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Ten Questions About Public Integrity For Citywide Candidates 2013
Responses from Christine Quinn

1. Certain major scandals in New York City government over the years have involved abuse of the contracting system by private vendors. Please describe what reforms, if any, you believe are needed to promote integrity in contracting.

I think the Bloomberg administration has done a good job of preventing corruption in the procurement process. However there have been some notable exceptions in which vendors have defrauded the City and as Speaker of the City Council I stepped in to make sure incidents like these do not happen again. Most notable was the City Time contract which went over budget for years until it was discovered that a subcontractor had been over billing by hundreds of millions of dollars. While the city ultimately recovered these funds the incident put into sharp focus the difficult monitoring that is needed for large multifaceted contractsparticularly technology contracts. As a result the Council passed a law requiring that any time contracts related to such complexes goes over budget by a certain amount then it must be reported to the Council along with an analysis of the increased expenditure. That requirement will keep agencies on their toes and on the lookout for fraud and mismanagement. The Council also passed the HPD Transparency Act which requires vendors and subcontractors to provide information relevant to contracts to build affordable housing to ensure the quality of the construction and vendor performance. I believe we must build on these effortsparticularly as it relates to large multipronged contracts to ensure integrity in the procurement process.

2. Other scandals have involved agencies that conduct inspections and issue permits, such as the Building Department and the Health Department. Please describe what reforms, if any, you believe are needed to reduce integrity risk in these areas.

I believe that there are several components to a strong anticorruption program for inspectors with the kinds of power that they do at the Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Department of Buildings. First, the laws must clearly prohibit and punish misuse of one’s position. Chapter 68 of the New York City Charter is explicit in this regard. Second, the Mayor must set a tone from the top, through the Commissions and every level to the inspectors, that misuse of position will not be tolerated. The Mayor must set an example (for example, through awards as well as disciplinary measures, highlighting best practices), as well as use of the bully pulpit. Third, the Department of Investigation must have a strong presence at the agencies, and in particular with the inspector programs. Fourth, the Charter now requires Conflicts of Interest training for all City employees. This is being done online. I believe that inperson training should be provided to those employees in these high integrity risk positions. Finally, the anticorruption standards and programs established by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Commission, designed for corporations, should be adapted for use at every City agency.

3. Another area of frequent concern involves the relationship between public officials and their private business ventures or their business relationships with nonprofit and community organizations. Please describe what reforms, if any, you believe are needed to reduce integrity risk in these areas.

I believe there are a number of steps that can be taken to reduce integrity risks associated with relationships that City officials have with outside organizations and businesses. First, just as we have done at the City Council, it is important to have clear guidelines on what relationships and activities are and are not allowed. At the City Council we have sought clarification on what activities are proscribed by law and then engaged in extensive education efforts to ensure that these rules are followed. Second, when relationships exist, the public should know. Disclosure is very important. Third, public officials should be monitored and punished for violating these rules. This is vital not just to ensure that City funds and programs are not misused, but to ensure that the public has confidence in the government.

4. Have you developed specific policies and procedures in your own career, whether in the public or private sector and including in your current campaign, to promote integrity in any office or organization you have led?

I have spent the past 7 plus years strengthening the integrity of operations at the City Council, the budget process, and supporting similar efforts throughout government. In particular, as Council Speaker, I have instituted changes to the Council’s rules to ensure that Council Members are disciplined for violations of the Conflicts of Interest laws and other disorderly conduct, rules to strengthen the integrity of the Council’s procurement process, restrictions on use of Council funds for certain types of advertisements, and have also instituted mandatory annual training on conflicts of interest for all Council Members and Council staff.

As Speaker, I:

  • Passed the strongest campaign finance law in the nation that severely limited contributions from people who do business with the City.
  • Passed comprehensive Lobbying Reforms that prohibit gifts from lobbyists, increases public reporting and makes campaign contributions nonmatchable.
  • Created Council Stat to consolidate constituent service data from 51 council districts into one central database.
  • Dramatically increased transparency and accountability in the Council’s discretionary budget by enhancing the vetting process and placing new restrictions on certain types of funding.
  • Passed legislation requiring the City to complete a cost benefit analysis before outsourcing contracts.
  • Passed legislation giving New York City the strongest open data policy in the nation.
  • Launched a campaign to improve operations at the Board of Elections, including a survey of more than 1,000 New Yorkers that uncovered widespread problems with ballot design.
  • Passed legislation increasing public access to City documents.
  • Required the Department of Education to provide more accurate and detailed information on school capacity and facilities and to report on student suspensions, arrests, and other disciplinary actions.
  • Began live streaming of City Council Meetings.
  • 5. Do you believe it is important for a citywide elected official to establish specific ethical standards and practices for his or her own direct reports? If so, please describe what standards and practices you would establish, and how would you communicate and enforce them?

    I absolutely believe that the City laws on conflicts of interest set a floor and not a ceiling. As Council Speaker, I have taken numerous steps to ensure that my staff meets and exceeds ethics requirements. First, I have instituted mandatory in person training on conflicts of interest and on the Council’s Policy Against Harassment and Discrimination. Second, I have set a high bar for staff who seek approval for outside work or activities when the organizations or businesses have business dealings with the Council. Third, I believe it is important to set an example as the leader – and I do not have outside activities that could raise even an appearance of a conflict and I expect the same of my staff.

    6. Do you believe any legislature measures, on a City or State level, are needed to improve ethical conduct in city government and, if so, what legislative changes would you propose?

    Over the past seven years, we have taken steps to improve government integrity – through legislation on lobbying, campaign finance reform, financial disclosure, among other measures. We are now reviewing proposals from the Lobbying Commission and hope to adopt those changes into law too. However, we must continue to examine problems and issues as they arise and ensure that our laws are air tight. This requires ongoing legislation.

    7. Are there specific measures you would take on your own authority to improve ethical conduct in city government? By “on your own authority” we mean, for example, actions that the Mayor can take by executive order of that the Comptroller or Public Advocate can take as a matter of office policy. If so, please specify what measures you would take.

    I have taken steps to ensure transparency on relationships at the Council and I would take similar steps as Mayor for senior officials. Second, I would work to build an effective training system. Third, I would work with the Department of Investigation to fully implement compliance procedures contained in the recommendations of the US. Sentencing Commission.

    9. Would you recommend any changes in the City’s public campaign finance system and, if so, what are those changes? In addition to describing those changes, please provide us with any proposals you have that would (a) curb the actual or perceived influence of campaign contributions on City government decision-making, or (b) make sure that City decisions are fully based on merit rather than contributions or cronyism.

    We overhauled the system in 2007. Our goals for the New York City Campaign finance system, which we believe is the strongest in the nation, are to ensure competition, reduce the role of influence or big money in the system, encourage candidates to participate in the system, and assure effective use of public funds. Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court has significantly tied our hands when it comes to taking additional steps to level the playing field and reduce expenditures by special interests. We will continue to monitor the court decisions and strengthen the system as we can.

    10.  Do you favor any significant reforms at the key city agencies responsible for public integrity matters, including the Department of Investigation, the Conflict of Interest Board or the current system of Inspectors General? If so, please describe.

    In 2010, the Council did make recommendations regarding the Conflicts of Interest Board. In particular, the Council recommended that the Board be expanded and that the Council make several appointments. We had the concern then and still do that an all-Mayor appointed board has the potential to be biased toward the Mayor and the public and other elected officials need to have confidence in the Board’s independence.