOI, de Blasio unveiled plans to transition a total of 62,000 apartments from a traditional public housing model into a model in which NYCHA joins with private partners to manage them under the federal government’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. The move would provide funding for boiler upgrades, kitchen revamps, gut renovations in the bathroom and other major repairs, according to de Blasio. He said this would not affect the rents or fees paid by tenants.
Several buildings have already received RAD upgrades, such as Campos Houses I on the Lower East Side.