New York City Council Holds Hearings on NYC Department of Investigations report on the Board of Elections
New York, NY – The New York City Council committees on Governmental Operations and on Oversight and Investigation held a hearing yesterday on the Department of Investigations (DOI) report that opened the public's eyes to the extent of the institutional dysfunction and patronage at the New York City Board of Elections (BOE). That report, New York City Department of Investigation Report on the New York City Board of Elections’ Employment Practices, Operations, and Election Administration, made more than thirty recommendations for the Board to adopt.
The Committees heard testimony from Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters and Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan in addition to good government groups such as Citizens Union, Common Cause, League of Women Voters, NYCCFB, NYPIRG and the New York Democratic Lawyers Council. Ryan committed to certain reforms, while ensuring that others would be brought before the board’s commissioners.
"Our mandate is to protect voters, and that means facilitating a positive voting experience. Patronage, nepotism and politics at the Board of Elections cannot be enemies to the democratic process,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, Chair of the Committee on Governmental Operations.
“Our work here today was a positive step towards a better democratic process in New York City. This is one step in the effort to address concerns raised by the Department of Investigations report, which showed how far we need to go to support and oversee New York City's elections. I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to increase efficiency, transparency and accountability at all levels,” said Council Member Vincent Gentile, Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Investigations.
At the hearing, the Committees received a number of key commitments from the Board, as well as the agreement to provide a corrective action plan to the DOI within one month:
· Standardized hiring and screening process and providing this publicly and to community
· DOI's requested Corrective Action Plan to be provided within one month
· Commissioner consideration of Civil Service Exams for employees
· Report on ballot security in Manhattan and corrective actions
· Commitment to investigate and terminate within rules any employee found to be requiring or punishing political activity
· Regular updates to committee on progress
· Cost estimate on using DOI background checks for high-level staff
The BOE agreed to provide certain dates on:
· Improvement to BOE staff time-keeping
· Professionalization of poll-worker training
· Privacy screens for voters
Council Member Ritchie Torres asked a battery of questions on nepotism and patronage at the board, and requested follow up from the Board.
“The New York City Board of Elections has made progress under Executive Director Michael Ryan, but it has a long way to go before it is a fully effective and professional agency. New Yorkers have a right to a democracy that just works. Dysfunction at the institution responsible for our Democratic choice is simply unacceptable. I call on the Board Commissioners to act voluntarily to introduce more transparency and efficiency to the Board, particularly by moving away from an opaque hiring system of nepotism and patronage,” concluded Kallos.
Members of the Committee on Oversight and Investigation are Council Members Gentile (Chair), Dickens, Dromm, Constantinides, Deutsch, Lancman and Rosenthal. Members of the Committee on Governmental Operations are Council Members (Kallos, Chair), Greenfield, Levine, Torres and Matteo.
The committee chairs will continue to monitor the progress of the Board’s corrective action. The hearing concluded with the request that any outstanding items that could not be accomplished be addressed at the next hearing by the commissioners.