Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

City Council Stated Meeting - March 22, 2006

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.

"The fact that it took my staff over 20 minute to print my remarks because the system kept freezing over is ample reason for the overhaul.” - Queens Councilmember David Weprin on the council's plan to spend nearly half a million dollars to upgrade its computer system.

Nearly two months after the City Council began its session and elected Christine Quinn as its new speaker, the legislative body's focus continues to be its own internal issues. This week, it proposed its own operating budget and remembered a former council member.

The City Council proposed its own $50.7 million operating budget for the coming fiscal year. The budget covers salaries for council members, staff, office rent, and equipment. The council plans to increase spending by 2.5 percent - or a $1.2 million more than last year.

The number of staff employed by the council (278 people) will remain the same, and individual members will continue to make the same $90,500 base salary (although those who serve as committee chairs also get stipends ranging from $5,000 to $25,000).

Speaker Quinn said the additional money will be spent in three areas.

The council has allocated $303,000 for the creation of "Council Stat," a system for compiling constituent complaints from all 51 district offices. The database will be modeled after other initiatives like Comp Stat, the police department's system for monitoring crime. The goal is to track calls to individual members so that the council can better respond to community needs.

"We need to know what New Yorkers are calling us about so we can make sure we are doing the best job we can to solve their problems and also to see what the trends are citywide and boroughwide," said Quinn.

The council believes that its system will not replicate the 311 call line, arguing that people who call a council member are seeking help from a local government representative, not just a city agency. Speaker Quinn also noted that Mayor Michael Bloomberg does not share the data from 311, so it does not help the council in its role of serving constituents.

The council will spend $467,000 to upgrade its computer system, which members and staff complain is woefully out of date. The council staff currently uses three different e-mail systems and the Web site crashes on a regular basis.

"The fact that it took my staff over 20 minute to print my remarks because the system kept freezing over is ample reason for the overhaul," said Queens Councilmember David Weprin.

Finally, the council plans to spend a total of $281,000 more for rent for the main office at 250 Broadway and for individual members' district offices. Over the past two years, the cost of rent for district offices has increased by 14 percent.

In a break from the past, Speaker Quinn promised that she would not add more money to the council budget later in the year, as has often been the practice. Last year, after approving its budget in July, the council added an additional $2 million a few months later in November.

"We are committing to operating the council within that budget allocation and not to increase our spending mid-year," said Quinn.

The council passed only one new bill (Intro 118) which takes the first step in extending the current rent stabilization laws in New York City for another three years. The matter, however, is not fully within the council's control. The bill fulfills the city's responsibilty for continuing the regulations, but the State Legislature has ultimate authority on the matter.

So it also passed a resolution (Res 79) urging the State Legislature to repeal the Urstadt Law, which took control of rent regulation out of the hands of the city government and gave it to the state legislature in 1971.

"It is outrageous that we have to be subject to upstate laws that dictate the affordability of rent in the City of New York," said Manhattan Councilmember Miguel Martinez.

The measures passed by a vote of 48 to 2. Two Republicans - Andrew Lanza and Dennis Gallagher - voted "no;" the third Republican James Oddo was absent.

The majority of the meeting was dedicated to rememberances of former City Councilmember Robert Dryfoos, who died on March 2, 2006.

Dryfoos served in the council from 1980 to 1991, representing the Upper East Side. Members praised him for his efforts to save Radio City Music Hall from demolition, for developing educational TV programs such as "Live From Lincoln Center," and for his dedication to children's issues.

Dryfoos, however, was best known for a vote he cast in 1986, when he defied the Manhattan and Brooklyn Democratic political bosses to support Peter Vallone, as the first speaker of the council. Dryfoos had promised the leaders that he would support a Brooklyn representative, but at the last minute he gave his support to Vallone, handing him a victory by a vote of 18 to 17.

"It wasn't a vote for me," said the former Speaker Vallone, who made an appearance to honor his friend. "It was a vote for the independence of the council."

After leaving the council in 1991, Dryfoos founded a political lobbying firm called the Dryfoos Group, where he represented after-school programs, educational organizations, and the New York Junior Tennis League, which organizes tennis programs at schools across the city.

In recent years, Dryfoos was often at City Hall, and council members said that when it came to passing the budget there even was a list of programs that everyone referred to as "Dryfoos items."

"Soon we are going to be passing a bill that bans lobbyists from being on the floor of the council during a Stated Meeting," said Brooklyn Councilmember Lew Fidler. "But in spirit, Bob Dryfoos will always be on the floor of the council."

The next Stated Meeting is scheduled for April 5, 2006, when the council will vote on the proposal to build a new stadium for the New York Yankees in the Bronx.

For information on the issues surround the stadium, visit Gotham Gazette's Land Use Links in the News. To read about the parks involved in the stadium plan, see Yankee Stadium Parkland Swap.



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