BY JOE MARVILLI
Last week, the City Council passed a series of rules reforms, making changes inward rather than outward.
All 51 members voted unanimously on the overhaul, which eliminates the Council Speaker’s ability to give out discretionary funds. In a break from the City Council under previous speaker Christine Quinn, all of the councilmembers will receive equal distribution of member items, removing their use as a political tool.
Quinn’s time as speaker included criticism from Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and former councilman Peter Vallone Jr. that she would restrict or decrease discretionary funds from those who disagreed with her, such as the two officials mentioned. Equalizing the funding for these items is partially meant to prevent these types of abuses. Instead, every district will get the same amount, with a few areas getting needs-based increases, determined by the number of people in poverty in each district.
Crowley was pleased that the changes would prevent dissenting councilmembers, and their districts, from being punished by the Speaker.
“We are reforming the rules so that never again will one leader be able to use these public dollars to punish another leader,” she said. “A tension that defined culture within the Council for the last several years has finally been lifted.”
The process will also become more transparent, with discretionary spending awards added to the City’s Open Data Plan. City capital projects will be a part of the open data plan as well, so all aspects of discretionary spending are available to view.
“My colleagues and I have vowed to make this City Council the most inclusive, responsive and transparent legislative body it can be,” Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said. “We are changing the very culture of the Council to make our legislative body a better, stronger and more effective force for City government. This reform package is the result of months of hard work and represents courageous reforms New Yorkers can and should be very proud of.”
The rules package will also make it easier for members to introduce bills and amendments to bills that they are not sponsoring.
“Our new rules reform package will ensure that the City Council is more transparent, fair and accountable to the public,” Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) said. “For far too long, member items and legislation that could have benefited everyday New Yorkers were held up in a bureaucracy because of politics, and today we have taken a step to ensure these practices are ceased.”
Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) agreed with Richards that the new rules will make the bill introduction and voting process fairer for all members.
“The Council is strongest when members have a full and fair opportunity to introduce, debate and vote on legislation that our constituents care about without burdensome procedural obstacles or fear of political retribution, and these rules reforms go a long way toward achieving that ideal,” he said.
Several other councilmembers from across Queens praised the reforms as long-needed and a step in the right direction.
“I am a firm believer in operating with transparency, equality, and inclusivity. The reforms highlighted in this proposal, particularly those regarding member items and discretionary funding transparency, will grant New Yorkers a greater degree of engagement and awareness of the City Council’s actions and allow us council members to better serve our respective districts,” Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) said.
Mark-Viverito was complimented by Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing), who was pleased that she was fulfilling the promises she made when running for the Speaker’s position.
“So far, the Speaker has truly governed under the notion of ‘first among equals,’ and I applaud her for that,” he said. “I was happy to vote for and pass this package with my colleagues.”
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Joey788.