|For Immediate Release
April 4, 2008
212.227.0342 ext. 16
STATEMENT BY DICK DADEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
REGARDING CITY COUNCIL HANDLING OF MEMBER ITEMS
AND PROPOSAL FOR GREATER OVERSIGHT OF PROCESS
Citizens Union is troubled to learn of the City Council's practice of appropriating taxpayer funds for member items in a way that was outside an accountable and transparent budget process.
We also are troubled that this reported two decade-old practice seems not to have been questioned or discovered by either the Office of Management and Budget or the City Comptroller's office given that both are involved in the post budget process involving the accounting, contracting, and dispersal of member items.
The revelations are all the more disconcerting because Speaker Christine Quinn has been a champion of reform, bringing about needed improvements to our campaign finance program, lobbying laws, and the council's review and approval of the city budget.
We appreciate Speaker Quinn's public disclosure yesterday of the practice and her steps to end it, but are nonetheless concerned that information surrounding the practice and her efforts to end it were not made public until now. It would have been in New Yorkers' best interests had she made ending the shadow practice public when she also implemented new procedures and added transparency to the decision-making process of member items.
We appreciate the need for elected officials and city agency heads to have the flexibility to respond to emergency needs that occur during the year after a budget has been adopted, but believe that such flexibility must be transparent, above board, and accountable, which this practice was not. Hidden flexibility, as was the case with the place-holding of false member items with phantom non profits, allows for unaccountable discretion that can be used in inappropriate ways.
Citizens Union today is calling for two actions:
That Speaker Quinn a) release all relevant information and materials related to this practice, b) explain more fully why her directive to staff was not followed, c) explain why she did not seek to end the practice in her first year, and d) announce what steps she is taking to bring even greater accountability to the process of member items. Such additional disclosure will help assuage the public's need to know and heal the rupture in the integrity of the city budget decision making process.
That an additional level of review and scrutiny be established to ensure that all budgeted member items are a) fully and completely disclosed, b) given to legitimate and legally chartered non-profit organizations and c) serve a legitimate public purpose. The city should implement a process similar to the one established last year by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, whose office now formally reviews each approved member item to ensure that the appropriation and its use complies with state law. Either the Corporation Counsel, or Department of Investigations, or similar entity, could be empowered to perform such a function.
Citizens Union of the City of New York, a
non-partisan force for good government for more
than 100 years, works to inform and engage New
Yorkers, to ensure local and state government
values its citizens, addresses critical issues,
and operates in a fair, open, and fiscally sound