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Public advocate to investigate allegations of DCA using “secret quota system”

What many have speculated may turn out to be true.

The Department of Consumer Affairs is being accused of unfairly ticketing small businesses to keep up with a secret quota system, according to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who is calling for the agency’s commissioner to step down.

Suspicions arose across the city when the number of tickets given out by the DCA rose from 10.9 million in 2010 to nearly 24.2 million in 2012. An internal DCA document shows that employees are often questioned about “productivity levels” and are told to “keep numbers high.”  Data also reveals that one out of every four inspections generates a violation and a fine.

Most of these are for minor infractions, such as printing errors on receipts or insufficient signage.

“There’s a place for enforcement of consumer rights but there is absolutely no place to turn enforcement responsibilities into revenue collection responsibilities,” Councilmember Vincent Gentile said. “I am very, very troubled – though unfortunately not surprised – to learn that the Department of Consumer Affairs is being accused of implementing a secret quota system. We need to end the harassment and return to what’s fair. Enough is enough.

“This is a smoking gun, plain and simple,” he went on, “How can a small business owner compete when the deck is stacked against them? We cannot squeeze small businesses to create revenue for the city. We are chasing small business owners out of this city!”

Assemblymember Dov Hikind concurred. “Small businesses in our community have been reeling from petty tickets that are aimed at raising revenue for the city. The DCA should be helping educate businesses on what the laws are and aren’t—they should be there to support these businesses, which are the lifeblood of our community,” he contended. “Instead, these businesses are being shaken down. We have long suspected a quota system was in place, and now it’s finally clear that this shake-down of small businesses is being mandated from the top.”

The public advocate also revealed plans to establish more oversight of the DCA, eliminate all quotas related to violations and putting the DCA’s administrative law judges under the jurisdiction of the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, which already oversees the operations of administrative judges for the Department of Health, Taxi and Limousine Commission and Environmental Control Board.

“A quota is a quota. There is no other word for setting targets for inspectors and making clear they’ll face added scrutiny if they fail to meet the threshold,” de Blasio contended. “The people of this city have been lied to, and now the truth is finally coming to light. There have to be consequences. We need new leadership and new oversight to protect small businesses.”

However, Abigail Lootens, a spokesperson for the DCA, told this paper that many hours are invested in “training, quality control and anti-corruption oversight” to make sure that no one is getting “ripped off at the pump, that home improvement contractors aren’t taking consumers money and not finishing the job, that kids aren’t being allowed to purchase cigarettes, and that used car dealers aren’t using bait and switch advertising to take advantage of New Yorkers.

“There are no quotas, there is no borough bias, there is just a mayoral candidate using his public office and our taxpayer dollars to “investigate” a scandal that doesn’t exist,” she said.

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