Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/committee-on-governmental-operations 2017-12-13T18:52:13+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com City Council Passes 'Open Budget' Bill Mayor Has Yet to Support 2017-10-31T21:05:18+00:00 2017-10-31T21:05:18+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7287:new-york-city-council-passes-open-budget-legislation Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/15610942274_2c68194eaf_z.jpg" alt="15610942274 2c68194eaf z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council passed legislation on Tuesday mandating that the government agency that oversees the city’s $85.2 billion annual budget provide all budget documents to the public in an easily accessible and machine-readable format.</p> <p>The <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2709949&amp;GUID=A23CF8CE-1F3D-45FA-8C20-7A787B22EEE8&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=1176" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislation</a>, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, requires the Office of Management and Budget to post documents released in the annual budget process to the city’s <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">open data portal</a> within 10 days of posting them on their website. OMB produces multiple iterations of the city’s budget each year as the annual expenditure plan is negotiated between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council. These include the preliminary budget proposal, the executive budget proposal and the final adopted budget, each of which contain hundreds of pages with detailed breakdowns of agency spending and city revenues. The agency also issues a budget modification document in November.</p> <p>“I want to know where every single penny in the budget is,” said Kallos. “We’ve already got a lot of this implemented, but the parts of the budget that matter are still hidden behind thousands and thousands and thousands of pages of pdfs that can’t be searched, let alone analyzed.”</p> <p>Kallos’ bill would make reams of expenditure and revenue reports searchable online and downloadable in bulk, providing an added level of transparency to city budgeting, he says. “With this legislation, whether it’s a member of the City Council, City Council staff or any resident will be able to actually see where the dollars are being spent and really hold the administration accountable.”</p> <p>An ardent advocate of government reform and a software developer himself, Kallos has consistently pushed the de Blasio’s administration to increase the amount of data available on the open data portal. The administration, for its part, has made significant progress since the city’s open data initiative was first launched in 2012 by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.</p> <p>Kallos believes this latest bill will build on that effort. “We spent years working with the administration, working with the existing financial management system to ensure that it could be done,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of the budget up.”</p> <p>It’s unclear whether the mayor will sign the bill into law, although he has yet to veto a single bill passed by the City Council. “We look forward to reviewing the legislation,” said Freddi Goldstein, a mayoral spokesperson on budget matters, in an email. &nbsp;</p> <p>The bill would go into effect immediately if the mayor signs it, but it would only cover future budget documents and would not apply retroactively. Under de Blasio, the city’s budget has increased by 17.2 percent, from $72.7 billion in the last modification under Bloomberg to $85.2 billion for fiscal year 2018.</p> <p>Kallos held out hope that past budgets would eventually be included on the open data website. “I would love to be able to compare our city’s budget going back as far as we have records for,” Kallos said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7086-city-releases-latest-progress-on-open-data-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">City Releases Latest Progress on Open Data Plan</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/15610942274_2c68194eaf_z.jpg" alt="15610942274 2c68194eaf z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste/New York City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council passed legislation on Tuesday mandating that the government agency that oversees the city’s $85.2 billion annual budget provide all budget documents to the public in an easily accessible and machine-readable format.</p> <p>The <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2709949&amp;GUID=A23CF8CE-1F3D-45FA-8C20-7A787B22EEE8&amp;Options=ID%7CText%7C&amp;Search=1176" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">legislation</a>, sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, requires the Office of Management and Budget to post documents released in the annual budget process to the city’s <a href="https://opendata.cityofnewyork.us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">open data portal</a> within 10 days of posting them on their website. OMB produces multiple iterations of the city’s budget each year as the annual expenditure plan is negotiated between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council. These include the preliminary budget proposal, the executive budget proposal and the final adopted budget, each of which contain hundreds of pages with detailed breakdowns of agency spending and city revenues. The agency also issues a budget modification document in November.</p> <p>“I want to know where every single penny in the budget is,” said Kallos. “We’ve already got a lot of this implemented, but the parts of the budget that matter are still hidden behind thousands and thousands and thousands of pages of pdfs that can’t be searched, let alone analyzed.”</p> <p>Kallos’ bill would make reams of expenditure and revenue reports searchable online and downloadable in bulk, providing an added level of transparency to city budgeting, he says. “With this legislation, whether it’s a member of the City Council, City Council staff or any resident will be able to actually see where the dollars are being spent and really hold the administration accountable.”</p> <p>An ardent advocate of government reform and a software developer himself, Kallos has consistently pushed the de Blasio’s administration to increase the amount of data available on the open data portal. The administration, for its part, has made significant progress since the city’s open data initiative was first launched in 2012 by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.</p> <p>Kallos believes this latest bill will build on that effort. “We spent years working with the administration, working with the existing financial management system to ensure that it could be done,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of the budget up.”</p> <p>It’s unclear whether the mayor will sign the bill into law, although he has yet to veto a single bill passed by the City Council. “We look forward to reviewing the legislation,” said Freddi Goldstein, a mayoral spokesperson on budget matters, in an email. &nbsp;</p> <p>The bill would go into effect immediately if the mayor signs it, but it would only cover future budget documents and would not apply retroactively. Under de Blasio, the city’s budget has increased by 17.2 percent, from $72.7 billion in the last modification under Bloomberg to $85.2 billion for fiscal year 2018.</p> <p>Kallos held out hope that past budgets would eventually be included on the open data website. “I would love to be able to compare our city’s budget going back as far as we have records for,” Kallos said.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7086-city-releases-latest-progress-on-open-data-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">City Releases Latest Progress on Open Data Plan</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
A Rarity: City Council Candidate Releases Detailed Reform Agenda 2017-08-14T20:28:30+00:00 2017-08-14T20:28:30+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7127:a-rarity-city-council-candidate-releases-detailed-reform-agenda Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/powers_petitioning_stuytown_keithpowersnyc.jpg" alt="powers petitioning stuytown keithpowersnyc" width="600" height="471" /></p> <p>City Council candidate Keith Powers (photo: @KeithPowersNYC)</p> <hr /> <p>Candidates across the city this year are running for City Council on all sorts of issues, but only one has released a detailed list of government, campaign finance, and voting reform proposals. That agenda, called “<a href="https://www.keithpowers.nyc/Sunlight?utm_source=Friends+of+Keith+Powers&amp;utm_campaign=e348847a12-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_07_23&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_b8b0ccfe87-e348847a12-82283181" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunlight in the City</a>,” has been put forward by Keith Powers, a Democrat competing in the crowded field to replace term-limited City Council Member Dan Garodnick on Manhattan’s East Side.</p> <p>At a time of widespread distrust in government, continued problems with public corruption and unethical conduct, and low voter turnout, especially here in New York, Powers’ agenda is especially noteworthy. The 22-point platform on government and electoral reform in New York City is something of an amalgamation of longtime goals for voting reform advocates and good government groups. Some of the measures have actually already been passed or implemented; some have to be approved at the state level.</p> <p>Powers’ reform agenda also comes as he is has been attacked by opponents for his work as a lobbyist -- he was until May a vice president at the firm Constantinople and Vallone. Sunlight in the City includes several planks directly related to lobbying, including more disclosure of lobbying meetings held by City Council members and more detailed lobbyist reporting to indicate, among other things, “who got lobbied, who did the lobbying, and the specific bill or subject matter.”</p> <p>Some of the mainstay priorities of electoral and government reform advocates that appear in Powers’ platform include a move to instant runoff voting for all city elections and lowering the number of City Council issue committees to diminish patronage and redundancy in the legislative body. These planks have been proposed in the Council and, in the case of instant runoff voting, at the state level, but have gone nowhere.</p> <p>Powers also calls for lowering the individual contribution limit to Council candidates campaigns from $2,750 to $1,225, “to make small donors and large donors equal in their donation capacity.” Ideally, his agenda says, he wants to see 100% publicly financed elections in the city to replace the city’s current matching funds mechanism, starting with a pilot program for special elections. Kallos introduced a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2637108&amp;GUID=11C13B83-99DB-4671-AA99-CF5B5827BBF4&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6898:proposal-would-boost-public-campaign-matching-funds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increase the matching funds payout</a> for Council races “to a full match with the expenditure limit,” which is currently in committee.</p> <p>A few planks in the platform are already in place, such as the closure of the “doing business loophole” that allows those doing business with the city to circumvent donation limits by giving to political nonprofits. The loophole was closed in a bill passed by the Council and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2016, after the mayor himself was investigated for issues related to his own political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, which was shuttered amid controversy.</p> <p>“I think it’s important we’re always sort of constantly evaluating our process by which we do government or help get people elected or otherwise,” Powers said in an interview, “we can always do better.” He indicated he believes the City Council is, in most cases, a model for transparent government, but that there’s still more that can be done.</p> <p>In part because of his reform agenda, Powers has received the endorsement of City Council Member Ben Kallos, himself an advocate of open and ethical government and the representative of a neighboring Council district to the one Powers hopes to represent. Kallos also chairs the Council’s government operations committee, which often hears bills related to government and campaign finance reform.</p> <p>“In terms of his Sunlight in the City report, it is a list of the 22 items that the City Council is currently working on or should be working on to really clean up government,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette. Kallos said that he hasn’t seen anything like it from anyone running this year.</p> <p>While few City Council candidates are talking about government and campaign finance reform, Democratic mayoral hopeful Sal Albanese has made the topic central to his attempt to unseat de Blasio. Albanese has proposed a significant campaign finance reform to completely eliminate private money from the system, something de Blasio has said he favors in theory, but has not advanced legislation on.</p> <p>Powers acknowledges the difficulties in getting some things on his list passed, but said that shouldn’t be a reason to not try.</p> <p>“I think the City Council reform, I think that is the one where I look at as there being a lot of really achievable ideas in there,” said Powers, citing the creation of an independent bill drafting unit as something that many legislators are clamoring for, despite the existence of such a unit. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5587-new-city-council-bill-drafting-unit-up-and-running-lander-mark-viverito" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The unit</a> was part of a package of Council reforms passed in 2014, but Powers believes that these reforms can go further; regarding the drafting unit, Powers believes the current iteration is an improvement, but that it should be even more autonomous in instances such as the number of bills that can be introduced at a given time.</p> <p>Another Council reform Powers sees as achievable deals with bill aging. Currently, a bill ages seven days after introduction for public input, but Powers claims that it just sits in City Hall and is essentially unavailable to the public. He believes it should publicly age online.</p> <p>Powers said that the challenge of moving some of the reforms through the state government shouldn’t be a deterrent, that the city shouldn’t be “abdicating our authority to Albany.” Kallos said that the voting reform planks, other than ending patronage at the Board of Elections, don’t have to go through the state Legislature. Many of the other planks need city passage, some can be done through City Council rules.</p> <p>On closing doing business loophole, which already became law, Powers conceded to have not known the full extent of the legislative package that was passed. He also was largely nonspecific on his proposed additions to the 2014 member item reform, stating that there’s a lot to look at where the Council can “do better.”</p> <p>The Powers agenda received an enthusiastic response from democratic reform group Citizens Union, which interviews candidates and releases preferences in some city elections based on good government bona fides.</p> <p>“Keith Powers has put forward an ambitious and wide-ranging plan to increase transparency and accountability, and bring some needed sunlight to the New York City Council. While we do not support all of his proposed reforms, Citizens Union has long been advocating for several of them and will continue to do so in the upcoming session,” said Rachel Bloom, Citizens Union’s Public Policy director.</p> <p>For example, Citizens Union is not in support of the full public financing of city elections plank of Powers’ platform -- the organization “feel[s] that candidates should have to raise money in the districts they seek to represent,” Bloom said. However, it is supportive of Powers’ proposed pilot program in special elections. The organization has not yet made its preference in the Council District 4 race or any other.</p> <p>In the Democratic primary to be voted on September 12, Powers is competing against Marti Speranza, Jeff Mailman, Bessie Schachter, Maria Castro, Vanessa Aronson, Barry Shapiro, Rachel Honig, and Alec Hartman, none of whom have released government reform platforms, though Shapiro called for transparency in lobbying in a <a href="https://vimeo.com/216324768" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">campaign video</a>.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Citizens Union candidate interview and preference process is wholly separate from Gotham Gazette operations. Gotham Gazette does not endorse or support candidates for office.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/powers_petitioning_stuytown_keithpowersnyc.jpg" alt="powers petitioning stuytown keithpowersnyc" width="600" height="471" /></p> <p>City Council candidate Keith Powers (photo: @KeithPowersNYC)</p> <hr /> <p>Candidates across the city this year are running for City Council on all sorts of issues, but only one has released a detailed list of government, campaign finance, and voting reform proposals. That agenda, called “<a href="https://www.keithpowers.nyc/Sunlight?utm_source=Friends+of+Keith+Powers&amp;utm_campaign=e348847a12-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_07_23&amp;utm_medium=email&amp;utm_term=0_b8b0ccfe87-e348847a12-82283181" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Sunlight in the City</a>,” has been put forward by Keith Powers, a Democrat competing in the crowded field to replace term-limited City Council Member Dan Garodnick on Manhattan’s East Side.</p> <p>At a time of widespread distrust in government, continued problems with public corruption and unethical conduct, and low voter turnout, especially here in New York, Powers’ agenda is especially noteworthy. The 22-point platform on government and electoral reform in New York City is something of an amalgamation of longtime goals for voting reform advocates and good government groups. Some of the measures have actually already been passed or implemented; some have to be approved at the state level.</p> <p>Powers’ reform agenda also comes as he is has been attacked by opponents for his work as a lobbyist -- he was until May a vice president at the firm Constantinople and Vallone. Sunlight in the City includes several planks directly related to lobbying, including more disclosure of lobbying meetings held by City Council members and more detailed lobbyist reporting to indicate, among other things, “who got lobbied, who did the lobbying, and the specific bill or subject matter.”</p> <p>Some of the mainstay priorities of electoral and government reform advocates that appear in Powers’ platform include a move to instant runoff voting for all city elections and lowering the number of City Council issue committees to diminish patronage and redundancy in the legislative body. These planks have been proposed in the Council and, in the case of instant runoff voting, at the state level, but have gone nowhere.</p> <p>Powers also calls for lowering the individual contribution limit to Council candidates campaigns from $2,750 to $1,225, “to make small donors and large donors equal in their donation capacity.” Ideally, his agenda says, he wants to see 100% publicly financed elections in the city to replace the city’s current matching funds mechanism, starting with a pilot program for special elections. Kallos introduced a <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2637108&amp;GUID=11C13B83-99DB-4671-AA99-CF5B5827BBF4&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6898:proposal-would-boost-public-campaign-matching-funds" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increase the matching funds payout</a> for Council races “to a full match with the expenditure limit,” which is currently in committee.</p> <p>A few planks in the platform are already in place, such as the closure of the “doing business loophole” that allows those doing business with the city to circumvent donation limits by giving to political nonprofits. The loophole was closed in a bill passed by the Council and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2016, after the mayor himself was investigated for issues related to his own political nonprofit, the Campaign for One New York, which was shuttered amid controversy.</p> <p>“I think it’s important we’re always sort of constantly evaluating our process by which we do government or help get people elected or otherwise,” Powers said in an interview, “we can always do better.” He indicated he believes the City Council is, in most cases, a model for transparent government, but that there’s still more that can be done.</p> <p>In part because of his reform agenda, Powers has received the endorsement of City Council Member Ben Kallos, himself an advocate of open and ethical government and the representative of a neighboring Council district to the one Powers hopes to represent. Kallos also chairs the Council’s government operations committee, which often hears bills related to government and campaign finance reform.</p> <p>“In terms of his Sunlight in the City report, it is a list of the 22 items that the City Council is currently working on or should be working on to really clean up government,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette. Kallos said that he hasn’t seen anything like it from anyone running this year.</p> <p>While few City Council candidates are talking about government and campaign finance reform, Democratic mayoral hopeful Sal Albanese has made the topic central to his attempt to unseat de Blasio. Albanese has proposed a significant campaign finance reform to completely eliminate private money from the system, something de Blasio has said he favors in theory, but has not advanced legislation on.</p> <p>Powers acknowledges the difficulties in getting some things on his list passed, but said that shouldn’t be a reason to not try.</p> <p>“I think the City Council reform, I think that is the one where I look at as there being a lot of really achievable ideas in there,” said Powers, citing the creation of an independent bill drafting unit as something that many legislators are clamoring for, despite the existence of such a unit. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5587-new-city-council-bill-drafting-unit-up-and-running-lander-mark-viverito" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The unit</a> was part of a package of Council reforms passed in 2014, but Powers believes that these reforms can go further; regarding the drafting unit, Powers believes the current iteration is an improvement, but that it should be even more autonomous in instances such as the number of bills that can be introduced at a given time.</p> <p>Another Council reform Powers sees as achievable deals with bill aging. Currently, a bill ages seven days after introduction for public input, but Powers claims that it just sits in City Hall and is essentially unavailable to the public. He believes it should publicly age online.</p> <p>Powers said that the challenge of moving some of the reforms through the state government shouldn’t be a deterrent, that the city shouldn’t be “abdicating our authority to Albany.” Kallos said that the voting reform planks, other than ending patronage at the Board of Elections, don’t have to go through the state Legislature. Many of the other planks need city passage, some can be done through City Council rules.</p> <p>On closing doing business loophole, which already became law, Powers conceded to have not known the full extent of the legislative package that was passed. He also was largely nonspecific on his proposed additions to the 2014 member item reform, stating that there’s a lot to look at where the Council can “do better.”</p> <p>The Powers agenda received an enthusiastic response from democratic reform group Citizens Union, which interviews candidates and releases preferences in some city elections based on good government bona fides.</p> <p>“Keith Powers has put forward an ambitious and wide-ranging plan to increase transparency and accountability, and bring some needed sunlight to the New York City Council. While we do not support all of his proposed reforms, Citizens Union has long been advocating for several of them and will continue to do so in the upcoming session,” said Rachel Bloom, Citizens Union’s Public Policy director.</p> <p>For example, Citizens Union is not in support of the full public financing of city elections plank of Powers’ platform -- the organization “feel[s] that candidates should have to raise money in the districts they seek to represent,” Bloom said. However, it is supportive of Powers’ proposed pilot program in special elections. The organization has not yet made its preference in the Council District 4 race or any other.</p> <p>In the Democratic primary to be voted on September 12, Powers is competing against Marti Speranza, Jeff Mailman, Bessie Schachter, Maria Castro, Vanessa Aronson, Barry Shapiro, Rachel Honig, and Alec Hartman, none of whom have released government reform platforms, though Shapiro called for transparency in lobbying in a <a href="https://vimeo.com/216324768" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">campaign video</a>.</p> <p>

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Citizens Union candidate interview and preference process is wholly separate from Gotham Gazette operations. Gotham Gazette does not endorse or support candidates for office.</p>
Bill Seeks Fix to Conflicts Disclosure Deadline for Candidates 2017-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7011:bill-seeks-to-fix-conflicts-disclosure-deadline-for-new-york-city-candidates Samar Khurshid <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26412389754_0977bb6ae3_z.jpg" alt="26412389754 0977bb6ae3 z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council Committee on Governmental Operations met on Monday to discuss a bill to relax the deadline for candidates seeking public office to submit disclosure reports to the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB).</p> <p>COIB is a city agency tasked with enforcing conflicts of interest laws for public officials and preempting potential conflicts for those seeking elected office. Candidates for public office are required to submit financial disclosures to the agency detailing, among other information, their sources of income, assets, liabilities, and positions held in any organization. These disclosures are then made available to the public, with the goal of ensuring that elected officials do not take office with financial ties to outside interests that may impact their decisions as public servants.</p> <p>The proposed bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2984629&amp;GUID=98008456-4F2C-4364-85A8-2C7F4B6A2F8D&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1517</a>, would allow candidates an additional 30 days after the deadline for submitting ballot petitions to disclose their financial information. The petition submission deadline, which is July 10 this year, is the date by which candidates seeking public office must obtain a set number of signatures, depending on the office he or she is seeking, to gain ballot access. Currently, all candidates must file a disclosure report to COIB “on or before the last day of filing his or her designating petitions pursuant to the election law,” as outlined in the City Charter.</p> <p>This current framework, according to Julia Lee, director of annual disclosure and special counsel at COIB, produces a “Catch-22 situation.” Since the COIB is not aware of who delivered petitions until after the petition deadline, the Board is “unable to notify candidates of their obligation to file an annual disclosure report after they are already out of compliance,” she said. The penalty for such a violation ranges from a $250 to $10,000 fine.</p> <p>The bill, she said, “would remedy this problem” by giving the COIB sufficient time to notify candidates and to provide reports to the public before an election.</p> <p>Extending the deadline would also level the playing field between first-time candidates and seasoned politicians, argued Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee and prime sponsor of the legislation. “Experienced candidates, or candidates retaining lawyers or compliance professions, may be knowledgable about the financial disclosure deadlines,” Kallos said. “New candidates, however, may lack such experience or the funds for experienced campaign staff.”</p> <p>Kallos recalled that he failed to meet the disclosure deadline himself when he ran for City Council in 2013, noting that campaign novices are often not aware of the disclosure requirements until it is too late. “There is a potential for such candidates to be disproportionately impacted and found out of compliance before they are ever notified of the requirement,” he said.</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26412389754_0977bb6ae3_z.jpg" alt="26412389754 0977bb6ae3 z" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council Committee on Governmental Operations met on Monday to discuss a bill to relax the deadline for candidates seeking public office to submit disclosure reports to the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB).</p> <p>COIB is a city agency tasked with enforcing conflicts of interest laws for public officials and preempting potential conflicts for those seeking elected office. Candidates for public office are required to submit financial disclosures to the agency detailing, among other information, their sources of income, assets, liabilities, and positions held in any organization. These disclosures are then made available to the public, with the goal of ensuring that elected officials do not take office with financial ties to outside interests that may impact their decisions as public servants.</p> <p>The proposed bill, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2984629&amp;GUID=98008456-4F2C-4364-85A8-2C7F4B6A2F8D&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1517</a>, would allow candidates an additional 30 days after the deadline for submitting ballot petitions to disclose their financial information. The petition submission deadline, which is July 10 this year, is the date by which candidates seeking public office must obtain a set number of signatures, depending on the office he or she is seeking, to gain ballot access. Currently, all candidates must file a disclosure report to COIB “on or before the last day of filing his or her designating petitions pursuant to the election law,” as outlined in the City Charter.</p> <p>This current framework, according to Julia Lee, director of annual disclosure and special counsel at COIB, produces a “Catch-22 situation.” Since the COIB is not aware of who delivered petitions until after the petition deadline, the Board is “unable to notify candidates of their obligation to file an annual disclosure report after they are already out of compliance,” she said. The penalty for such a violation ranges from a $250 to $10,000 fine.</p> <p>The bill, she said, “would remedy this problem” by giving the COIB sufficient time to notify candidates and to provide reports to the public before an election.</p> <p>Extending the deadline would also level the playing field between first-time candidates and seasoned politicians, argued Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee and prime sponsor of the legislation. “Experienced candidates, or candidates retaining lawyers or compliance professions, may be knowledgable about the financial disclosure deadlines,” Kallos said. “New candidates, however, may lack such experience or the funds for experienced campaign staff.”</p> <p>Kallos recalled that he failed to meet the disclosure deadline himself when he ran for City Council in 2013, noting that campaign novices are often not aware of the disclosure requirements until it is too late. “There is a potential for such candidates to be disproportionately impacted and found out of compliance before they are ever notified of the requirement,” he said.</p> <p> </p> City Council Members Question Campaign Finance Board Audit Process 2017-05-15T04:00:00+00:00 2017-05-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6934:city-council-members-question-campaign-finance-board-audit-process Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/greenfield_nyccouncil.jpg" alt="greenfield nyccouncil" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council Member David Greenfield (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>At a City Council hearing on Friday, representatives of the city’s Campaign Finance Board expected to answer questions about their proposed budget for the next fiscal year but instead found themselves defending their processes for post-election auditing of campaigns.</p> <p>One of the Campaign Finance Board’s prime functions is to perform detailed examinations of how candidate campaigns utilize funds and whether they adhere to the strict requirements of campaign finance law. These post-election audits sometimes take years to complete and can involve hefty fines, in the range of thousands of dollars, for campaigns that are found to have committed campaign violations. They can also involve repayment obligations for candidates who receive public matching funds from the CFB.</p> <p>Of the 234 campaigns from 2013, the last city election cycle year, the CFB has completed audits on 214, with a few more slated for completion next month, according to testimony at the hearing from CFB executive director Amy Loprest. Some of those 214, including that of Mayor Bill de Blasio, were completed earlier this year. Audits of two campaigns from the 2009 election cycle also remain incomplete, Loprest said, owing to a long-running investigation in one campaign and a legal challenge by another.</p> <p>For City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, and City Council Member David Greenfield, a committee member, those delays in audits are just one reason that they believe the CFB’s system is flawed and in need of change. In December, Kallos, Greenfield, and other Council members ushered through nearly two dozen campaign finance related bills, some of them tweaks to how the Campaign Finance Board operates. Several of the measures were based on recommendations from the CFB, others were seen as addressing problems with the CFB identified by Council members and their consultants.</p> <p>The Friday hearing did touch on the CFB’s budget needs for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1 and in which there will be a citywide election with a primary in September and a general election in November. These city elections account for a massive increase to $56.7 million for the 2018 fiscal year from last year’s CFB budget of $16.17 million.</p> <p>About half of the proposed budget, $29 million, is allocated to the public matching funds program, which provides participating campaigns with 6-to-1 matches of small contributions up to $175. Another $11 million will go to printing and distributing a voter guide for the upcoming election.</p> <p>But Kallos seemed more concerned that the board was spending more money, and time, on auditing campaigns than the money they received from resolutions of those audits. When Loprest told the committee that the CFB’s candidate services unit has seven full-time employees and the audit unit has 26, Kallos insisted that the CFB should dedicate more resources to candidate services and campaign liaisons, so campaigns can preemptively steer clear of missteps in navigating a complex campaign finance system, and avoid fines and penalties down the line.</p> <p>“We’re trying to balance the needs of the work and be fiscally responsible,” Loprest said, welcoming the idea of more personnel funding for candidate services.</p> <p>“I guess I have an overarching concern here,” Kallos responded, “just that you’re spending four times more on auditing and penalizing candidates than you are on supporting them and your candidate-to-liaison ratio far exceeds what would be allowed in a public school at this point [for student-to-teacher].” He said the candidate services unit should at least be on par with the audit unit, to provide more personal attention to campaigns, and later floated the idea of legislation to mandate it. “I feel a bill coming up,” he said.</p> <p>Kallo also questioned the CFB’s spending on lobbying the state Legislature to push election and voting reforms, arguing that perhaps it needs to focus its attention closer to home in the city. The CFB’s mandated voter outreach arm, NYC Votes, engages in efforts around voter awareness, voter registration, and election law lobbying.</p> <p>Greenfield was more vociferous in his rebuke of the system, repeatedly interrupting and talking over Loprest as she sought to defend the necessity of the in-depth auditing process.</p> <p>Loprest told Greenfield that more than half of the 214 campaigns from 2013 that had been audited received some or the other penalty or a repayment obligation, which is not always considered a violation since it can involve leftover funds in a campaign’s account. Greenfield wasn’t pleased with the answer, seeing it as an indication that the program is faulty. “Either there’s a program that is designed for people to fail...or you’re not spending enough time and resources helping people through the program,” he said.</p> <p>He added, “To me that’s a very serious concern about how the system works. If we have a system where most people who are part of the system end up failing the system, then the reflection is not on the people, rather it’s a reflection on the system.”</p> <p>Greenfield said the system was unfair, painting candidates as having committed wrongdoings, as opposed to minor accounting mistakes. “Every time one of these things happens, our very capable reporters...they blow it up,” he said, pointing to the press section in the City Council chambers to illustrate his point (Greenfield repeatedly gestured toward the press section and referred to stories that look like more than they really are).</p> <p>Loprest refuted his contention about CFB violations. “Many of these things are more akin to parking violations,” she said.</p> <p>“I don’t think it’s fair, it’s very high stakes,” Greenfield said, interrupting Loprest and insisting that CFB violations are not as “benign” as parking tickets. “To compare it to parking tickets, I don’t think that’s really fair because you’re a government agency and the implication is that these people are engaged in some sort of wrongdoing and it gets blown out of proportion.” He pressed the point that the CFB’s audit process is in fact discouraging electoral participation, particularly for first-time candidates, and needs to be simplified.</p> <p>Although Loprest pushed back, she did concede near the end of the hearing that the process could be better and that the CFB was already taking steps to that end. “One of the things we’re engaged in right now is a review of our audit processes in order to to make the audit process simpler and more streamlined,” she said.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/greenfield_nyccouncil.jpg" alt="greenfield nyccouncil" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>City Council Member David Greenfield (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>At a City Council hearing on Friday, representatives of the city’s Campaign Finance Board expected to answer questions about their proposed budget for the next fiscal year but instead found themselves defending their processes for post-election auditing of campaigns.</p> <p>One of the Campaign Finance Board’s prime functions is to perform detailed examinations of how candidate campaigns utilize funds and whether they adhere to the strict requirements of campaign finance law. These post-election audits sometimes take years to complete and can involve hefty fines, in the range of thousands of dollars, for campaigns that are found to have committed campaign violations. They can also involve repayment obligations for candidates who receive public matching funds from the CFB.</p> <p>Of the 234 campaigns from 2013, the last city election cycle year, the CFB has completed audits on 214, with a few more slated for completion next month, according to testimony at the hearing from CFB executive director Amy Loprest. Some of those 214, including that of Mayor Bill de Blasio, were completed earlier this year. Audits of two campaigns from the 2009 election cycle also remain incomplete, Loprest said, owing to a long-running investigation in one campaign and a legal challenge by another.</p> <p>For City Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the governmental operations committee, and City Council Member David Greenfield, a committee member, those delays in audits are just one reason that they believe the CFB’s system is flawed and in need of change. In December, Kallos, Greenfield, and other Council members ushered through nearly two dozen campaign finance related bills, some of them tweaks to how the Campaign Finance Board operates. Several of the measures were based on recommendations from the CFB, others were seen as addressing problems with the CFB identified by Council members and their consultants.</p> <p>The Friday hearing did touch on the CFB’s budget needs for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1 and in which there will be a citywide election with a primary in September and a general election in November. These city elections account for a massive increase to $56.7 million for the 2018 fiscal year from last year’s CFB budget of $16.17 million.</p> <p>About half of the proposed budget, $29 million, is allocated to the public matching funds program, which provides participating campaigns with 6-to-1 matches of small contributions up to $175. Another $11 million will go to printing and distributing a voter guide for the upcoming election.</p> <p>But Kallos seemed more concerned that the board was spending more money, and time, on auditing campaigns than the money they received from resolutions of those audits. When Loprest told the committee that the CFB’s candidate services unit has seven full-time employees and the audit unit has 26, Kallos insisted that the CFB should dedicate more resources to candidate services and campaign liaisons, so campaigns can preemptively steer clear of missteps in navigating a complex campaign finance system, and avoid fines and penalties down the line.</p> <p>“We’re trying to balance the needs of the work and be fiscally responsible,” Loprest said, welcoming the idea of more personnel funding for candidate services.</p> <p>“I guess I have an overarching concern here,” Kallos responded, “just that you’re spending four times more on auditing and penalizing candidates than you are on supporting them and your candidate-to-liaison ratio far exceeds what would be allowed in a public school at this point [for student-to-teacher].” He said the candidate services unit should at least be on par with the audit unit, to provide more personal attention to campaigns, and later floated the idea of legislation to mandate it. “I feel a bill coming up,” he said.</p> <p>Kallo also questioned the CFB’s spending on lobbying the state Legislature to push election and voting reforms, arguing that perhaps it needs to focus its attention closer to home in the city. The CFB’s mandated voter outreach arm, NYC Votes, engages in efforts around voter awareness, voter registration, and election law lobbying.</p> <p>Greenfield was more vociferous in his rebuke of the system, repeatedly interrupting and talking over Loprest as she sought to defend the necessity of the in-depth auditing process.</p> <p>Loprest told Greenfield that more than half of the 214 campaigns from 2013 that had been audited received some or the other penalty or a repayment obligation, which is not always considered a violation since it can involve leftover funds in a campaign’s account. Greenfield wasn’t pleased with the answer, seeing it as an indication that the program is faulty. “Either there’s a program that is designed for people to fail...or you’re not spending enough time and resources helping people through the program,” he said.</p> <p>He added, “To me that’s a very serious concern about how the system works. If we have a system where most people who are part of the system end up failing the system, then the reflection is not on the people, rather it’s a reflection on the system.”</p> <p>Greenfield said the system was unfair, painting candidates as having committed wrongdoings, as opposed to minor accounting mistakes. “Every time one of these things happens, our very capable reporters...they blow it up,” he said, pointing to the press section in the City Council chambers to illustrate his point (Greenfield repeatedly gestured toward the press section and referred to stories that look like more than they really are).</p> <p>Loprest refuted his contention about CFB violations. “Many of these things are more akin to parking violations,” she said.</p> <p>“I don’t think it’s fair, it’s very high stakes,” Greenfield said, interrupting Loprest and insisting that CFB violations are not as “benign” as parking tickets. “To compare it to parking tickets, I don’t think that’s really fair because you’re a government agency and the implication is that these people are engaged in some sort of wrongdoing and it gets blown out of proportion.” He pressed the point that the CFB’s audit process is in fact discouraging electoral participation, particularly for first-time candidates, and needs to be simplified.</p> <p>Although Loprest pushed back, she did concede near the end of the hearing that the process could be better and that the CFB was already taking steps to that end. “One of the things we’re engaged in right now is a review of our audit processes in order to to make the audit process simpler and more streamlined,” she said.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Pushing Back, Board of Elections Head Insists on ‘Personal Responsibility’ for Voters 2017-05-15T11:14:28+00:00 2017-05-15T11:14:28+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6933:pushing-back-board-of-elections-head-insists-on-personal-responsibility-for-voters Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/vote_here_long_line.jpeg" alt="vote here long line" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Long line of voters (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The executive director of the New York City Board of Elections said at a City Council budget hearing on Friday that recent failings by the board, revealed in a <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/your-vote-didnt-count-and-board-didnt-tell-you-time-do-anything-about-it/">WNYC report</a>, were not entirely the BOE’s responsibility and that voters in New York needed to step up their participation and involvement in ensuring that their votes count.</p> <p>WNYC radio’s Brigid Bergin reported last week that more than 78,000 affidavit ballots, out of 168,000 cast by voters whose names were not listed in voter rolls in last year’s presidential election, were disqualified by the BOE and the board did not notify those voters in time for them to challenge those decisions in court and possibly have their vote count. Voters fill out affidavit ballots when they believe there is a mistake about their enrollment status, typically when their name is not in the sign-in book when they show up to cast a ballot.</p> <p>If it is not counting an affidavit vote, the law requires the board to notify affidavit voters immediately by mail and those voters have 20 days to appeal. But, as WNYC found, the board only began sending notifications two days after that deadline passed and was still sending some as of last week -- six months after the election.</p> <p>Friday’s City Council hearing of the Committee on Governmental Operations was part of the ongoing round of hearings on Mayor bill de Blasio’s executive budget proposal. A new fiscal year 2018 budget is due by July 1, with the mayor and the Council needing to agree on a spending plan by then. While the BOE is governed by state law, it is funded through the city budget and the City Council has oversight. The mayor and Council have virtually no control, though, over BOE operations and personnel.</p> <p>The government operations committee, chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos, met to discuss the BOE’s $136.5 million proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Council members sought answers from the board about the latest WNYC report, which came after <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/people/brigid-bergin/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series of reports by Bergin</a> exposing problems at the BOE, including tens of thousands of voters purged from the rolls ahead of the presidential election. Kallos said his wife was one of those voters whose vote did not count, and that she received a notice from the BOE just last month.</p> <p>“There is a quasi-manual, quasi-automated process,” said Michael Ryan, BOE executive director, insisting that the board could not send notices to voters who aren’t in the system until they provide relevant missing information to the board.</p> <p>Referring to a specific voter highlighted by WNYC, who shuttled numerous times between two poll sites in attempting to cast her vote, which eventually was not counted, Ryan said the voter’s actions on Election Day seemed “suspicious” and also said WNYC’s report, “simplistically analyzed a complex process.”</p> <p>He also said the affidavit counting process is open and voters concerned about their votes could, and should, approach the board in the days after the election to ensure their vote was valid. “The fact that there is this burden shift to any Board of Elections...that we have to take all of the responsibility and the voters don’t have to take any of the responsibility, which seems to be the argument that’s being made here, is quite simply not fair to any government agency.”</p> <p>He insisted that notifications could not be sent out to voters until the election was certified, which was done December 6 last year, nearly a month after Election Day. And the 20-day deadline to challenge a decision on a vote, he said, was a state legislative matter rather than one for the board.</p> <p>“No amount of money is going to suspend the time-space continuum,” Ryan said, when Kallos asked what the board could do to give people enough time to take a decision to court. “That is something that we all must live with. That is a law of nature.”</p> <p>Kallos suggested perhaps the BOE could use new technology to read voter addresses. But Ryan refuted that as well, insisting, somewhat contrary to his earlier testimony, that the process was an “entirely manual” one. “It’s the 20 days for the court challenge that is the issue, not the technology, not the process,” he added. “Again, that having been said, this is an open process and people are free a week after the election to come to the Board of Elections and challenge their affidavit if they think it’s an issue.”</p> <p>He reiterated that voters must accept their part in the process as well. “There is something in this society that I think is somewhat missing and that is personal responsibility,” he said. “And it doesn't all fall to the government to fix that.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/vote_here_long_line.jpeg" alt="vote here long line" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Long line of voters (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The executive director of the New York City Board of Elections said at a City Council budget hearing on Friday that recent failings by the board, revealed in a <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/your-vote-didnt-count-and-board-didnt-tell-you-time-do-anything-about-it/">WNYC report</a>, were not entirely the BOE’s responsibility and that voters in New York needed to step up their participation and involvement in ensuring that their votes count.</p> <p>WNYC radio’s Brigid Bergin reported last week that more than 78,000 affidavit ballots, out of 168,000 cast by voters whose names were not listed in voter rolls in last year’s presidential election, were disqualified by the BOE and the board did not notify those voters in time for them to challenge those decisions in court and possibly have their vote count. Voters fill out affidavit ballots when they believe there is a mistake about their enrollment status, typically when their name is not in the sign-in book when they show up to cast a ballot.</p> <p>If it is not counting an affidavit vote, the law requires the board to notify affidavit voters immediately by mail and those voters have 20 days to appeal. But, as WNYC found, the board only began sending notifications two days after that deadline passed and was still sending some as of last week -- six months after the election.</p> <p>Friday’s City Council hearing of the Committee on Governmental Operations was part of the ongoing round of hearings on Mayor bill de Blasio’s executive budget proposal. A new fiscal year 2018 budget is due by July 1, with the mayor and the Council needing to agree on a spending plan by then. While the BOE is governed by state law, it is funded through the city budget and the City Council has oversight. The mayor and Council have virtually no control, though, over BOE operations and personnel.</p> <p>The government operations committee, chaired by Council Member Ben Kallos, met to discuss the BOE’s $136.5 million proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Council members sought answers from the board about the latest WNYC report, which came after <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/people/brigid-bergin/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a series of reports by Bergin</a> exposing problems at the BOE, including tens of thousands of voters purged from the rolls ahead of the presidential election. Kallos said his wife was one of those voters whose vote did not count, and that she received a notice from the BOE just last month.</p> <p>“There is a quasi-manual, quasi-automated process,” said Michael Ryan, BOE executive director, insisting that the board could not send notices to voters who aren’t in the system until they provide relevant missing information to the board.</p> <p>Referring to a specific voter highlighted by WNYC, who shuttled numerous times between two poll sites in attempting to cast her vote, which eventually was not counted, Ryan said the voter’s actions on Election Day seemed “suspicious” and also said WNYC’s report, “simplistically analyzed a complex process.”</p> <p>He also said the affidavit counting process is open and voters concerned about their votes could, and should, approach the board in the days after the election to ensure their vote was valid. “The fact that there is this burden shift to any Board of Elections...that we have to take all of the responsibility and the voters don’t have to take any of the responsibility, which seems to be the argument that’s being made here, is quite simply not fair to any government agency.”</p> <p>He insisted that notifications could not be sent out to voters until the election was certified, which was done December 6 last year, nearly a month after Election Day. And the 20-day deadline to challenge a decision on a vote, he said, was a state legislative matter rather than one for the board.</p> <p>“No amount of money is going to suspend the time-space continuum,” Ryan said, when Kallos asked what the board could do to give people enough time to take a decision to court. “That is something that we all must live with. That is a law of nature.”</p> <p>Kallos suggested perhaps the BOE could use new technology to read voter addresses. But Ryan refuted that as well, insisting, somewhat contrary to his earlier testimony, that the process was an “entirely manual” one. “It’s the 20 days for the court challenge that is the issue, not the technology, not the process,” he added. “Again, that having been said, this is an open process and people are free a week after the election to come to the Board of Elections and challenge their affidavit if they think it’s an issue.”</p> <p>He reiterated that voters must accept their part in the process as well. “There is something in this society that I think is somewhat missing and that is personal responsibility,” he said. “And it doesn't all fall to the government to fix that.”</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Proposal Would Boost Public Campaign Matching Funds 2017-04-27T04:00:00+00:00 2017-04-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6898:proposal-would-boost-public-campaign-matching-funds Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/kallos_council.jpg" alt="kallos council" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>A bill heard by the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Thursday aims to further limit the influence of big-dollar donations and special interests in city elections. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the committee, would tweak the city’s public campaign finance system by removing a cap on public funds disbursed to candidate campaigns by the Campaign Finance Board (CFB).</p> <p>The city’s campaign finance system is held up as a national model that incentivizes small dollar donations by matching them with public funds. Each qualifying contribution up to $175 is matched 6-to-1 by the city, through the CFB, allowing candidates with a lack of access to personal wealth or deep-pocketed donors to run competitive campaigns. Currently, the CFB only matches public funds up to 55 percent of the spending limit for a particular seat.</p> <p>For instance, in a City Council race, for those participating in the matching system, the 2017 spending limit is $182,000 each in the primary and general election, so a candidate could receive up to $100,100 in public funds by raising about $16,800.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2637108&amp;GUID=11C13B83-99DB-4671-AA99-CF5B5827BBF4&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1130-A</a>, co-sponsored by Council Members Kallos, Brad Lander and Fernando Cabrera, would increase that public funds payment to a full match against the spending limit, minus the amount of matchable contributions raised by the candidate. Effectively, a Council candidate who raises $26,000 could receive a maximum of $156,000 in public funds, for a total budget of $182,000 (in the primary and/or in the general).</p> <p>If passed by the Council and signed by the Mayor, as written the bill would go into effect in 2018, after this year’s municipal elections.</p> <p>The current system, says Kallos,, creates a “big money gap” of more than one-third of the spending limit, that would need to be filled through private contributions. For a City Council race, this gap is $65,000 while for mayoral candidates, it is about $2.5 million. “If it works, anyone could run for office entirely on small dollars,” Kallos said in his opening statement at Thursday’s hearing. “If it doesn’t work, candidates could still continue to pursue big money and there would be no added cost. There is literally no downside.”</p> <p>The hearing drew a large audience outside of the usual good government advocates, including tenant and community preservation groups, immigrant advocacy organizations, NYCHA residents, current City Council candidates, and women’s groups. “This is because no matter what your cause, the road to victory starts with campaign finance reforms that amplify the voices of residents over special interests,” Kallos said.</p> <p>Amy Loprest, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board, said the bill would have a significant impact on future elections, albeit with a moderate increase in costs, about 17 to 20 percent. In 2013, she noted, 129 council candidates received public funds, and 83 of them received payments within 10 percent of the maximum. In citywide races, however, she said the impact would be minimal since candidates tend to rely on larger contributions, and it would in fact aid established candidates with stronger small-dollar fundraising operations.</p> <p>Loprest said the Board agreed with the aims of the bill, but she offered a number of alternatives that could effectively accomplish its goals and even go further. She suggested lowering contribution limits across the board, reducing the thresholds for qualifying for public funds, and floated the idea of higher matching funds for those who choose to only receive small-dollar donations. She also pointed out potential inadvertent consequences of the bill, noting that there are strict criteria for qualifying expenditures under the public funds program, and more public funds could make it harder for candidates to justify spending on non-qualifying purposes such as defending a ballot petition in court. Candidates would also have to repay higher amounts of public funds left over after a campaign.</p> <p>When asked by Kallos how the bill might affect participation in the system, Loprest emphasized that participation has consistently been high, but future behavior is hard to predict. “You want to make sure you have a system where it’s flexible, so you have as many people joining as possible and that they can choose the way they want to participate,” she said. “Allowing people to kinda have the option of the way they can participate in the program is an important aspect to encourage participation.”</p> <p>A number of government reform advocates came out in favor of the legislation including Common Cause New York, EffectiveNY, Reinvent Albany, and Demos, among others.</p> <p>“It’s very clear that the campaign finance system here in New York City has successfully encouraged more small-dollar contributions,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. “but for the long range goal of diminishing the power of large contributions, it is not as successful as we would like it to be.” She said Intro. 1130-A would be a “significant and strong first step” in strengthening the system. &nbsp;</p> <p>Bill Samuels, chair of EffectiveNY, said the bill would encourage participation by women candidates, who tend to rely more heavily on small-dollar contributions because they don’t have the access to deep pockets that men often do. EffectiveNY, with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, recently launched the “21 in ‘21” initiative to elect at least 21 women Council Members in 2021 (there are currently 13 in the 51-seat Council). Moira McDermott, executive director of the initiative, said fundraising is often a significant barrier to women running for elected office. The gap between public funds and the spending limit, she said, is tough to cover through small contributions. “This leaves wealthy donors, political institutions, PACs and special interests, which after decades of the male-dominated structure, few women have the same connections to, and even fewer women of color.”</p> <p>The bill also received supported as a means to increase class and racial diversity in the Council. Murad Awawdeh, director of political engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition, said, “Perhaps the most important potential impact of this legislation is that it would empower immigrants, low-income earners and people of color, and women, to run for office and seek adequate representation of their communities.”</p> <p>One testifying organization seemed to demur on the proposal: Citizens Union, a government reform group, which is questioning the timing of the proposal and the financial and documentation requirements it would impose on the CFB. “Despite its intent,” said Rachel Bloom, director of public policy and programs, “the introduction of the bill at this late stage in the municipal election cycle is a deviation of the carefully measured process by which the program is updated and revised.” The group did not state support the proposal, nor did it oppose it. “There are serious issues being raised by this bill that need greater time to evaluate,” Bloom said. “We would be better off looking at the issue right after our 2017 city elections.”</p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito has not yet taken a position on the bill, and said Tuesday that she would wait until after the hearing. In a statement Wednesday, she said, “The city's campaign finance law is one of the strongest in the nation. We continue to look for ways to make it even stronger.”</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio has in the past expressed support for full public financing of elections. At a March 16 <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/156-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-appears-live-wnyc" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show, he said, “I believe we should go to full public financing of elections on the city level, on the state level, on the federal level....I think the system is fundamentally broken. And you know, if there are little tweaks around the edges that’s nice, but we’re not being serious about money in politics if we don’t get it out of politics entirely. We should just go to public financing of elections with very stringent spending limits.”</p> <p>At Thursday’s hearing, Kallos read out part of written testimony submitted by Henry Berger, special counsel to Mayor de Blasio. “After nearly three decades of experience with the city’s matching public funds, this bill starts an important discussion about how to reduce the influence of money in elections,” the statement read. “This is one good step in that direction.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/kallos_council.jpg" alt="kallos council" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: @NYCCouncil)</p> <hr /> <p>A bill heard by the City Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations on Thursday aims to further limit the influence of big-dollar donations and special interests in city elections. The bill, co-sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos, who chairs the committee, would tweak the city’s public campaign finance system by removing a cap on public funds disbursed to candidate campaigns by the Campaign Finance Board (CFB).</p> <p>The city’s campaign finance system is held up as a national model that incentivizes small dollar donations by matching them with public funds. Each qualifying contribution up to $175 is matched 6-to-1 by the city, through the CFB, allowing candidates with a lack of access to personal wealth or deep-pocketed donors to run competitive campaigns. Currently, the CFB only matches public funds up to 55 percent of the spending limit for a particular seat.</p> <p>For instance, in a City Council race, for those participating in the matching system, the 2017 spending limit is $182,000 each in the primary and general election, so a candidate could receive up to $100,100 in public funds by raising about $16,800.</p> <p><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2637108&amp;GUID=11C13B83-99DB-4671-AA99-CF5B5827BBF4&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Intro. 1130-A</a>, co-sponsored by Council Members Kallos, Brad Lander and Fernando Cabrera, would increase that public funds payment to a full match against the spending limit, minus the amount of matchable contributions raised by the candidate. Effectively, a Council candidate who raises $26,000 could receive a maximum of $156,000 in public funds, for a total budget of $182,000 (in the primary and/or in the general).</p> <p>If passed by the Council and signed by the Mayor, as written the bill would go into effect in 2018, after this year’s municipal elections.</p> <p>The current system, says Kallos,, creates a “big money gap” of more than one-third of the spending limit, that would need to be filled through private contributions. For a City Council race, this gap is $65,000 while for mayoral candidates, it is about $2.5 million. “If it works, anyone could run for office entirely on small dollars,” Kallos said in his opening statement at Thursday’s hearing. “If it doesn’t work, candidates could still continue to pursue big money and there would be no added cost. There is literally no downside.”</p> <p>The hearing drew a large audience outside of the usual good government advocates, including tenant and community preservation groups, immigrant advocacy organizations, NYCHA residents, current City Council candidates, and women’s groups. “This is because no matter what your cause, the road to victory starts with campaign finance reforms that amplify the voices of residents over special interests,” Kallos said.</p> <p>Amy Loprest, executive director of the Campaign Finance Board, said the bill would have a significant impact on future elections, albeit with a moderate increase in costs, about 17 to 20 percent. In 2013, she noted, 129 council candidates received public funds, and 83 of them received payments within 10 percent of the maximum. In citywide races, however, she said the impact would be minimal since candidates tend to rely on larger contributions, and it would in fact aid established candidates with stronger small-dollar fundraising operations.</p> <p>Loprest said the Board agreed with the aims of the bill, but she offered a number of alternatives that could effectively accomplish its goals and even go further. She suggested lowering contribution limits across the board, reducing the thresholds for qualifying for public funds, and floated the idea of higher matching funds for those who choose to only receive small-dollar donations. She also pointed out potential inadvertent consequences of the bill, noting that there are strict criteria for qualifying expenditures under the public funds program, and more public funds could make it harder for candidates to justify spending on non-qualifying purposes such as defending a ballot petition in court. Candidates would also have to repay higher amounts of public funds left over after a campaign.</p> <p>When asked by Kallos how the bill might affect participation in the system, Loprest emphasized that participation has consistently been high, but future behavior is hard to predict. “You want to make sure you have a system where it’s flexible, so you have as many people joining as possible and that they can choose the way they want to participate,” she said. “Allowing people to kinda have the option of the way they can participate in the program is an important aspect to encourage participation.”</p> <p>A number of government reform advocates came out in favor of the legislation including Common Cause New York, EffectiveNY, Reinvent Albany, and Demos, among others.</p> <p>“It’s very clear that the campaign finance system here in New York City has successfully encouraged more small-dollar contributions,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York. “but for the long range goal of diminishing the power of large contributions, it is not as successful as we would like it to be.” She said Intro. 1130-A would be a “significant and strong first step” in strengthening the system. &nbsp;</p> <p>Bill Samuels, chair of EffectiveNY, said the bill would encourage participation by women candidates, who tend to rely more heavily on small-dollar contributions because they don’t have the access to deep pockets that men often do. EffectiveNY, with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, recently launched the “21 in ‘21” initiative to elect at least 21 women Council Members in 2021 (there are currently 13 in the 51-seat Council). Moira McDermott, executive director of the initiative, said fundraising is often a significant barrier to women running for elected office. The gap between public funds and the spending limit, she said, is tough to cover through small contributions. “This leaves wealthy donors, political institutions, PACs and special interests, which after decades of the male-dominated structure, few women have the same connections to, and even fewer women of color.”</p> <p>The bill also received supported as a means to increase class and racial diversity in the Council. Murad Awawdeh, director of political engagement at the New York Immigration Coalition, said, “Perhaps the most important potential impact of this legislation is that it would empower immigrants, low-income earners and people of color, and women, to run for office and seek adequate representation of their communities.”</p> <p>One testifying organization seemed to demur on the proposal: Citizens Union, a government reform group, which is questioning the timing of the proposal and the financial and documentation requirements it would impose on the CFB. “Despite its intent,” said Rachel Bloom, director of public policy and programs, “the introduction of the bill at this late stage in the municipal election cycle is a deviation of the carefully measured process by which the program is updated and revised.” The group did not state support the proposal, nor did it oppose it. “There are serious issues being raised by this bill that need greater time to evaluate,” Bloom said. “We would be better off looking at the issue right after our 2017 city elections.”</p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito has not yet taken a position on the bill, and said Tuesday that she would wait until after the hearing. In a statement Wednesday, she said, “The city's campaign finance law is one of the strongest in the nation. We continue to look for ways to make it even stronger.”</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio has in the past expressed support for full public financing of elections. At a March 16 <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/156-17/transcript-mayor-de-blasio-appears-live-wnyc" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show, he said, “I believe we should go to full public financing of elections on the city level, on the state level, on the federal level....I think the system is fundamentally broken. And you know, if there are little tweaks around the edges that’s nice, but we’re not being serious about money in politics if we don’t get it out of politics entirely. We should just go to public financing of elections with very stringent spending limits.”</p> <p>At Thursday’s hearing, Kallos read out part of written testimony submitted by Henry Berger, special counsel to Mayor de Blasio. “After nearly three decades of experience with the city’s matching public funds, this bill starts an important discussion about how to reduce the influence of money in elections,” the statement read. “This is one good step in that direction.”</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
City Council Rushes Through Campaign Finance Bills 2016-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-13T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6668:city-council-rushes-through-campaign-finance-bills Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27656184936_e65a162f5d_z.jpg" alt="city council chambers balcony" width="600" height="416" /></p> <p>City Council chambers (photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council is rushing through a package of bills to reform the city’s campaign finance system. About a dozen bills driven by Council members’ frustrations with the Campaign Finance Board and its rigorous reporting system are being moved through the Council at an almost unseen pace, raising eyebrows.</p> <p>There are actually two packages of bills that will be passed through the Council this week: one that has been sitting idle for months after a hearing, which will go through the governmental operations committee, and the second, which only had a hearing on November 21, and is moving through the standards and ethics committee.</p> <p>The <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=519420&amp;GUID=639321F1-1E59-4F4B-98B6-F8A2E64300F8&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">first group of bills</a> was the result of the independent Campaign Finance Board’s most recent post-election report; <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=521316&amp;GUID=3D0059E1-EDA2-443F-BCBE-FE945BAFF89D&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">the second group</a> from Council members.</p> <p>Many of the bills make technical changes to the workings of the city’s public-matching campaign finance system, which is seen as a national model for limiting big money in politics, and the operation of the Campaign Finance Board itself. These include items related to documenting campaign contributions and the Campaign Finance Board’s review of filings by candidates. One bill allows elected officials to use their campaign funds to pay for a wider range of governmental activity, such as supplying food at a public meeting.</p> <p>Another bill driven by members’ frustrations disallows campaign finance board staff from being “present during an executive session of the Board when an adjudication is being discussed.”</p> <p>There are also more attention-grabbing measures, like the elimination of public matching funds for money bundled by individuals with city business. There are currently strict limits, just $400 to a campaign, on those with city business who want to donate to a candidate. Bundling involves collecting donations from others. This bill was part of the initial package, per the Campaign Finance Board’s recommendations, as another way to limit the potential for conflicts of interest and undue influence of money on politicians.</p> <p>On Wednesday, each committee voted through its respective package of bills with little discussion. There will be a full Council vote on all the bills Thursday -- all of them are expected to pass either unanimously or nearly so. Still, there are several outstanding questions about the bills and the process by which they are moving, including the speed and the committee choice for the second package.</p> <p>One of the newer bills, which alters requirements for how donor information is collected and submitted, has been adjusted after it raised significant ire from the Campaign Finance Board, good government groups, and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. The alarm bells rang over a perceived increase in opportunities for fraud in filings and the bill was adjusted, seemingly satisfactorily to the critics.</p> <p>The Campaign Finance Board says the second package, which has been moving on an extraordinarily fast timeline for city legislation, is moving too fast and has elements that still need tweaks.</p> <p>“The Board continues to believe it would be better to defer action on these bills rather than move forward at this time,” said a CFB spokesperson in an emailed statement. “Some of these bills could be improved further, however we recognize and appreciate the Council’s efforts to take our feedback into account.”</p> <p>“Specifically, the revised version of Int. No. 1355 makes substantive changes that reflect our concerns and maintains the CFB’s ability to protect the public funds invested in the Campaign Finance Program,” the statement concluded, referring to the aforementioned bill that was adjusted.</p> <p>It is unusual for the Council’s standards and ethics committee to hear legislation, especially campaign finance bills that typically go through the government operations committee. A spokesperson for the City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, previously told Gotham Gazette that the package introduced through standards and ethics was placed there because it was grouped with another bill that deals directly with the Conflicts of Interest Board. That bill, sponsored by Mark-Viverito, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6666-de-blasio-fails-to-explain-his-support-for-limits-on-groups-like-campaign-for-one-new-york" target="_blank">will put new limits on nonprofit organizations that are affiliated with elected officials</a> -- such as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York. The bill was also passed through committee on Wednesday and will be passed through the full Council on Thursday. Mark-Viverito will speak about it on Thursday at City Hall.</p> <p>The governmental operations committee is headed by Council Member Ben Kallos, who is more knowledgeable about the campaign finance system than Council Member Alan Maisel, the chair of the standards and ethics committee -- something Maisel acknowledged in a prior interview with Gotham Gazette. Kallos has expressed concerns about some of the second package of bills, including bill details and process.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Mark-Viverito did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this article about the rushed timeline of the second package of bills.</p> <p>Maisel <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6647-22-campaign-finance-bills-to-move-through-city-council-soon-speaker-says" target="_blank">previously told Gotham Gazette</a> that he is not familiar with campaign finance legislation, but that he is also confident that the CFB is not being weakened by the bills his committee will quickly pass.</p> <p>At his committee's vote on Wednesday, Maisel introduced the package with a few words. He first focused on Mark-Viverito's bill that would limit contributions that can be made to nonprofit groups aligned with elected officials.&nbsp;"This bill directly addresses the concern that organizations affiliated with elected officials can raise unlimited funds even from persons doing business with the city and even when the ultimate use of these funds is for the promotion of that elected official," Maisel said. "The city’s campaign finance laws limit contributions by persons doing business with the city to protect against the potential influence of that money and to prevent the appearance of corruption.&nbsp;But under current law, those limitations could not be applied to the contributions received by the affiliated organization like the Campaign for One New York.&nbsp;That is why today we are voting on the law with the same goal: to protect against potential attempts to influence one’s elected official and to prevent even the appearance of corruption with unlimited donations to an affiliated organization that promotes that elected official."</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to reflect Wednesday's committee votes and new comment from Maisel.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/27656184936_e65a162f5d_z.jpg" alt="city council chambers balcony" width="600" height="416" /></p> <p>City Council chambers (photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council is rushing through a package of bills to reform the city’s campaign finance system. About a dozen bills driven by Council members’ frustrations with the Campaign Finance Board and its rigorous reporting system are being moved through the Council at an almost unseen pace, raising eyebrows.</p> <p>There are actually two packages of bills that will be passed through the Council this week: one that has been sitting idle for months after a hearing, which will go through the governmental operations committee, and the second, which only had a hearing on November 21, and is moving through the standards and ethics committee.</p> <p>The <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=519420&amp;GUID=639321F1-1E59-4F4B-98B6-F8A2E64300F8&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">first group of bills</a> was the result of the independent Campaign Finance Board’s most recent post-election report; <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=521316&amp;GUID=3D0059E1-EDA2-443F-BCBE-FE945BAFF89D&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">the second group</a> from Council members.</p> <p>Many of the bills make technical changes to the workings of the city’s public-matching campaign finance system, which is seen as a national model for limiting big money in politics, and the operation of the Campaign Finance Board itself. These include items related to documenting campaign contributions and the Campaign Finance Board’s review of filings by candidates. One bill allows elected officials to use their campaign funds to pay for a wider range of governmental activity, such as supplying food at a public meeting.</p> <p>Another bill driven by members’ frustrations disallows campaign finance board staff from being “present during an executive session of the Board when an adjudication is being discussed.”</p> <p>There are also more attention-grabbing measures, like the elimination of public matching funds for money bundled by individuals with city business. There are currently strict limits, just $400 to a campaign, on those with city business who want to donate to a candidate. Bundling involves collecting donations from others. This bill was part of the initial package, per the Campaign Finance Board’s recommendations, as another way to limit the potential for conflicts of interest and undue influence of money on politicians.</p> <p>On Wednesday, each committee voted through its respective package of bills with little discussion. There will be a full Council vote on all the bills Thursday -- all of them are expected to pass either unanimously or nearly so. Still, there are several outstanding questions about the bills and the process by which they are moving, including the speed and the committee choice for the second package.</p> <p>One of the newer bills, which alters requirements for how donor information is collected and submitted, has been adjusted after it raised significant ire from the Campaign Finance Board, good government groups, and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. The alarm bells rang over a perceived increase in opportunities for fraud in filings and the bill was adjusted, seemingly satisfactorily to the critics.</p> <p>The Campaign Finance Board says the second package, which has been moving on an extraordinarily fast timeline for city legislation, is moving too fast and has elements that still need tweaks.</p> <p>“The Board continues to believe it would be better to defer action on these bills rather than move forward at this time,” said a CFB spokesperson in an emailed statement. “Some of these bills could be improved further, however we recognize and appreciate the Council’s efforts to take our feedback into account.”</p> <p>“Specifically, the revised version of Int. No. 1355 makes substantive changes that reflect our concerns and maintains the CFB’s ability to protect the public funds invested in the Campaign Finance Program,” the statement concluded, referring to the aforementioned bill that was adjusted.</p> <p>It is unusual for the Council’s standards and ethics committee to hear legislation, especially campaign finance bills that typically go through the government operations committee. A spokesperson for the City Council Speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, previously told Gotham Gazette that the package introduced through standards and ethics was placed there because it was grouped with another bill that deals directly with the Conflicts of Interest Board. That bill, sponsored by Mark-Viverito, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6666-de-blasio-fails-to-explain-his-support-for-limits-on-groups-like-campaign-for-one-new-york" target="_blank">will put new limits on nonprofit organizations that are affiliated with elected officials</a> -- such as Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Campaign for One New York. The bill was also passed through committee on Wednesday and will be passed through the full Council on Thursday. Mark-Viverito will speak about it on Thursday at City Hall.</p> <p>The governmental operations committee is headed by Council Member Ben Kallos, who is more knowledgeable about the campaign finance system than Council Member Alan Maisel, the chair of the standards and ethics committee -- something Maisel acknowledged in a prior interview with Gotham Gazette. Kallos has expressed concerns about some of the second package of bills, including bill details and process.</p> <p>A spokesperson for Mark-Viverito did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this article about the rushed timeline of the second package of bills.</p> <p>Maisel <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6647-22-campaign-finance-bills-to-move-through-city-council-soon-speaker-says" target="_blank">previously told Gotham Gazette</a> that he is not familiar with campaign finance legislation, but that he is also confident that the CFB is not being weakened by the bills his committee will quickly pass.</p> <p>At his committee's vote on Wednesday, Maisel introduced the package with a few words. He first focused on Mark-Viverito's bill that would limit contributions that can be made to nonprofit groups aligned with elected officials.&nbsp;"This bill directly addresses the concern that organizations affiliated with elected officials can raise unlimited funds even from persons doing business with the city and even when the ultimate use of these funds is for the promotion of that elected official," Maisel said. "The city’s campaign finance laws limit contributions by persons doing business with the city to protect against the potential influence of that money and to prevent the appearance of corruption.&nbsp;But under current law, those limitations could not be applied to the contributions received by the affiliated organization like the Campaign for One New York.&nbsp;That is why today we are voting on the law with the same goal: to protect against potential attempts to influence one’s elected official and to prevent even the appearance of corruption with unlimited donations to an affiliated organization that promotes that elected official."</p> <p>

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been updated to reflect Wednesday's committee votes and new comment from Maisel.</p>
Hearing Advances Reforms to City Campaign Finance System 2016-05-02T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-02T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6315:hearing-advances-reforms-to-city-campaign-finance-system Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24299679141_892bf82d7e_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="kallos computer" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">As Mayor Bill de Blasio is mired in controversy over his fundraising activities and proximity to lobbyists, the City Council is moving on bills to reduce the possibility of ‘pay-to-play’ campaign financing and make significant tweaks to strengthen an already-robust public-matching system.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations held a hearing on Monday to examine <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6282-campaign-finance-reform-bills-to-be-heard" target="_blank">a package of eight bills</a> that would reform campaign finance rules and improve the city’s public matching funds program, which, though it has some critics, is often held up as a national model.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=481585&amp;GUID=83DF4002-3B45-4F8C-92CA-119A05128314&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">The bills</a>, introduced in November, aim to implement recommendations made by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (NYCCFB) after the 2013 city election cycle. Perhaps most notably, the bills would eliminate public matching funds for contributions bundled by people who do business with the city, provide earlier public matching funds to candidates, and improve disclosure requirements for companies or people that own entities that do business with the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee and prime sponsor of three of the bills, was particularly concerned about Intro. 985-A, his proposal to limit the influence of bundlers.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think it’s a matter of the public who want their voices to be louder than those of special interests to let their elected officials know that they need to sign on to this bill and they need to bring it to the floor of the Council,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette after the hearing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kallos got a boost during the hearing when Council Member David Greenfield asked to be added as a sponsor to the bill. The next step will be to drum up support from other Council members and, most importantly, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito before the bills can be voted through committee and head to the full Council. The process is still in its initial stages as the committee took expert testimony Monday, Greenfield would become just the fourth Council member, of 51, to sponsor <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2513778&amp;GUID=36CA4EF6-E001-428C-9344-AD6C9A5FE3F2&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">985-A</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Almost everyone who testified seemed to acknowledge that 985-A and Intro. 986, the early matching funds bill, were the more significant proposals. A number of good government groups also came out in support of the entire legislative package.</p> <p dir="ltr">Prudence Katze, research and policy manager for Common Cause New York, commended the city and the campaign finance board for progress administering “accessible” and “clean” local elections. “But, we still have many ways to improve and the bills before the Council today all go towards plugging the holes that still exist,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, also backed all the bills, but said 985-A was possibly the most “meaningful” and should be the Council’s number one priority. “It’s a common sense, much-needed piece of legislation, even more so given the rising scandals, the growing crime wave of corruption we see here in Albany that now seems to have reached down into New York City,” Dadey said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Campaign Finance Board reps strongly praised all the bills, albeit calling for the early matching funds bill to only go into effect after the 2017 elections so that all involved in the program can be properly prepared. Kallos said he was willing to make this change. “City lawmakers have regularly refreshed and updated the [campaign finance] program,” said Amy Loprest, executive director, NYCCFB, “ensuring it stays relevant as city campaigns and elections evolve.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Loprest also listed a number of measures the board has recently initiated to improve the system, including the implementation of an online contribution platform to help donors comply with campaign finance regulations, improved disclosure software, increased candidate trainings, and timely enforcement.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The bills before the committee today will help modernize the program,” Loprest said. “They will remove outdated or unnecessary requirements the law imposes on campaigns, help candidates better plan their campaigns, and importantly, they will strengthen the law’s protections against the influence of pay-to-play.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In a sign that the legislative package is likely to move forward, Henry Berger, special counsel to Mayor de Blasio, expressed the administration’s support for the eight bills “with a few technical corrections.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Berger noted, however, that the proposals do not address the CFB’s reliance on post-election auditing and enforcement procedures “which threaten the proper administration of public matching fund payments.” Noting that the CFB only started issuing audit reports for 2013 public fund recipients in May of 2015, he stated the administration’s interest in working with the Council on legislation to ensure that the CFB completes enforcement and payment determinations sooner in the election cycle. “Rather than piecemeal adjustments, the city needs a comprehensive overhaul to give every candidate a full and fair opportunity to respond to and resolve specific allegations in a timely manner before the election,” Berger said. “No candidate should be deprived of any public matching funds he or she has earned on the basis of unresolved allegations.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The hearing also saw consideration of two resolutions, sponsored by Kallos, calling on the state Legislature to pass the Voter Empowerment Act (VEA) and a constitutional amendment that would establish no-excuse absentee voting in the state. The VEA is a joint effort by State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, who was at the hearing. The omnibus bill would provide automatic voter registration and online registration, and change the state’s deadlines for people to register and choose their party enrollment. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">When Kallos asked what the city could do to help push these bills in Albany, Kavanagh appealed to Council members to drum up public support and to urge their Assembly member to join his effort before the end of the legislative session in Albany on June 16. The CFB’s voter outreach arm, NYC Votes, is helping to lead a lobbying coalition to Albany on Tuesday in support of the VEA.</p> <p>“Hope springs eternal,” said Kavanagh, pointing out the extra attention these issues have received because of the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections" target="_blank">primary election day debacle</a>. “What we need candidly is public pressure,” he added.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24299679141_892bf82d7e_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="kallos computer" /></p> <p>Council Member Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">As Mayor Bill de Blasio is mired in controversy over his fundraising activities and proximity to lobbyists, the City Council is moving on bills to reduce the possibility of ‘pay-to-play’ campaign financing and make significant tweaks to strengthen an already-robust public-matching system.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council’s Committee on Governmental Operations held a hearing on Monday to examine <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6282-campaign-finance-reform-bills-to-be-heard" target="_blank">a package of eight bills</a> that would reform campaign finance rules and improve the city’s public matching funds program, which, though it has some critics, is often held up as a national model.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=481585&amp;GUID=83DF4002-3B45-4F8C-92CA-119A05128314&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank">The bills</a>, introduced in November, aim to implement recommendations made by the New York City Campaign Finance Board (NYCCFB) after the 2013 city election cycle. Perhaps most notably, the bills would eliminate public matching funds for contributions bundled by people who do business with the city, provide earlier public matching funds to candidates, and improve disclosure requirements for companies or people that own entities that do business with the city.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Ben Kallos, chair of the committee and prime sponsor of three of the bills, was particularly concerned about Intro. 985-A, his proposal to limit the influence of bundlers.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think it’s a matter of the public who want their voices to be louder than those of special interests to let their elected officials know that they need to sign on to this bill and they need to bring it to the floor of the Council,” Kallos told Gotham Gazette after the hearing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kallos got a boost during the hearing when Council Member David Greenfield asked to be added as a sponsor to the bill. The next step will be to drum up support from other Council members and, most importantly, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito before the bills can be voted through committee and head to the full Council. The process is still in its initial stages as the committee took expert testimony Monday, Greenfield would become just the fourth Council member, of 51, to sponsor <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2513778&amp;GUID=36CA4EF6-E001-428C-9344-AD6C9A5FE3F2&amp;Options=&amp;Search=" target="_blank">985-A</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Almost everyone who testified seemed to acknowledge that 985-A and Intro. 986, the early matching funds bill, were the more significant proposals. A number of good government groups also came out in support of the entire legislative package.</p> <p dir="ltr">Prudence Katze, research and policy manager for Common Cause New York, commended the city and the campaign finance board for progress administering “accessible” and “clean” local elections. “But, we still have many ways to improve and the bills before the Council today all go towards plugging the holes that still exist,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, also backed all the bills, but said 985-A was possibly the most “meaningful” and should be the Council’s number one priority. “It’s a common sense, much-needed piece of legislation, even more so given the rising scandals, the growing crime wave of corruption we see here in Albany that now seems to have reached down into New York City,” Dadey said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Campaign Finance Board reps strongly praised all the bills, albeit calling for the early matching funds bill to only go into effect after the 2017 elections so that all involved in the program can be properly prepared. Kallos said he was willing to make this change. “City lawmakers have regularly refreshed and updated the [campaign finance] program,” said Amy Loprest, executive director, NYCCFB, “ensuring it stays relevant as city campaigns and elections evolve.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Loprest also listed a number of measures the board has recently initiated to improve the system, including the implementation of an online contribution platform to help donors comply with campaign finance regulations, improved disclosure software, increased candidate trainings, and timely enforcement.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The bills before the committee today will help modernize the program,” Loprest said. “They will remove outdated or unnecessary requirements the law imposes on campaigns, help candidates better plan their campaigns, and importantly, they will strengthen the law’s protections against the influence of pay-to-play.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In a sign that the legislative package is likely to move forward, Henry Berger, special counsel to Mayor de Blasio, expressed the administration’s support for the eight bills “with a few technical corrections.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Berger noted, however, that the proposals do not address the CFB’s reliance on post-election auditing and enforcement procedures “which threaten the proper administration of public matching fund payments.” Noting that the CFB only started issuing audit reports for 2013 public fund recipients in May of 2015, he stated the administration’s interest in working with the Council on legislation to ensure that the CFB completes enforcement and payment determinations sooner in the election cycle. “Rather than piecemeal adjustments, the city needs a comprehensive overhaul to give every candidate a full and fair opportunity to respond to and resolve specific allegations in a timely manner before the election,” Berger said. “No candidate should be deprived of any public matching funds he or she has earned on the basis of unresolved allegations.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The hearing also saw consideration of two resolutions, sponsored by Kallos, calling on the state Legislature to pass the Voter Empowerment Act (VEA) and a constitutional amendment that would establish no-excuse absentee voting in the state. The VEA is a joint effort by State Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, who was at the hearing. The omnibus bill would provide automatic voter registration and online registration, and change the state’s deadlines for people to register and choose their party enrollment. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">When Kallos asked what the city could do to help push these bills in Albany, Kavanagh appealed to Council members to drum up public support and to urge their Assembly member to join his effort before the end of the legislative session in Albany on June 16. The CFB’s voter outreach arm, NYC Votes, is helping to lead a lobbying coalition to Albany on Tuesday in support of the VEA.</p> <p>“Hope springs eternal,” said Kavanagh, pointing out the extra attention these issues have received because of the <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6297-as-problems-persist-city-council-to-examine-board-of-elections" target="_blank">primary election day debacle</a>. “What we need candidly is public pressure,” he added.</p> <p>

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
Push for a Better Mayor's Management Report Continues 2016-04-07T19:34:38+00:00 2016-04-07T19:34:38+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6270:push-for-a-better-mayors-management-report-continues Super User <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/311-cust-serv.jpg" alt="311-cust-serv" height="435" width="600" />&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p dir="ltr">The administration releases two detailed reports each year - the <a href="https://data.cityofnewyork.us/report" target="_blank">Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report</a> (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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">The data, which is available on <a href="https://data.cityofnewyork.us/report" target="_blank">an interactive website</a>, 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.</p> <p dir="ltr">“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.”</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">“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 &nbsp;the agencies.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The City Council, in its Monday <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/budget/2017/FY17-Preliminary-Budget-Response.pdf" target="_blank">response</a> 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.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24798070415_78dcbdc95c_z.jpg" alt="kallos rules hearing" style="margin: 8px; float: left;" height="200" width="300" />Kallos (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.</p> <p dir="ltr">“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?</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.”</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.”</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">Tarlow’s answer was unimpressive. “I actually don’t know,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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).</p> <p dir="ltr">“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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p dir="ltr">*Photo of Ben Kallos by William Alatriste</p> <p dir="ltr">Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization to Citizens Union.</p>
<p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/311-cust-serv.jpg" alt="311-cust-serv" height="435" width="600" />&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>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.</p> <p dir="ltr">The administration releases two detailed reports each year - the <a href="https://data.cityofnewyork.us/report" target="_blank">Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report</a> (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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">The data, which is available on <a href="https://data.cityofnewyork.us/report" target="_blank">an interactive website</a>, 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.</p> <p dir="ltr">“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.”</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">“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 &nbsp;the agencies.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The City Council, in its Monday <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/budget/2017/FY17-Preliminary-Budget-Response.pdf" target="_blank">response</a> 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.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24798070415_78dcbdc95c_z.jpg" alt="kallos rules hearing" style="margin: 8px; float: left;" height="200" width="300" />Kallos (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.</p> <p dir="ltr">“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?</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.”</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.”</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">Tarlow’s answer was unimpressive. “I actually don’t know,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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).</p> <p dir="ltr">“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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">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.</p> <p dir="ltr">

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

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p dir="ltr">*Photo of Ben Kallos by William Alatriste</p> <p dir="ltr">Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization to Citizens Union.</p>
8 Government Ops Agencies to Face Council Questions 2015-03-18T21:28:29+00:00 2015-03-18T21:28:29+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5641:8-government-ops-agencies-to-face-council-questions Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/ben_kallos.jpg" alt="ben kallos" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">CM Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)</span></p> <hr /> <p>As preliminary budget hearings at the City Council approach the end of their third week, the Committee on Governmental Operations will meet Thursday to evaluate the expense plan for a host of city agencies.</p> <p>Members of the committee, chaired by Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=386662&amp;GUID=47F6C384-09FB-45A1-9104-FF65F5C5EE18&amp;Options=info|&amp;Search=" target="_blank">will meet</a> representatives of eight city agencies to question them about performances and budgetary needs. The hearing will also look at the city's 59 community boards.</p> <p>"The Council Member's aim will be to ensure all tax dollars get spent wisely," and that "the operations of the agencies that Governmental Operations has oversight over are open, transparent and work seamlessly for the people," an aide to Kallos said by email.</p> <p>The hearing, which continues the Council's evaluation of Mayor Bill de Blasio's initial Fiscal Year 2016 spending plan, will look at the nuts and bolts of government function, including how the City runs the voting process, and much more. It will open with testimony from an executive of the Financial Information Services Agency (FISA), the body running the Payroll Management System, which processes over nine million payments and $28 billion worth of payroll annually.</p> <p>During last year's preliminary budget hearing, FISA's First Deputy Director, Rose Ellen Myers, said the budget allotted to her agency for Fiscal Year 2015 was sufficient to allow it to maintain its current levels of service.</p> <p>According to the preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2016, FISA will be one of the three agencies under the supervision of the Governmental Operations Committee that will not face budget reductions. The other two are the Tax Commission and the Office of Administrative Trials &amp; Hearings (OATH). These numbers are based on the preliminary fiscal 2016 outline from the mayor versus the adjusted 2015 expense budget.</p> <p><a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/omb/downloads/pdf/perc2_15.pdf" target="_blank">As outlined</a> in de Blasio's expense plan, which he announced in early February, other agencies supervised by the Committee on Governmental Operations will have to deal with budgetary cuts.</p> <p>The Law Department will see its budget diminished by nearly $9 million. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which manages some of the city's real estate properties and provides logistic support to city employees, will be provided $44 million less this coming fiscal year, set to begin July 1.</p> <p>The New York City's Board of Elections will see a drop of over $29 million, which could have to do with the BOE's limited electioneering responsibilities in November of 2015. But, performance of and funding at the BOE are significant issues. During the preliminary budget hearing last year, BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan began his testimony by denouncing a "chronic and sustained budgetary underfunding" that has impacted the office in the last several years.</p> <p>"This consistent underfunding has placed the Board in financial jeopardy and has negatively impacted the Board's ability to effectively and efficiently conduct elections," Ryan said on that occasion, adding that the agency needed more funds "in order to fulfill its constitutional and statutory mission successfully."</p> <p>During that same hearing, however, Council Member David Greenfield, a Brooklyn Democrat on the government operations committee, downplayed a "conspiracy to go after the Board of Elections" and ultimately asked Ryan to do more with less.</p> <p>Called to testify at <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5616-mail-your-vote-then-track-it-absentee-ballot-voting-kallos" target="_blank">a hearing of the committee on March 3</a>, Ryan and other representatives from the Board of Election said the agency is working on new software to allow online tracking of absentee ballots and communication with voters about the status of their ballot applications.</p> <p>The price tag for such reform, however, is still unknown. It is possible the agency will request more funds in order to implement it, and to be sufficiently equipped leading up to coming elections.</p> <p>At the hearing on Thursday, members of the committee will likely ask Ryan about the need for additional funds, introducing the possibility that more money could be earmarked to sustain the Board of Elections' efforts to expand and defend voters' participation. The Council will give its response to de Blasio's preliminary budget in April, requesting that he include more funding for certain agencies and initiatives in his Executive Budget.</p> <p>While urging the City Council for more funding, however, representatives of the BOE are expected to be aggressively probed by the committee members on a number of issues. One of these is the capacity of the BOE to ensure its Electronic Voting System will work efficiently.</p> <p>During the budget hearing in 2014, Greenfield pointed out the electronic machines voters use to cast their ballots have stalled in the past, creating problems at poll sites.</p> <p>Another object of scrutiny will be the Board of Elections' hiring process. The city Department of Investigation has suggested the agency run a background check on every worker it hires during an election.</p> <p>Ryan, however, said that while the agency does already perform a criminal background screening of its full-time employees, the same procedure would be difficult to implement in the case of the 36,000 poll workers who are hired temporarily. Ryan took over at the BOE not long before the 2013 city elections took place.</p> <p>Kallos said long-standing issues at the Board of Elections will ultimately get fixed.</p> <p>"There has been some forward movement and some stagnation," he told Gotham Gazette in an email. In response, he said, he will push forward the necessary reforms to eradicate "nepotism and patronage" from the agency.</p> <p>***<br />by Marco Poggio, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/ben_kallos.jpg" alt="ben kallos" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">CM Ben Kallos (photo: William Alatriste)</span></p> <hr /> <p>As preliminary budget hearings at the City Council approach the end of their third week, the Committee on Governmental Operations will meet Thursday to evaluate the expense plan for a host of city agencies.</p> <p>Members of the committee, chaired by Manhattan Council Member Ben Kallos, <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=386662&amp;GUID=47F6C384-09FB-45A1-9104-FF65F5C5EE18&amp;Options=info|&amp;Search=" target="_blank">will meet</a> representatives of eight city agencies to question them about performances and budgetary needs. The hearing will also look at the city's 59 community boards.</p> <p>"The Council Member's aim will be to ensure all tax dollars get spent wisely," and that "the operations of the agencies that Governmental Operations has oversight over are open, transparent and work seamlessly for the people," an aide to Kallos said by email.</p> <p>The hearing, which continues the Council's evaluation of Mayor Bill de Blasio's initial Fiscal Year 2016 spending plan, will look at the nuts and bolts of government function, including how the City runs the voting process, and much more. It will open with testimony from an executive of the Financial Information Services Agency (FISA), the body running the Payroll Management System, which processes over nine million payments and $28 billion worth of payroll annually.</p> <p>During last year's preliminary budget hearing, FISA's First Deputy Director, Rose Ellen Myers, said the budget allotted to her agency for Fiscal Year 2015 was sufficient to allow it to maintain its current levels of service.</p> <p>According to the preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2016, FISA will be one of the three agencies under the supervision of the Governmental Operations Committee that will not face budget reductions. The other two are the Tax Commission and the Office of Administrative Trials &amp; Hearings (OATH). These numbers are based on the preliminary fiscal 2016 outline from the mayor versus the adjusted 2015 expense budget.</p> <p><a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/omb/downloads/pdf/perc2_15.pdf" target="_blank">As outlined</a> in de Blasio's expense plan, which he announced in early February, other agencies supervised by the Committee on Governmental Operations will have to deal with budgetary cuts.</p> <p>The Law Department will see its budget diminished by nearly $9 million. The Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which manages some of the city's real estate properties and provides logistic support to city employees, will be provided $44 million less this coming fiscal year, set to begin July 1.</p> <p>The New York City's Board of Elections will see a drop of over $29 million, which could have to do with the BOE's limited electioneering responsibilities in November of 2015. But, performance of and funding at the BOE are significant issues. During the preliminary budget hearing last year, BOE Executive Director Michael Ryan began his testimony by denouncing a "chronic and sustained budgetary underfunding" that has impacted the office in the last several years.</p> <p>"This consistent underfunding has placed the Board in financial jeopardy and has negatively impacted the Board's ability to effectively and efficiently conduct elections," Ryan said on that occasion, adding that the agency needed more funds "in order to fulfill its constitutional and statutory mission successfully."</p> <p>During that same hearing, however, Council Member David Greenfield, a Brooklyn Democrat on the government operations committee, downplayed a "conspiracy to go after the Board of Elections" and ultimately asked Ryan to do more with less.</p> <p>Called to testify at <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5616-mail-your-vote-then-track-it-absentee-ballot-voting-kallos" target="_blank">a hearing of the committee on March 3</a>, Ryan and other representatives from the Board of Election said the agency is working on new software to allow online tracking of absentee ballots and communication with voters about the status of their ballot applications.</p> <p>The price tag for such reform, however, is still unknown. It is possible the agency will request more funds in order to implement it, and to be sufficiently equipped leading up to coming elections.</p> <p>At the hearing on Thursday, members of the committee will likely ask Ryan about the need for additional funds, introducing the possibility that more money could be earmarked to sustain the Board of Elections' efforts to expand and defend voters' participation. The Council will give its response to de Blasio's preliminary budget in April, requesting that he include more funding for certain agencies and initiatives in his Executive Budget.</p> <p>While urging the City Council for more funding, however, representatives of the BOE are expected to be aggressively probed by the committee members on a number of issues. One of these is the capacity of the BOE to ensure its Electronic Voting System will work efficiently.</p> <p>During the budget hearing in 2014, Greenfield pointed out the electronic machines voters use to cast their ballots have stalled in the past, creating problems at poll sites.</p> <p>Another object of scrutiny will be the Board of Elections' hiring process. The city Department of Investigation has suggested the agency run a background check on every worker it hires during an election.</p> <p>Ryan, however, said that while the agency does already perform a criminal background screening of its full-time employees, the same procedure would be difficult to implement in the case of the 36,000 poll workers who are hired temporarily. Ryan took over at the BOE not long before the 2013 city elections took place.</p> <p>Kallos said long-standing issues at the Board of Elections will ultimately get fixed.</p> <p>"There has been some forward movement and some stagnation," he told Gotham Gazette in an email. In response, he said, he will push forward the necessary reforms to eradicate "nepotism and patronage" from the agency.</p> <p>***<br />by Marco Poggio, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p>