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Council may vote to strip Jennings’ committee post

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Jennings, a Democrat who was removed from the powerful Finance Committee last year in a move he says was retribution for voting against the property tax hike, could be removed as chairman of the Council's Civil Service and Labor Committee when the council members vote on the posts Jan. 21, a council source said.

The vote comes as Jennings battles charges of sexual harassment and discrimination levied by two female former aides, but it was unclear if the allegations, which are under investigation by the city and an outside firm, would impact committee changes.

Critics have said the Civil Service and Labor Committee has languished over the past two years under Jennings' leadership. One committee meeting last year had to be postponed because no witnesses were scheduled to testify, a problem Jennings blamed on Speaker Gifford Miller's (D-Manhattan) staff.

"The City Council's Civil Service and Labor Committee has the ability to be one of the premier committees in the city of New York," said Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village), who is a member of the committee. "We missed an opportunity to be more effective."

For example, during the budget process last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg was trying to get concessions from the city's unions to help close the budget gap, but the Civil Service and Labor Committee never held any hearings on the topic, Gallagher said.

"The committee didn't have a single hearing on ways to get some concession that would benefit the city and the unions to help close the budget gap," he said. "Instead we opted to overtax our citizens."

Jennings also came under fire when he released personal information on undercover police officers at a committee hearing he was chairing.

Jennings could not be reached for comment, and a staff member declined to respond.

The Jamaica councilman has been accused of forcing female staffers to clean his house on mornings when they picked him up. The women, who no longer work for Jennings, also said he made sexual jokes and gave one woman a Caribbean doll with a giant phallus after returning from a trip there. Jennings has denied the allegations.

The complaints have been forwarded to the city's Department of Investigations, and a Washington-based firm, ADR Associates, has been tapped to conduct an independent investigation of the allegations. The outside probe will cost the city $15,000.

Jennings has clashed with Bloomberg and Miller over the past two years, most notably when he voted against the negotiated 18.5 percent property tax increase in 2002. After the vote, Bloomberg's office withheld Jennings' parking permit and the Council voted in February to remove him from the Finance Committee.

Early last year Jennings took out half-page ads in Chinese-language newspapers proclaiming his appreciation for the Chinese community and highlighting his personal relationships.

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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