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Council Passes Bill to Improve Diversity at Upper Levels of City-Contracted Businesses


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Council Member Elizabeth Crowley and colleagues (photo: William Alatriste) 


On Thursday, the City Council approved a bill requiring the Department of Small Business Services to survey and study the gender, ethnic, and racial makeup of executive-level staff and board members of companies that contract with the city. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Members Elizabeth Crowley and Darlene Mealy, came about while the two were co-chairs of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, and is an effort to “promote transparency,” Crowley says, and to gather information needed to make the city’s workplaces more equitable.

“This legislation is not only fair and smart, it promotes opportunity,” Crowley said in a press release following the Council’s vote. “Diversity matters in the corporate world and also impacts the bottom line. Studies have proven that diversity improves financial performance, with greater economic growth, increased productivity and increased profitability. This bill promotes diversity on boards and amongst senior-level staff, which benefits employers and makes a stronger, better New York City.”

Crowley and Mealy worked with organizations that advocate for diversity in the workplace to develop the bill, including Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that promotes inclusive workplaces for women. During the full Council vote, Crowley framed the bill as a means to help achieve greater equity for women in particular, calling the lack of women in board rooms something that is “more than an injustice to women - it’s actually hurting bottom lines.”

Recent studies show “that companies with more diversified boards do in fact yield better returns,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick, chair of the Committee on Economic Development, which unanimously approved the bill Wednesday, during an Oct. 22 hearing. A 2015 study by Credit Suisse found that the presence of at least one woman on the board of directors can make a difference.

“Companies with one woman on the board have seen an average return on equity of 14.1% since 2005, compared to 11.2% for all-male boards,” Garodnick said. “The benefits are clear, which is why the bill is crucial to help us understand how diverse our corporate boards are right now and how the city can create policies to encourage that moving forward.”

Should Mayor Bill de Blasio sign the bill, which he is expected to do, the Department of Small Business Services will be required to create a voluntary survey and have it ready to distribute to proposed city contractors and subcontractors by January 15, 2017. The survey will be distributed along with existing employment reports, and will collect information regarding the selection and employment practices, policies, and procedures related to the racial, ethnic, and gender composition of city-contracted companies’ directors, officers, and other executive-level staff.

By July 1, 2018, the Mayor or a designated agency will need to publish a report on the website of the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) that analyzes the information collected and details companies’ plans for improving diversity in those positions, as well as their efforts to achieve those plans.

The bill is generally viewed as a win-win by Council members involved with the legislation, who say it will help all involved by facilitating diversity and equal opportunity while at the same time increasing the profitability and performance of companies.

While the administration is generally supportive of the bill, concerns have been raised about the onus fulfilling the mandate would put on SBS.

“The intention of this legislation is laudable and in line with the administration's efforts to fight inequality and promote the economic mobility of social inclusion of all New Yorkers,” Andrew Schwartz, then-acting commissioner of SBS said during the Oct. 22 hearing.

However, Schwartz continued, “The proposals would require significant additional work and analysis” and “many businesses may be reluctant to gather and provide this type of information. So the requirement may, in fact, deter some businesses from competing for contracts with the city.”

Additionally, Schwartz said, the new requirement could work against the city’s ongoing efforts to speed up the procurement process, and selecting vendors for contracts based on the diversity of their leadership “could raise issues that conflict with laws governing the city’s procurement process.”

Changes were made to the bill in response to those concerns. Responding to the survey was made voluntary for contractors, the deadline by which SBS must have the survey ready to distribute was extended, as was the date by which the administration has to publish a report analyzing the data collected. Notably, language was added to prohibit agencies from using information obtained by the survey as a basis for any procurement decisions.

“On it’s final version,” Garodnick told Gotham Gazette, “we have seen mostly support. We want to make sure that we encourage board room diversity among all businesses, and this bill will give us an understanding of where we stand.”

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Push for a Better Mayor's Management Report Continues


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The City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations held an oversight hearing on Wednesday to evaluate the structure and content of two annual city reports that measure everything from the wait times on 311 calls and the conditions of city parks to the number of unsheltered homeless people and traffic crashes in the city each year. These key performance indicators help the City Council and the public keep city agencies and offices accountable. Those agencies, in turn, rely on these reports to improve their policies and functioning.

The administration releases two detailed reports each year - the Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report (PMMR), two weeks after the January financial plan, and the Mayor’s Management Report (MMR), in September. The reports include evaluations of annual goals set by 41 city agencies and 3 non-mayoral agencies that report directly to the Mayor, and whether these agencies are succeeding or failing to meet their objectives.

Wednesday’s hearing, the third one held by the governmental operations committee on this issue, gave Council members an opportunity to delve into the process of how agency goals are included in the reports and to reiterate their request for adding more data to future reports. Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee, highlighted some of the key concerns the Council has about a lack of clarity in certain agency goals, agency indicators with no set targets, and the need to directly link agency performance with corresponding budget allocations.

The PMMR and MMR are produced over six to eight weeks by the Mayor’s Office of Operations (MOO). About 10 MOO staff members work with more than 150 senior staff across the agencies, including deputy mayors and agency commissioners, and coordinate efforts with City Hall to release the final products, which detail agency goals and indicators of whether those goals are being met year after year.

There are 1649 metrics by which agency performance is tracked in the two reports. Examples include quality-of-life summonses issued by the New York Police Department, the number of people on the city’s cash assistance rolls, the average daily attendance in city schools, and the number of families entering the city’s homeless shelter system.

The report tracked the NYPD’s goal to reduce the number of quality-of-life violations, a critical indicator without a set target. The four-month numbers (the timeframe for the PMMR) fell from 142,434 in Fiscal 2015 to 125, 685 in Fiscal 2016.

Under the Department of Education’s performance, the report looked at average daily attendance in city schools, which surpassed the 91.7 percent target in Fiscal 2016 (93.2 percent) and Fiscal 2015 (93.5 percent). Similarly, the report showed that the Department of Homeless Services had been successful in reducing the number of adult families entering the shelter system from 521 families to 466.

The data, which is available on an interactive website, includes comparisons with previous years, five-year trends and a look at desired directions for performance. This year’s PMMR data was also available on the city’s Open Data Portal, providing public access to all the information collected under the report. Kallos, an ardent supporter of transparent and accessible information and technology, praised MOO for this effort.

“We really take care not to take a one-size-fits-all approach to targets and indicators in the PMMR and MMR,” said Mindy Tarlow, MOO director, at one point during Wednesday’s hearing. “We try to see each indicator and each agency as a complex diverse case that’s in some ways reflective of the complex diverse city that we’re monitoring and reporting on.”

City Council members took turns questioning Tarlow and her colleague Tina Chiu, deputy director for performance management. The members usually stuck with issues germane to issue committees they chair or sit on, but the larger concerns voiced at the hearing were about the lack of targets for many critical performance indicators and the ways in which targets are set and the reports are improved.

Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the government operations committee, commended MOO for changes they had made to the PMMR based on recommendations from a December 2015 hearing about how targets were defined in the reports. This year’s PMMR included a more nuanced description of targets, which can be numeric or directional. Numeric targets set expected performance levels including a maximum that should not be exceeded or a minimum level that should be met. Directional targets indicate whether an indicator should go up or down. Many indicators had no target at all, which gave cause for concern to Kallos and Dick Dadey, executive director of government reform group Citizens Union, who testified at the hearing.

When Kallos asked why certain indicators had no targets, citing the number of lawsuits brought against the city as an example, Tarlow clarified that many of these indicators are “neutral” statistics out of their control, such as certain population numbers, for which it’s impossible to set directional targets.

“Although the committee is pleased that some improvements have been made,” Kallos said in his opening statement, “our review of the most recent PMMR suggests that further changes could make both of these publications more helpful tools for the Council, the public, as well as  the agencies.”

The City Council, in its Monday response to the mayor’s preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017, identified 57 indicators across 18 agencies that they want included in the MMR going forward. Kallos brought this up at the hearing, specifically pointing to indicators for the Board of Standards and Appeals, which falls under the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which is under Kallos’ committee’s oversight. He also mentioned a City Council data study that found 107 indicators (70 critical ones) where there was a 28 percent discrepancy over last year’s PMMR and average performance over the prior three years.

kallos rules hearingKallos (pictured*) also questioned Tarlow and Chiu about indicators relating to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the 311 helpline system and the Department of Homeless Services, but his main concerns were about holding people accountable for changes to the PMMR and MMR, further clarifying how targets are defined, minimizing the number of indicators without targets, and linking performance indicators in the PMMR to the corresponding allocations in the preliminary budget, as the City Charter mandates for the PMMR.

“Who has ultimate responsibility for the changes that are being implemented?” Kallos asked Tarlow, frustrated that Council members’ requests for additional indicators in the past had been routinely agreed to by agencies but not followed through on. “Is it with the agency or Operations, and how do those changes actually end up happening?

Tarlow stressed that the creation and addition of indicators was a collaborative process with agencies. “We don’t dictate play to the agencies and the agencies don’t just unilaterally make changes,” she said, agreeing to consider improvements in communication with Council members. She also said that they had started to work with the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget to cross-reference and link the PMMR with the preliminary budget.

Kallos’ concerns were echoed by Dadey, who reiterated recommendations that Citizens Union had made in the past, which shows, he said, “a challenge that we face that we’ve been back here several times making the same recommendations and while some of them get adopted we think that some of the more common sense ones are not being embraced and we’re at a loss to understand why.”

Dadey floated three specific proposals: setting targets for half the indicators in the report which had no metrics to judge them by (the number of indicators with no target increased from 948 to 961 this year from last); providing more budget detail alongside performance indicators; and expanded reporting on cross-agency initiatives to track transparency (for instance Freedom of Information Law requests) and voting registration programs at agencies.

He called the lack of targets for half the proposals “disconcerting” as “it indicates one of two troubling possibilities. Either the agency experienced difficulty in setting goals in coordination with the office of the mayor or that these goals have been established and are possibly being concealed from the public. Neither is satisfactory,” he said.

To the administration’s credit, MOO has made effort to add sections on multi-agency initiatives, such as IDNYC, which was eventually folded into the report on the Human Resources Administration. “That’s what we want,” Tarlow said in response to questions from Council Member Carlos Menchaca. “To really feature a multi-agency new initiative and then have it be so routine that it becomes baked into the fabric of what we do on a day-to-day basis.”

Menchaca wanted to know how the PMMR and MMR reports evolve and about efforts to make the report machine readable. His larger concern, as chair of the Council’s immigration committee, was that the data be accessible to New York’s immigrant communities. “What do you do to get the report out in other languages?,” he asked.

Tarlow’s answer was unimpressive. “I actually don’t know,” she said.

Lisa Neary, general counsel for the Independent Budget Office, also testified, although less about the content of the reports than the process. IBO had testified at the December 2015 hearing as well, recommending legislation that would require citizen surveys to be included in the reports. The idea has been championed for a long time by Baruch Professor Doug Muzzio and a relevant bill has been introduced by Council Member Corey Johnson, though it has not received a vote.

On Wednesday, Neary focused on the timing of the two reports. She said the PMMR being released early in the year was inadequate since it only accounts for the first four months of the financial year (July to October).

“With only this partial picture in hand,” Neary said, “the Council lacks crucial information that would allow you to link objectives to resources, and resources to outcomes.” She cited the current PMMR’s data on Department of Education programs, where at least a dozen critical indicators were listed as “not available.” She said the MMR’s release was “even more poorly timed,” and should be some time between January and June to have maximum influence on budget decisions.

When Kallos asked her for suggestions, she said perhaps the MMR should be released with the executive budget in May and then a full accounting of the year should come out in October or November. “The key thing is to have as much information as you can at the time that you’re making resource allocation decisions,” she said.

Council Member Mark Levine, chair of the parks committee, questioned Tarlow and Chiu about PMMR indicators on park maintenance and capital park projects, as well as on the lack of information on eviction prevention and legal services. Council Member Vincent Gentile, in keeping with his position as chair of the oversight and investigations committee, asked MOO to consider tracking the performance of individual Inspectors General under the Department of Investigation. Tarlow had ready answers for both Council members and promised to discuss their concerns with individual agencies.

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

*Photo of Ben Kallos by William Alatriste

Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization to Citizens Union.

Community Engagement Prized by Participatory Budgeting Proponents


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Council Member Menchaca with a constituent (photo: William Alatriste)


For City Council Member Carlos Menchaca and his staff, the Participatory Budgeting Vote Week that just ended was the culmination of a year-long effort to encourage project proposals and votes from communities that are traditionally excluded from politics. Through PB, community members decide how $1-2 million in funding is allocated toward neighborhood improvements. Menchaca’s district, which includes immigrant-rich Brooklyn neighborhoods of Sunset Park and Red Hook, is one of 28 districts running the program in the 51-member City Council, but it is the most active.

Last year, Menchaca’s constituents recorded the city’s highest number of participatory budgeting (PB) votes, a total of 6,299. Although this is double the amount of voters from the prior year’s cycle, it is still only a fraction of eligible voters, as the district has a population of 164,230 — about 80% of which is over the PB voting age of 14, according to the 2010 census.

Still, two-thirds of the votes from those who chose to participate were on non-English ballots and almost one-quarter were from people who couldn’t vote in regular elections, such as people under the age of 18 and immigrants without U.S. citizenship. These data give Menchaca and other supporters of PB energy to push forward despite criticism of the program.

“What we’re doing with PB is removing as many obstacles as possible to get every voice in the community connected to a decision, like a community project,” Menchaca told Gotham Gazette in an interview during vote week, which was March 26-April 3.

Menchaca and other Council members typically begin the PB outreach process in September, when workshops are held for residents to come together and share ideas about what should be improved or changed in their communities. This year in Menchaca’s district, fully translated workshops were held in Spanish and Chinese. Throughout the year, regular updates on scheduled events are sent through more traditional methods like phone calls, text messages, and emails. Residents are also updated via social media outlets like Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter.

A voting site at the Red Hook Initiative community center, run by volunteers from local high schools, forecasted some success for Menchaca’s community outreach efforts as excited teenagers encouraged their friends to vote. These youth organizers had also been working throughout the year by attending training sessions, collecting project proposals, and organizing mobile voting locations. When they set up their Red Hook Initiative site, they were determined to collect 1,000 ballots by the following day.

The majority of volunteers and voters at the vote week event would not have been eligible to participate in a regular election because of their age, but PB votes are open to residents as young as 14. Tea Cruz, a 16-year-old student, voted with her younger family members in mind. She wanted the local playgrounds to be renovated so that the equipment isn’t rusty and broken when her newborn cousin is old enough to play there. She was also concerned about her younger sister’s middle school, where the library is too outdated for the students to find their books easily.

Along with playground renovations and new library technology, there were 11 other projects on the District 38 ballot this year. Other school improvement proposals included air conditioning installations, lockers for students who are currently required to carry their belongings with them throughout the day, and repairs to auditoriums, bathrooms, and science labs. Brooklyn Community Boards 6 and 7 called for street repairs, including filling potholes and repainting lines. There were also two district-wide proposals for new trees throughout each neighborhood and electronic signs at bus stops with the location and arrival time of each bus.

PB projects are only for these types of physical investments in a neighborhood, known as capital projects. Critics of PB say that many these are projects that city agencies are supposed to take care of through the normal city budgeting process, and that the role for Council members it is to be a liaison between their communities and city agencies, while also influencing the overall city budget. Still, Council members do receive funds to disburse in their communities and many members are now allowing their constituents control over a portion of those funds.

In Menchaca’s district, each voter could support up to five different projects. Informational expos were held before and throughout vote week for residents to learn about each proposal. At the Red Hook Initiative site, a room in the community center was filled with colorful science-fair style posters made by young volunteers, detailing the potential benefits and costs of each project. Voters were encouraged to read all the information before handing in their ballots. Many of the teen-aged voters lingered in front of the posters, questioning details of each project.

Youth Council Member Frank Edwin Guzman, Jr., who is mentored by Menchaca, thinks that the perspectives of his peers are an important part of improving the community. After entering the New York City Youth Council program, his goal is to eventually be the youngest Council member in the city (Menchaca is currently among the youngest). In the near future, Guzman would also like to see every City Council member running PB.

Menchaca also hopes to see more City Council participation. Although 28 districts in New York City already run PB, the system still faces some criticism, both from within and outside the Council. In a recent column, NY1 Political Director Bob Hardt argued that PB places too much of the Council member’s responsibility on residents and hurts the poorer parts of districts that aren’t usually politically involved. Menchaca finds that PB has the potential to do the opposite if the right effort is made.

“The people who are going to eventually become participants in PB are the people that you invite to the table,” Menchaca said, emphasizing “invite.” “If you only invite rich, engaged people then you’re only going to get rich, engaged people,” he continued. “It’s not an accident that two-thirds of the votes coming in are in Spanish and Chinese. It won’t be an accident if only rich, privileged people come out and vote for PB. It’s a direct reflection of the leadership that you place in power to engage the people.”

Menchaca also responded to the criticism that PB takes power away from Council members.

“What we’re trying to do is not consolidate power for one person to make decisions or go out and find solutions, but what we’re doing is actually increasing power within the community to develop leaders who are knowledgeable of city agency processes to help make a collective decision about where to place dollars,” he said.

Other critics point out that the entire PB process might be unnecessary. In a recent column for the New York Daily News, NY1 political anchor Errol Louis pointed out that PB only makes up 0.04% of the city’s budget, labeling the process as “painfully low-stakes.” He argues that if it were really the great process participating Council members promote it to be, residents would be allowed to vote on billion-dollar decisions, rather than where to allocate $1 million or $2 million. Louis also echoes Hardt’s point about putting decision-making responsibilities into the wrong hands.

“And if a budget decision goes wrong — if, say, events prove we should have bought NYPD cameras instead of renovating the senior center — participatory budgeting scatters the responsibility, letting the Council member off the hook,” he wrote.

In an article published here last year, Council members not running PB in their districts cited the heavy commitment as a deterrent.

“Participatory budgeting takes an extraordinary amount of office time and resources for no discernible improvement in outcomes over working through the existing vast civic infrastructure for public participation,” said Council Member Rory Lancman, who represents District 24 in Queens.

A press secretary for Council Member Inez Dickens, representative of District 9 in Harlem, explained that local community boards are the most practical way for residents to express the same opinions, concerns or proposal ideas that PB encourages. This was a point raised by Louis in his recent column.

As more City Council members decide whether or not to run PB, Menchaca thinks that the future of the program lies in more funding. Last year, a project for increased Wi-Fi throughout the NYCHA public housing developments in Red Hook couldn’t receive PB funding even though it garnered more than 3,000 votes. Menchaca had already allocated all of his available funds to winning projects such as district-wide technology updates, playground lighting, bathroom renovations, and outdoor fitness equipment in Sunset Park. He went to Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who was able to expand PB this year with a commitment of an extra $100,000 to 10 different districts, for a total of $1 million, to support winning projects. Adams is the first borough president to make such a funding decision.

“PB is a revolutionary approach to growing democracy from the ground up, and this partnership with the City Council will cultivate that growth even further, funding more capital projects and engaging more potential voters,” Adams wrote in the press release.

Along with the continued support of the borough president, Menchaca would also like to encourage the mayor’s office and more city agencies, such as the Parks Department, the School Construction Authority, and the Department of Transportation, to look to PB votes for ideas about how to spend their own money. He believes that PB could be a valuable resource for the mayor’s office and its agencies by showing the city government what residents really want and need, therefore creating a more direct relationship between city agencies and residents. If the city were to directly increase PB funding, it could help improve outreach efforts, according to Menchaca.

“It takes money to engage the communities we’re engaging,” he said. “Especially when they don’t speak the language and there’s low literacy rates, for example, and you have to translate everything. I think the city can understand that gap of resources and bring us more translation, more literacy classes in our communities, bring us more money to teach people how to organize.”

***
by Carmen Russo, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette @carmenjrusso



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