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De Blasio Administration Wants Total Control of Hiring Process, Memo Shows

 Mayor Bill de Blasio's office has demanded total control over his administration's hiring process, even for chiefs of staff, press officers and other lower-level positions.
Mayor Bill de Blasio's office has demanded total control over his administration's hiring process, even for chiefs of staff, press officers and other lower-level positions.
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DNAinfo/Colby Hamilton

CIVIC CENTER — Mayor Bill de Blasio is demanding total control over the hiring process in his new administration — including direct oversight of deputy commissioners, chiefs of staff and press secretaries — and those with inside knowledge say it could be slowing down the process.

The mayor's office plans to closely oversee all hiring decisions, not just those of department heads, including handpicking resumés of worthy candidates for several layers of subordinate positions, and getting final approval for all proposed hires, according to a memo obtained by DNAinfo New York.

“After you select a candidate…you must submit requests for approval to hire the candidate from your Deputy Mayor and for final approval from the Mayor’s Chief of Staff prior to appointment,” de Blasio’s Chief of Staff Laura Santucci wrote to agency heads on March 31. “All approvals are subject to City Hall background integrity screening of the candidate.”

“The Mayor’s Office of Appointments will provide [agencies] with resumés of candidates that meet the needs” of the agencies, the memo added, noting that agencies can still present their own candidates for hire. “Collectively, we are committed to appointing exceptional and diverse leaders who will aggressively pursue the goals and priorities of this administration."

The level of screening includes all hires for deputy, associate or assistant commissioners, as well as chiefs of staff and press secretaries, according to the memo. The memo comes as de Blasio has yet to appoint some of his own key agency heads, including a commissioner for the FDNY and a director for the Office of Emergency Management. Both jobs are currently filled by holdovers from the Bloomberg administration.

“All Commissioners and Office Directors will be actively involved in the process to ensure that the appointees to these boards and commissions are committed to this administration’s priorities, are qualified and are diverse,” the memo says. “To achieve this goal, the Mayor’s Office…will collaborate with you on the appointment of members to boards relevant to your agency.”

According to a Democratic source familiar with de Blasio’s operation, the memo helps explain the slow pace of appointments and decision making within the administration.

“The mayor and his office have suffered because of their overwhelming focus on ideology,” the source said. “The mayor’s focus should be on delivering services and carrying out the day-to-day functions of city government. It should not be waging some ideological crusade.”

The source, too, felt the emphasis and tight control over hiring had the potential to undermine what are generally regarded as non-partisan jobs.

“The mayor’s going to be judged on how he handles crime, how he handles the school system,” the source said. “The mayor should never put ideology before competence, and it looks like that’s what they’re doing.”

De Blasio's office dismissed the suggestion it's hiring practices either undercut its ability to find talent, as well as the belief that it was radically different than hiring practices from the previous administration.

“We’ve built a team that’s been widely praised for its depth of experience and its diversity," said de Blasio spokesman Wiley Norvell in a statement. "It’s been a longstanding policy, including by past administrations, to collaborate on bringing new high-level talent to City agencies, to suggest this is new or odd is disingenuous."

Aides to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg also blasted the memo, saying the ideology-based hiring process is the antithesis of seeking out high-quality staff, which they say was Bloomberg's first priority.

“The Bloomberg philosophy was that we wanted our people to hire the best people, and not worry about what their allegiances are, or what their party was,” said the longtime aide.

“The idea that the mayor’s office would screen or vet the deputy commissioner of the police department or the deputy commissioner of the Office of Emergency Management — it’s just not how we operated both in practice and in philosophy."

But Bloomberg's philosophy was blasted by many critics — including the current mayor when he was public advocate — who said the previous administration's philosophy led to it being almost entirely staffed by white men.

De Blasio's memo showed a “clear intent” to bring decision-making power to a small group of people at the top of the administration, according to a Democratic aide.

“You have to be very careful when you politicize jobs at certain agencies,” the person said. “That’s the guy collecting snow. I don’t know if that’s the guy you want just because he’s progressive.”

3/31 de Blasio memo