NYC had ‘persistent cleanliness problems’ under Kathryn Garcia: audit

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Trash piled up on city streets and sidewalks because mayoral hopeful and former Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia’s department used a decades-old monitoring system and had poor internal communication, according to a damning state audit.

“DSNY needs to improve its communication, coordination and record keeping processes to efficiently and effectively address persistent cleanliness problems on NYC streets and sidewalks,” state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli wrote in the September 2020 report.

The audit covered January 2015 to September 2019, the entire time that Garcia helmed the agency. It found that 189 streets and 159 sidewalks in 271 city blocks were dirty, according to city standards.

The report was first written about by Politico on Wednesday. Garcia has coime under greater scrutiny since rising to third in the polls following an endorsement by The New York Times, and getting a boost from city Comptroller Scott Stringer’s campaign faltering after sexual assault allegations came to light, which he has denied.

DiNapoli wrote that the department’s cleanliness ratings system dates back to 1973 doesn’t cite the specific location of dirty streets. The agency also doesn’t share relevant information across different divisions, he found.

The 37-page probe includes photos of broken trash bags spewing garbage onto sidewalks in one Queens block during three different inspections over the course of three months in 2019 and cardboard littering streets in The Bronx.

Garcia responded to a draft copy of the audit with an August 2020 letter to the comptroller. She wrote that while there was always room for improvement, “at the time this audit was conducted, New York City was cleaner than ever before. This was true despite record high population, employment, tourism and economic activity.”

Garcia added that property owners were also responsible for keeping sidewalks clean and said the department did not have the authority to issue tickets to facilities owned by the city, state or federal government.

Kathryn Garcia has been rising in the polls for NYC mayor.
Kathryn Garcia has been rising in the polls for NYC mayor.
Robert Miller

An annual scorecard released by City Hall in October found that cleanliness levels dipped in The Bronx and Manhattan, but Sanitation Department officials attributed the change to pandemic-induced budget cuts.

Garcia has also come under fire by 13 former employees within the department’s Sanitation Enforcement division. The women and minority ticket agents claim in an federal discrimination filing that they were paid far less than white male colleagues for similar work.

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