Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) and Queens Public Library CEO Dennis Walcott announced their partnership with the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings on Wednesday at Central Library in Jamaica.
The office will launch its “OATH Resource” initiative at the library located at 89-11 Merrick Blvd. in Jamaica on Oct. 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and it will be between the nonfiction section and the reference section, according to OATH Deputy Commissioner John Castelli.
OATH is the city’s independent administrative law court and will be a resource for residents, property owners and small business owners with questions for their staff at the library about summonses from varying city agencies like the Sanitation Department, Health Department, Buildings Department and more, according to Queens Public Library.
“A number of folks received summonses for standing water recently because it is mosquito season,” said Miller. “These fines are punitive, and those standing waters fines started at $600. What we are saying is that if everybody in that neighborhood was paying for the standing waters together they could pay the whole thing, but a lot of folks are seniors that don’t have that type of disposable income where they could pay that kind of fine. Perhaps there is another way of mitigating the hazard.”
Ultimately, the purpose of opening up the court at the library is to provide information to residents and small business owners that get these summonses and to give them the tools to navigate these fines, according to Miller.
“These fines escalate,” said Miller. “If somebody has a $200 fine, it could grow to $2,000 or $6,000 sometimes, which is something that we are taking a look at in the City Council. We think there should be corrective measures to solving problems, not punitive. A summons should be to help people do better and shouldn’t be used as a source of revenue for the city.”
Property owners are often the targets for summonses and a lot of times homeowners don’t even realize they have an outstanding order, according to Marisa Senigo, OATH’s deputy commissioner of Public Affairs.
OATH received approximately 870,000 summonses from city agencies and held more than 330,000 hearings, in which 47 percent of all summonses that were fought at OATH proceedings were dismissed in 2018, according to Queens Public Library.
“We are going to be here with our laptop, we are going to look up addresses and do name searches, property searches and let them know if they have anything outstanding,” said Senigo. “We’ll have forms and all that stuff so that they can basically get advice on what to do should something pop-up on their property or if they just want general information on what to do if something happens in the future.”
Walcott believes the library is the perfect place to get this type of valuable resource.
“Libraries are highly trusted institutions that offer safe spaces for people to ask questions and receive reliable information,” said Walcott.