CIVIC CENTER — A group of city council members seeking to shift the balance of power away from the speakers and towards individual members took a step closer to their goal Wednesday, releasing a five point package of reforms they want to see put into effect.
The five-point package of reforms, spearheaded by Brooklyn Councilmen Brad Lander, Jumaane Williams and David Greenfield, and Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera, has already gotten the support of 30 standing city councilmen and women as well as candidates. That's more than the number of votes needed to be put into effect after the new City Council takes power on Jan 8.
The changes, first reported by DNAinfo New York in September, would make the next council “a more responsive, transparent and effective legislature for New York City,” according to Lander, who also co-chairs the council’s Progressive Caucus.
The fleshed-out proposals are designed to change the culture of the council as well as its power structure, according to the reform team.
These measures would provide more resources to members about what resources are being allocated in their district, as well as empowering them to better communicate with their constituents. They would also make the grievance process easier if they feel the council is not following its own rules.
But the reform agenda’s biggest changes would come in how discretionary member items are allocated, how legislation gets heard, and how much power committee chairs wield.
Member items would be allocated on a “fair and objective basis,” according to its backers. This could take the form of either by an equal distribution to each district, through a formula based mostly on need, based on issue-driven initiatives, or through a combination of all three.
The doling out of member items has source of controversy for those who complain that the Speaker’s office uses the money to reward friends and punish enemies. The proposed changes could take the funding process almost entirely out of the next Speaker’s hands.
“Member items are very important and we don’t want them to become politicized,” said Cabrera.
The changes would also affect how legislation gets drafted and voted. Under the current rules, the Speaker’s office has control over the writing of the bills and which ones come to the floor. The proposal would make the bill-writing unit an independent body, and it would allow a bill that has the support of the vast majority of the council to come to a vote. Currently, the Speaker’s office largely controls whether legislation moves forward.
“The concept is very simple: If there is legislation that has wide support from the City Council that legislation should get, at the very least, a hearing, and the committee should decide at a vote if they want to move that legislation out of a hearing or not,” Greenfield said.
According to Lander, the list of proposals will be introduced to the new council in January, following the selection of the next Speaker.
Three members known to be actively seeking the speakership, Queens Councilman Mark Weprin and Manhattan Councilmembers Melissa Mark-Viverito and Dan Garodnick, have put their names down as supporters of the reform package. Other members being floated as possible Speaker candidates include Manhattan Councilwoman Inez Dickens and Bronx Councilmembers Annabel Palma and Jimmy Vacca. Dickens, Palma and Vacca have not signed on to the reform suggestions.
When asked if the proposals would be a litmus test for support of council candidates, Lander said only that, “the people who have signed on to this platform today have signed on to this platform today.”