Every two weeks the New York City Council meets for its Stated Meeting to introduce and pass legislation. As a regular feature, Searchlight covers these meetings and posts a summary of the bills passed.
COUNCIL CODE OF CONDUCT
The New York City Council voted to change its own internal policies regarding employment discrimination and harassment.
One amendment bans all forms of workplace harassment - whether it is racial, ethnic, religious or sexual in nature. It requires that anyone who receives a complaint report it to the speaker’s office.
Another amendment establishes a new code of conduct for council members. It defines "disorderly behavior" and gives the council new powers to discipline anyone who violates the rules, ranging from an official reprimand to expulsion from the council.
"This sends a strong message of zero-tolerance of any type of harassment," said Speaker Christine Quinn.
Quinn ordered a review of the body's harassment policies shortly after taking office in January. Last year, Queens Councilmember Allan Jennings (who is no longer in office) was found guilty of improperly firing one employee on his staff and creating a hostile work environment.
The council spent nine months investigating the incidents, and former Speaker Gifford Miller was criticized for how he handled the complaints.
"We saw over the course of that nine-month investigation that we need to make City Hall a very serious place," said Councilmember Joel Rivera, who chaired the committee charged with dealing with the Jennings' case. "I'm sure with these changes that we will not have anyone else who needs to appear before our Standard's and Ethics Committee in the future - knock on wood."
CHILD ABUSE REPORTING
Another council bill will require that the Administration for Children's Services provide new quarterly reports on its efforts to combat child abuse. Under the legislation (Intro 15-A), the agency must report information such as the number of child abuse complaints it receives, how many cases each staff person is working on, and how the agency is responding to individual incidents.
The bill was drafted in response to the death of Nixzmary Brown, a 7-year old girl who was beaten to death by her stepfather while under the supervision of the agency.
Councilmember Bill deBlasio said that if the new regulations had been in place at the time, Brown's death might have been prevented.
"We need public accountability, and we haven't had it up until now," said deBlasio. "We will be able to see what is working, what is not working and make changes accordingly."
HEALTH BENEFIT FUND
As part of this year's budget proposal, Mayor Michael Bloomberg called for the creation of $2 billion trust fund for retiree health benefits. The fund is a plan to pay for future health care costs for city employees.
The council has supported the plan and recently allocated $1 billion toward the plan.
At the meeting, the council voted to officially create the fund that will be monitored by the city comptroller.
"This is a good and bold idea," said Quinn.
(For another view of the health fund, see a Gotham Gazette article)
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS VEHICLES
In recent years, the council has worked to require that city-owned vehicles meet certain fuel and hybrid technology standards in an effort to reduce pollution. At the same time, lawmakers do not want the regulations to limit the city's ability to purchase the specialized emergency vehicles it needs.
The council passed an exemption from the fuel-efficient requirements (Intro 208-A) for certain buses and emergency response vehicles used by the Department of Corrections. The office of emergency management, the sheriff’s office, police department, and the fire department are already allowed to bypass the regulations when purchasing emergency equipment.
"This bill makes sure that the Department of Corrections has the tools they need to do their job," said Councilmember James Gennaro.
All of these bills passed by a vote of 50 to 0.
The next Stated Meeting is scheduled for June 28, 2006.