Majority of City Council 2014 back reform package

Councilmember Jumaane Williams at the Oct. 30 press conference outlining City Council reforms. Downtown Express photo by Sam Spokony.

Councilmember Jumaane Williams at the Oct. 30 press conference outlining City Council reforms. Downtown Express photo by Sam Spokony.

BY SAM SPOKONY | A growing coalition of City Councilmembers and soon-to-be-elected nominees took to the steps of City Hall on Wednesday to begin making their case for sweeping reforms to the Council’s rules.

Two months before they take office — and a week before they are even officially elected — Democratic nominees like Corey Johnson and Carlos Menchaca joined their counterparts, led by Councilmember Brad Lander of Brooklyn, to put forth a proposal that would “take the politics out of member Items” by allocating discretionary funding for Council districts on a “fair and objective basis.”

The proposed reforms also aim to ensure fairer consideration of legislation; to give committee chairs greater control over committee hearings and staffing; to dedicate a greater share of Council resources providing public services; and to establish a formal procedure by which councilmembers can file a grievance with the Rules Committee if they believe that rules are not being followed.

Lander said: “This is a great City Council getting better…. By strengthening members’ offices and making our processes more transparent, the City Council will make itself more accessible and responsive to our constituents.”

Thirty members and nominees including Councilmember Margaret Chin of Lower Manhattan have already signed on to the proposal, representing a majority according to Lander. The Council has 51 members,

Councilmember Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn, one of several members vying to be the next council speaker, went out of his way to say that the plan is meant to change rules and practices that are “not connected to any one speaker.”

But the specific goals of the proposal, especially regarding the allocation of discretionary funding, are clear reactions to the kind of quid pro quo atmosphere that many say have existed under the tenure of Speaker Christine Quinn.

The coalition backing the plan — not surprisingly — has the support of each member of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, of which Councilmember Chin is a member, alongside Lander and Williams.

“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,” Chin said in a prepared statement.

Representatives of several “good government” advocacy groups also joined Lander, Chin and others Oct. 30 to promote the plan.

“The centralization of power within the speaker’s office has been an impediment to the exercise of good government and equitable allocation of resources for all New Yorkers,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of the New York branch of Common Cause.

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