New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Gotham Gazette

Gotham Gazette Bill Allowing Online Voter Registration in New York City Moves in State Senate, Stalls in Assembly by Samar Khurshid

Bill Allowing Online Voter Registration in New York City Moves in State Senate, Stalls in Assembly

The New York City Council passed a bill, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, in late 2017 that mandated that the Campaign Finance Board build an online portal to expand access to voter registration. Currently, the state only allows online registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles website and requires an official DMV driver’s license, permit, or non-driver ID. This effectively shuts out many New York City residents who rely on mass transit and do not have a DMV-issued document.

The CFB created the portal and was ready to launch it in June of last year. It would have allowed residents to fill out the form online, with an electronic signature, and the CFB would then transmit the information to the City Board of Elections for processing. But a week before the site was to go live, the BOE added an additional hurdle that essentially negated the purpose of the portal – commissioners voted that, after receiving a form from the CFB, the BOE would mail the form to the potential voter, who would then have to return it with their physical signature. The process would have been slower than mailing in a registration form.

Gotham Gazette City to Codify Office of Food Policy and Require 10-Year Food Plan by Ethan Geringer-Sameth

City to Codify Office of Food Policy and Require 10-Year Food Plan

A particular emphasis is on food justice and ameliorating the disparate access to healthy foods in predominantly low-income neighborhoods. The expected passage of the bills comes shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled as constitutional the Trump administration’s public charge rule, making it harder for immigrants to obtain a green card when they receive public benefits like food stamps.

“The City of New York is responsible for feeding a large portion of our population, whether it’s 1.1 million public school students who are entitled to free breakfast and free lunch, or it’s people in our senior centers...or people in our shelter system who we’re feeding, or just the countless New Yorkers who rely on food assistance in the form of SNAP,” Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, told Gotham Gazette.

Gotham Gazette City's $20 Billion in Contracting Takes Another Step into Modernity by Ethan Geringer-Sameth

City's $20 Billion in Contracting Takes Another Step into Modernity

New York City government spends roughly $20 billion per year on goods and services through contracts with non-governmental vendors, including thousands of opportunities for companies of all types and sizes to work with the city. But the contracting process has long been arduous for vendors to navigate and difficult for watchdogs to closely monitor. Officials say that is now changing as a multi-step effort has unfolded over the past few years to modernize the technical infrastructure and databases that support city contracting.

And on Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services (MOCS) in partnership with City Council Member Ben Kallos announced the launch of updated in-person and online terminals where key information about city contracts and vendors is now accessible. The announcement is part of an ongoing effort that began in 2016 to implement a new electronic system -- the Procurement and Sourcing Solutions Portal, or PASSPort -- that will serve as a one-stop-shop for agencies, vendors, oversight entities, and the public involved or interested in government procurement.

The latest update corrects some of the growing pains that emerged while moving to the more modern, “end-to-end” platform intended to expand accessibility and transparency to city contracting and streamline the process for vendors and agency staff.

Gotham Gazette Taxpayers Fleeced for Nearly $47 Million in Tech Boondoggle But Few City Leaders Notice by Scott Peterson

Taxpayers Fleeced for Nearly $47 Million in Tech Boondoggle But Few City Leaders Notice

There are several officials and institutions that have the ability to do something about this growing contract scandal: Comptroller Stringer; Public Advocate Jumaane Williams; Speaker Johnson; the City Department of Investigation; City Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the Contracts Committee and sits on the Oversight and Investigations Committee, and other Council members; and city media. Only Stringer and Kallos have taken any interest in the wake of a Daily News story on the boondoggle. 

Gotham Gazette City Council Considers New Office to Aid Non-Profits by Samar Khurshid

City Council Considers New Office to Aid Non-Profits

separate study published in April by Seachange Capital Partners, a nonprofit merchant bank, found that contract delays in the 2018 fiscal year became “slightly worse” than the previous year. It found that social service contracts were registered an average of 221 days after their start date, up from 210 days in the 2017 fiscal year; only 11% were on time, slightly better than the 9% in 2017; and 20% continued to be unregistered after one year, marginally worse than the 19% in 2017. The report estimated that the fiscal burden on nonprofits from registration delays was as much as $744 million, up from $675 million in 2017.

“A nonprofit delivering services under an unregistered contract faces a growing cash flow burden associated with the unreimbursed expenses. It must also pay interest and fees on the debt it uses to finance this cash flow need – if it can be financed at all,” the study reads.

Council Members Rosenthal and Kallos cited that study in a July joint op-ed, criticizing the city’s “broken procurement system” and how delays affect nonprofits. “New Yorkers deserve the best services, and the CBOs providing those services deserve to be paid fairly and on time by a city government they can hold accountable. Overhauling the procurement system may be bureaucratic and slow in nature, but it is necessary if we are to properly serve the New Yorkers who are most in need,” they wrote, citing separate legislation they introduced to achieve that goal.

Gotham Gazette After Rally with De Blasio, City Council Hears Bills on Private Sector Retirement Security by Samar Khurshid

After Rally with De Blasio, City Council Hears Bills on Private Sector Retirement Security

Just days after he ended his presidential campaign that was focused on issues affecting working people, Mayor Bill de Blasio rallied with AARP volunteers and City Council Members at City Hall on Monday to push for a proposal that could help millions of New York workers save for their futures.

The Retirement Security for All proposal, which de Blasio first raised three years ago and then again in his State of the City speech this year, would establish a retirement savings program for private-sector employees whose employers do not currently provide those options, and a city government board to oversee its implementation.

There are two bills in the legislative package that would create the system and the board and sponsored by Council Members I. Daneek Miller and Ben Kallos, who led a hearing on the proposal shortly after the Monday morning rally.

“You should not have to work until you die,” de Blasio said at the rally. “You should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor. You should be able to have some time in your life when you retire with dignity.”

The mayor said that 40% of New Yorkers aged 50-64 have less than $10,000 saved for when they retire.

Gotham Gazette Food Policy Agenda on Menu at City Council Hearing by Ethan Geringer-Sameth

Food Policy Agenda on Menu at City Council Hearing

The City Council is set to consider a number of bills related to food policy at a hearing Wednesday, including a proposal to codify an Office of Food Policy, a month after Council Speaker Corey Johnson unveiled an expansive food equity plan with the creation of the office at its center.

Gotham Gazette One Promising Reform with Rare Support from Both the City and Board of Elections, But Little Movement by Ethan Geringer-Sameth

One Promising Reform with Rare Support from Both the City and Board of Elections, But Little Movement

While city officials and elections administrators clash over what changes the Board of Elections should make to improve operations and the voting experience, one widely-supported option the city could pursue sits on the back-burner.

Gotham Gazette De Blasio, City Council Look to Move Ahead with Private Sector Retirement Savings Program by Samar Khurshid

De Blasio, City Council Look to Move Ahead with Private Sector Retirement Savings Program

In his State of the City speech in January, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised that the city would create a system of retirement security for millions of New Yorkers who work in the private sector and may not have access to employer-provided savings plans. It was a revival of an effort the mayor had first pushed in 2016 but that bumped up against the change in presidential administrations and federal approvals apparently needed. But eight months after de Blasio’s speech at the start of this year, the New York City Council is ready to look at the idea through two bills that will be examined at a hearing later this month.   

Gotham Gazette Launch of Required City Reporting on Required Reports Shows Gaps in Reporting by Samar Khurshid

Launch of Required City Reporting on Required Reports Shows Gaps in Reporting

The New York City Council regularly passes bills mandating that city agencies create reports on their work, ostensibly as part of the Council’s oversight responsibilities. From city jail populations to hate crimes statistics to use of force by police officers, the Council has passed bills requiring a report be delivered to it.

The Council passes so many reporting bills that last year, it passed legislation that would help it track the number of total reports required under local law, the City Charter, or mayoral order. The bill compelled the city’s Department of Records and Information Services to create a central list of every single report required from every city agency, board, or office.

The result: a 57-page document that lists a whopping 842 required reports of various types due at a variety of time intervals. Of those, 490 are listed as not received by DORIS, despite some being producing by agencies on a regular basis, raising questions for Council members about whether agencies are refusing to comply with the law or are overwhelmed with burdensome reporting mandates.