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New York City Council Stated Meeting Report

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.

STATED MEETING - May 19, 2004

Quote of the Day:
"I know that this is not sexy and I don't expect to see it on page one, but this package [of bills]... is one of the most significant changes we've made in city government in two and half years." - Councilmember Lew Fidler on the bills to reform the city's contracting rules.

Meeting Summary:
The contracting and purchasing rules that govern how the city spends nearly $9 billion a year have been described as bureaucratic, corrupt, and archane.

Non-profit organizations argue that payments from the city are routinely late (an owner of a day care center in the Bronx once testified that she pawned her jewelry to pay her rent because the city was six months behind). Politicians charge each other with using contracts to play political games. And many argue that government contracts are full of fraud.

Nearly everyone in city government agrees that reform has been needed; the debate has focused on how is should be done and who should do it.

Last year, Mayor Michael Bloomberg asked New Yorkers to vote on a ballot initiative that would revamp the city's contracting rules. City Council members argued that the reform should go through the legislative process, not be decided by voters who do not understand the complex laws. The council also offered a package of bills that they argued would achieve the same goals in a more effective and open manner.

On Election Day, voters defeated the contracting ballot question, in part because opponents lumped several of the mayor's ballot initiatives together - including the most controversial one to establish non-partisan elections.

On May 19, 2004, more than seven months later, the City Council voted on its contracting reform package. The measures passed unanimously by a vote of 50 to 0.

Members promised that the 12 bills will:
- Streamline the city's contracting process
- Put more of the bidding and contracting process online
- Provide for timely and efficient distribution of funds
- And establish public hearings on specific contracts.

"This is good for New York City and will save New York City taxpayers a lot of money," said Councilmember Robert Jackson, head of the contracts committee.

The City Council also voted to override Mayor Bloomberg's veto of a bill (Intro 179) that requires the Department of Sanitation to notify residents of the times that they will be in the neighborhood to issue violations for littered sidewalks. Some homeowners have complained that they leave their house for several hours and return to find trash on their sidewalk and a fine stuck to their door. The council has dubbed it the "Fair Fines Bill."

"Everybody wants clean streets in the city," said Speaker Gifford Miller. "But people shouldn't have to sit at home and stare out their window 24-hours a day in order to be sure they are complying with the law."

The council overrode the mayor's veto by a vote of 50 to 0. Mayor Bloomberg has said he will take the issue to court.

The next Stated Meeting is scheduled for June 7, 2004.

For an archive of past meetings and council votes, visit Gotham Gazette's Searchlight.