City Council Members & Nominees Announce Rules Reform Platform for 2014 Council Session

Proposed changes would take the politics out of Member Items and ensure fair consideration of legislation.
The City Council - already a strong body - would be more responsive, transparent, and effective under the new rules.

NEW YORK, NY – Today, New York City Council Members and Nominees announced a proposal to reform City Council rules, making the body more transparent in its work and responsive to New Yorkers. The changes are supported by 30 incumbent and anticipated new City Council Members, and by leading good-government organizations.  They will be proposed for enactment at the beginning of the 2014 legislative session.

The City Council has frequently been an effective voice for New Yorkers, passing legislation, providing oversight of City agencies, and negotiating budgets to improve the lives of city residents.  But reforms are needed to make the body more fair, inclusive, and effective. Under these new rules, the body will be able to strengthen and expand its efforts.

The proposed Council reforms will:

  1. Take the politics out of Member Items by allocating discretionary funding for Council Districts on a fair and objective basis.
  2. Insure fair consideration of legislation.
  3. Further empower chairs in the running of their committees, giving them greater control over committee hearings and staffing.
  4. Dedicate a greater share of Council resources to enabling Members to provide effective services to the public.
  5. Establish a formal procedure by which Members can file a grievance with the Rules Committee if they believe the City Council rules are not being followed.

Council Member Brad Lander said, “This is a great City Council getting better. While the Council has held the Bloomberg administration accountable and been a strong voice for everyday New Yorkers, we can do more. By strengthening members’ offices and making our processes more transparent, the City Council will make itself more accessible and responsive to our constituents.”

Council Member Fernando Cabrera said, “With a clear and objective process for the consideration of widely-supported legislation, the City Council will be the more responsive legislature that New York needs. I am proud to stand with my colleagues to make this stronger City Council a reality.”

Council Member David G. Greenfield said, “This is a rare and important chance to make meaningful changes and improvements to our City government. I am thrilled to be part of this landmark effort. These measures will empower members to be more effective legislators and better respond to their community's needs while increasing transparency and improving the confidence of citizens in their government.”

Council Member Jumaane D. Williams said, “The people of New York City elect their Council Members to best represent their interests at City Hall. There are times that members cannot do that to the best of their abilities because of rules and practices, not connected to any one Speaker, that have been in place for many years. I am pleased to be a part of these reform ideas that will help make the system a place where members can perform better. They will make the City Council more accessible and accountable to the people that put us in office in the first place. They include ideas that help community organizations in all communities have a fairer chance at receiving funding. They assist all Members in having an opportunity to move legislation forward they feel is in the best interest of their constituents. This is a strong reform package and I am grateful to my colleagues for their dedication to discussing and pushing these ideas ahead.”

Council Member Elizabeth Crowley said, “The allocating of Council discretionary funds needs to be transparent. New Yorkers deserve to know how the process works and be assured that these tax dollars will be given out fairly based on need and never allocated based on politics.”

With the implementation of these reforms, the City Council will be able to consider legislation in a timely manner, ensuring swifter passage of bills to improve the lives of New Yorkers.  The Council is strongest when Committee Chairs are able to direct their committees to hold oversight hearings and ensure that City agencies are effective and transparent.

Under the proposed reforms, Member Items (funding that Council Members allocate for projects and programs in their districts) would be allocated more equally and objectively.  New Yorkers in all districts benefit from the afterschool programs, senior services, and little leagues that are funded by member items and these reforms would ensure that every neighborhood benefits from these allocations.

Leading New York City good government advocates cheered the agreement.

Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY said, “The centralization of power within the Speaker's office has been an impediment to the exercise of good government and the equitable allocation of resources for all New Yorkers. If adopted, this proposal for rules reform would be a significant step towards empowering individual members to more effectively advocate for their communities and ensure their proper representation within the Council.”

Dick Dadey, Executive Director of Citizens Union said, “Citizens Union is pleased to see an emerging consensus to reform the City Council's rules and ensure a more deliberative and democratic body, as well as to provide greater equity in the discretionary funding process. It is crucial that the next Council continue to improve upon the rules reform progress first begun in 2006 and continued in 2010.  It is important that future rules - in practice and on paper - enable Council Members to be effective advocates for their communities and ensure a strong and effective City Council. We look forward to working with the incoming members of the City Council to ensure that important reforms are made.”

Gene Russianoff, senior attorney for the New York Public Interest Research Group said, “A more democratic Council will be a more effective Council with greater opportunities for the members and their constituents through more democratic rules.”

The Council Members also hope that a renewed focus on supporting Council Member offices will allow them to collaborate and connect the dots between issues that impact people across the city. In 2011, when Council Members identified a problem with toxic PCB pollution in schools in their districts, they worked together on a solution that addressed the problem citywide, rather than school by school. The new rules will expand this collaborative spirit to other problems, and support proactive efforts like Participatory Budgeting to expand responsive, transparent government.

When the next Council forms in January, the rules changes will be referred to the City Council’s Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections. They will be reviewed by the committee and come before the full Council for a vote.

The following Council Members and Nominees joined together in support for these reforms today:

Margaret Chin (D1)
Corey Johnson (D3 - N)
Daniel R. Garodnick (D4)
Ben Kallos (D5 - N)
Helen Rosenthal (D6 - N)
Mark Levine (D7 - N)
Melissa Mark-Viverito (D9)
Ydanis Rodriguez (D10)
Andrew Cohen (D11 - N)
Andy King (D12)
Fernando Cabrera (D14)
Ritchie Torres (D15 - N)
Vanessa Gibson (D16 - N)
Mark Weprin (D23)
Rory Lancman  (D24 - N)
Daniel Dromm (D25)
Jimmy Van Bramer (D26)
Liz Crowley (D30)
Donovan Richards (D31)
Steve Levin (D33)
Antonio Reynoso (D34 - N)
Laurie Cumbo (D35 - N)
Rafael Espinal (D37 - N)
Carlos Menchaca (D38 - N)
Brad Lander (D39)
Inez Barron (D42 - N)
David G. Greenfield (D44)
Jumaane D. Williams (D45)
Mark Treyger (D47 – N)
Debi Rose (D49)

Council Member Margaret Chin said, “These reforms strengthen the City Council's commitment to transparency and accessibility. With fair allocations for discretionary funding, a more open legislative process, and streamlined mechanisms for providing services to the public, the City Council will be in a better position to advocate for New Yorkers and connect them to the resources they deserve.”

Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito said, “I am proud to stand in full support of this rules reform agenda, which will make the Council more inclusive, equitable and transparent than ever. Whether it's a more objective standard for Member Item distribution, a more transparent process for bill drafting or more support for members from central staff, these reforms are essential to ensuring that the Council works for all 51 districts across our city. I am fully committed to seeing these reforms through and I thank my colleagues in the City Council as well as our good government partners and other organizations who contributed to this platform.”

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez said, “This bold and necessary set of reforms can have a major impact on how New Yorkers are served by their legislative body. When we can cut petty politics out of the process of serving our constituents, we are likely to have more engaged citizens and a government that is efficient and transparent. For years, the politically driven distribution of member items left working class communities without desperately needed resources; if we can enact these changes, our city will be better off as a whole.”

Council Member Andy King said, “With the changing of leadership and membership we need to improve our operating system that will allow more equality and fairness for all council members to deliver to their district, and all of New York.”

Council Member Daniel Dromm said, “Making the Council more democratic is vitally important to our mission as progressives," "These rules changes will ensure greater transparency, more accountability and a greater role for the public to play in Council decisions.  I look forward to having the next Speaker implement these rules changes.”

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer said, “Transparency and openness in the governmental decision making process is the foundation upon which any believer in good government practices must stand. Today's announcement shows that Council Members from all parts of the city take the decision making process and the rules of this legislative body seriously. I believe in my fellow Council Members to make the important decisions that their constituents elected them to make. We need to have rules in the City Council that further empower the elected members of the body.”

Council Member Stephen Levin said, “As a City, we should be doing everything we possibly can to be more accountable, transparent, and democratic. I am proud to join my City Council colleagues today for strong and meaningful rules reform that will improve the way the City Council functions and serves the people of New York.”

Ben Kallos, Democratic nominee from Council District 5 said, "The proposed rules reforms include ideas proposed by the government transparency community – and will go a long way towards a 'City Council 2.0' with increased transparency, openness, and accountability that will greatly empower our city's residents.”

Helen Rosenthal, Democratic nominee from Council District 6 said, "Liberalism is, at its heart, about empowering people - both directly and through the elected representatives closest to them. These proposed Rules reforms are all about empowerment. As such, they have my complete support."

Mark Levine, Democratic nominee from Council District 7 said, “New Yorkers deserve to be represented by a City Council which is open, transparent, and democratic. The reforms we are proposing will help ensure that every district in the City is treated fairly, and that every Council Member will have a voice in setting the course for our city in the years ahead”

Laurie Cumbo, Democratic nominee from Council District 35 said, “The Rules Reform platform is going to give each and every Council Member the opportunity to make the dreams and aspirations of their campaigns a reality by providing a foundation of equity, fairness, and transparency that will ensure that all communities benefit from and share in the prosperity of New York City.  As a new Council Member of the 35th District, I couldn’t be more proud to begin my term with the type of Rules Reform platform that will empower me to strengthen those parts of my District that have been underserved for generations.”

Rafael L. Espinal Jr, Democratic nominee from Council District 37 said, “I whole heartedly support a reform to the New York City Council rules. Districts like the one I represent suffer because of power plays that leave them out of the game. It’s time we look at mandating City Council funding to districts that need it most.”

###