The independent monitor Gov. Cuomo ordered to oversee the city’s embattled Administration for Children’s Services has begun its work without a contract, charging pricey hourly fees that will be billed to NYC taxpayers, NBC 4 New York's I-Team has learned exclusively.
Teams of consultants from the private Kroll Associates have descended on ACS at a cost of $250 to $550 per hour per consultant, adding up to thousands of dollars per meeting. Documents obtained exclusively by the I-Team indicate that these fees include a 20 percent discount.
“Five hundred fifty dollars? Times multiple people? In multiple meetings for an endless amount of days? This could potentially cost our city millions of dollars,” said City Council Finance Chair Julissa Ferreras, after the I-Team informed her about the fees.
Since there is no finalized contract, no caps have been set on annual costs and there’s no deadline for completion of Kroll’s work. A letter dated Feb. 27 and signed by ACS and Kroll outlines preliminary terms and says the monitor is expected to continue its work for a multi-year period.
“Right now as it stands, it is just a never ending blank check,” Ferreras said.
A spokesperson for Gov. Cuomo declined to comment on the cost and duration of their ACS monitor, which was ordered following the death of Zymere Perkins, the 6-year-old Harlem boy bludgeoned to death with a broomstick in September after months of alleged abuse by his mother and her boyfriend.
Mayor de Blasio announced in December that he would appoint an independent monitor to oversee the agency. The pledge came one day after then-ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrion resigned in the wake of several high-profile child abuse deaths.
A week after the mayor's announcement, a scathing audit by the city comptroller's office found at least 10 children died last year within a three-month period under the watch of the welfare agency, possibly due to a lack of follow-up.
ACS workers concluded the child was “accident prone” despite injuries including a broken jaw, bloody eyes, and eyewitness accounts that he was being beaten in public.
The Office of Children and Family Services said in a statement, “Kroll was hired to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of ACS’s protective and preventive services programs, make recommendations for improvements, and ensure they are met.”
Sources familiar with the negotiation requesting anonymity said the State settled on Kroll Associates, despite suggestions that a reputable child welfare foundation could do the work at low or no cost.
Already, ACS is overseen by the State Office of Children and Family Services, the NYC Department of Investigation, and the Casey Family Foundation, which is currently advising ACS on child protection. ACS also has a new commissioner, David Hansell, who himself comes from the world of management consulting, having most recently worked at the firm KPMG.
Kroll’s ACS team will be headed by Joseph Spinelli, an experienced investigator, formerly with the FBI. Spinelli also served as State Inspector General under the late Governor Mario Cuomo.
This is not the first time Kroll has entered into a management consulting arrangement with NYC. In 2009, City Hall enlisted Kroll to review the city’s efforts to stem the entry of illegal guns. That contract started at $2 million dollars a year but grew to 3.7 million dollars due to what the city described as “unforeseen factors.”
Kroll and ACS both declined to comment on the monitoring arrangement.
“I think it’s more of a publicity stunt than anything else,” said Abe George, the attorney suing ACS on behalf of Zymere Perkins' two aunts. I’m skeptical that what we’re doing may be just adding another layer of bureaucracy and not fixing the problem.”
Ari Goodman of the Upper East Side said, “If it saves kids’ lives it’s worth it.”
William Lester in Lower Manhattan disagreed: “If they wanna spend this money, spend the money on the agency. Hire more workers for the agency.”
For $550 dollars an hour, the cost of a Kroll managing director, ACS could hire roughly 20 child protective caseworkers, whose starting salary is $47,200.