Council asks Walcott to testify under oath, then calls for a breather

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New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott momentarily balked at testifying at a City Council budget hearing after he was told he would be sworn in under oath.

At the start of a budet hearing in City Hall this morning, education committee chairman Robert Jackson said, "the administration … indicated they were not notified by us that they would be sworn in" and that the matter "has been resolved for this particular moment."

But the Harlem-based Democrat added, "Let me just say to the chancellor and their staff … every witness will be sworn in, henceforth."

A spokeswoman for the city Department of Education said Walcott responded to the request that he be sworn in by walking over to the mayor's office to consult with officials there.

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"The hearing hadn’t started yet when DOE staff walked over to the Mayor’s office side," D.O.E. spokesman Erin Hughes wrote in an email to Capital. "Given that the City is in litigation on some issues that were expected to come up in the hearing, we had to check with counsel to ensure that the unusual process of taking oath wouldn’t pose a problem to those cases.

"It was an unusual request given that no administration official in 12 years has been asked to be sworn in."

Jackson co-chaired this morning's hearing with finance committee chairman Domenic Recchia Jr., of Brooklyn. After Jackson's opening remarks, Recchia greeted Walcott, who then began to read his opening statement. Walcott was not sworn in before he began speaking.

Another lawmaker at the hearing said Council members felt misled by Walcott's testimony at the last hearing, at which he spoke about the school bus strike, and wanted greater assurances about the accuracy of information coming from City Hall.

Some members of the Council have grumbled, quietly to reporters, that the Council has not exercised enough oversight of city agencies because of Speaker Christine Quinn's close working relationship with the mayor.

Later, when Walcott testified, he engaged in a heated exchange with City Councilwoman Letitia James after the Brooklyn lawmaker asked about school bus drivers who reportedly lost their jobs after that recent strike.

At one point Recchia had their microphones turned off and Jackson asked James and Walcott to take a 10-second breather to calm down.

James said she thought Walcott was "making fun" of the issue of bus drivers who lost their jobs.

Walcott replied, "Don't even try it."

Later, James said, "Most of those patrons look like you ... people of color, and you think that's something comical."

Walcott, visibly annoyed, said, "Oh, give me a break."

Recchia intervened shortly afterward.