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Ethics Code for Administrative Judges Vote No

The two city charter amendments on the ballot unnecessarily and unwisely shift power to the mayor and away from our city council. The proposals come from a little-known charter revision commission appointed by the mayor.

They are unnecessary because these changes could easily be enacted as a local law, proposed by the mayor and enacted by the council.

They are unwise because the shift of power goes against the traditional American system of government, in which the legislative branch writes the laws and the executive branch carries them out. The separation of powers has served our country well.

These proposals are the latest in a series of proposals by mayoral administrations to carve out areas where they could make their own rules and not have to deal with the city council. They are not good government.

This is not about whether you like the current mayor; it’s about how the city government should be set up.

Proposal 3 would require the mayor’s administration to adopt an ethics code governing the city’s various administrative law judges (hearing officers). The charter revision commission itself concedes that the hearing officers are already covered by the conflict-of-interest and ethics laws, including the penal law, enacted by the state legislature which apply to all state and local public officials. A specific ethics code focusing on these hearing officers may be helpful. But it is wrong to put that code exclusively under control of the mayor.

These proposed changes give significant power to the mayor or mayoral appointees and shut out the city council.

You won’t see anything about shutting out the city council if you read the proposals. But the courts have repeatedly ruled that if the city charter (the city’s “constitution”) says the mayor may do something, or that certain regulations shall be made by a particular agency, then a local law enacted by the city council on that subject is not valid. The courts say that the charter gave that power to the mayor or the agency, not to the council.

Why did the mayor’s charter commission put this on the ballot? That’s a good question.

It is not because the mayor proposed it as a local law and the council stubbornly refused to pass it. The mayor never submitted it to the council. (The same is true for Proposal 4.)

The mayor has two reasons for wanting this on the ballot. One is that under state law, if a charter commission proposes a charter change to go on the ballot – even a change just to move a comma – that automatically blocks any charter change proposed by petition from going on the ballot that year. This year, the mayor wanted to block the petition for a charter amendment dealing with public school class size.

The other reason is to shift power from the city council to the mayor.

The substantive idea in Proposal 3 – an ethics code specifically directed at hearing officers – might be helpful and the mayor could easily propose a bill to the city council.

But locking into the charter language that puts that issue exclusively in the mayor’s hands is bad government.

Assemblymember Richard N. Gottfried represents the 75th assembly district, which includes parts of Manhattan, in the state legislature.  

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