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Originally Published: January 19, 2010

Hails 4-year progress in transparency but urges end to committee stipends

Report calls for number of committees to be halved and council meetings to be webcast

Asks twenty-one supportive councilmembers to vote their position and end stipends

Citizens Union today released a report card, “Grading the New York City Council’s Rules and Budget Reforms,” on how well the City Council has performed since it issued its 2006 report: “Principles of Council Reform: Ideas for a More Democratic and Effective Council,”commending the Council and the Speaker for the notable progress that has been made in making its operations more transparent, but also calling upon the Council to enact further reform by cutting the number of Council committees in half and ending the practice of awarding stipends to committee chairs.

In addition, Citizens Union urged the twenty-one members of the Council who expressed support for ending the practice of awarding stipends to vote against them on Thursday during the organizational meeting of the Council when committee chairs are decided and with them stipend allocations.

Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union, said, “There is no doubt that the Council is a more open legislative and deliberative body than it was in 2006 when Christine Quinn was first elected speaker. Her leadership has brought reform to key areas such as greater public access to timely information and member item decision making. But the practice of awarding stipends needs to end. They go to almost every member to increase their pay and help bring loyalty to the Speaker. Stipends drive up the number of unnecessary committees and strengthen the influence of the Speaker beyond what is necessary because she decides who gets them and how much they get. The use of stipends is a throwback to an older boss-driven system of government.”

Dadey also said, “We call upon those Councilmembers who indicated their opposition to stipends to follow through on their promised words and vote their previously expressed positions by voting against the awarding of stipends.”

The twenty-one members specifically are: Councilmembers Brewer, Cabrera, Chin, Comrie, Dromm, Ferreras, Foster, Garodnick, Gonzalez, Halloran, James, Koo, Koslowitz, Lander, Mealy, Mendez, Reyna, Rodriguez, Rose, Ulrich, and Van Bramer.

The report makes the following eight key recommendations, among others:

  1. Reduce by as much as half the number of council committees, subcommittees and task forces currently totaling 46.
  2. Eliminate committee stipends totaling nearly half a million dollars, of which 44 were awarded of the 46 total stipends to members in 2009. This recommendation is supported by twenty-one current councilmembers.
  3. Reform the law so that all pay increases to sitting councilmembers apply prospectively as supported by twenty-six current councilmembers.
  4. Increase disclosure around outside income – if not limit or ban it outright – as is supported by twenty councilmembers, with twenty-five of them supporting the possibility of making the job of councilmember full-time.
  5. Evaluate how to further improve the already stronger discretionary budget allocation process taking into account the successful experience of changes made during the 2008 reforms and issue an updated report.
  6. Ensure that previous reforms are implemented, such as the use of sponsor’s privilege, by better educating members about their authority and how to exercise it, and giving councilmembers more freedom to act politically independent without weakening the ability of the speaker to lead the council effectively.
  7. Increase transparency by webcasting all meetings and hearings and providing archival video footage on the council website, and by providing council discretionary funding information in Schedule C in a spreadsheet format that allows for independent analysis.
  8. Create a capital budget committee or subcommittee through which members can openly and formally discuss allocations in the capital budget.

Rachael Fauss, Citizens Union’s policy and research associate and the report’s primary author added, “Welcomed improvements were made over the past four years in how the council operates and the way in which it communicates with the public. The challenge now for it is to go several steps further and reform the committee and compensation decision-making process to make it an even more democratic and fair body.”

The report card, its findings and recommendations are available here.

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