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Bill de Blasio Responses to Public Integrity Questionnaire for Citywide Candidates
Ten Questions About Public Integrity For Citywide Candidates 2013
Responses from Bill de Blasio
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.
Our City procures billions of dollars and we need to ensure the highest level of integrity in our contracting system. The City must ensure regular auditing and review of contract providers and the Office of the New York City Comptroller should regularly conduct audits of contractor compliance and reporting.
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.
When it comes to our inspection process and permitting process, the City must closely monitor for scandals and errors. This year, as Public Advocate, I announced an investigation into reports that the Department of Consumer Affairs set quotas for issuing violations against small businesses and directed its administrative judges to uphold unfair fines in the appeals process. As Mayor, I will ensure we have the investigative infrastructure to safeguard our City from scandals and unethical behavior.
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 am deeply concerned by the corruption inflicting New York City’s government. Because of this, I have called for an end to discretionary “member items.” The arrest of a sitting city councilman earlier this year over allegations that he planned to abuse his discretionary funding in a bribery scheme brought back painful memories of earlier scandals. In addition, member items have been used to punish members of the City Council who cross leadership. The system is broken, and, as mayor, I will use my power in the budget process to demand a ban on the member item system. I believe that 2 participatory budgeting and RFP grant programs will actually better serve community groups.
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?
This website discloses all meetings in which the Public Advocate is lobbied by a registered lobbyist. Additionally, all of the Public Advocate’s meetings with registered lobbyists that are requested by the lobbyist will be disclosed. Meetings are listed by name of lobbyist, name of client, date of visit, and issue. Regardless of whether they qualify as “lobbying communications” under Section 3- 211(c)(1)(iii) of the Administrative Code, meetings requested by lobbyists will be disclosed. The list does not include all events and gatherings attended by the Public Advocate where registered New York City lobbyists may be present. The list currently is based on individuals who were registered as New York City lobbyists during the last complete calendar year preceding the meeting and whose names appear in the database of the Office of the City Clerk, which can be accessed at: http://www.nyc.gov/lobbyistsearch/directory.jsp
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?
Yes, I do believe it is important for citywide elected officials to maintain high ethical standards for their direct reports. As Public Advocate, I have maintained the highest ethical standards in my office that have been enforced by my Chief of Staff and General Counsel. As Mayor, I will implement the highest standards and practices for all of my direct reports – communicated directly by myself, my Chief of Staff, and my General Counsel. I will demand that the highest standards are implemented across all Mayoral agencies.
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?
Under my administration, I will push for several legislative and administrative changes that improve our City’s ethical conduct. Those reforms include the following:
Strengthening Penalties For Officials Convicted of Corruption
Under the New York State Constitution, it is impossible to deny or diminish retirement benefits for current public officials. This means public officials convicted of corruption charges have continued to collect their pensions at taxpayer expense, even while serving jail time. To offset this loophole in the law, I will work to enact legislation proposed by New York State’s Comptroller DiNapoli, which imposes a mandatory fine upon public officers convicted of felony offenses related to their official duties. Guilty officials would be forced to pay a penalty up to twice the amount they benefited from the committed crime.
Disclosure All Contacts With Lobbyists
Building on my own practice as Public Advocate, I will require that city officials in executive agencies publicly disclose meetings with registered lobbyists on a monthly basis. Regardless of whether discussions qualify as “lobbying communications” under the Administrative Code or not, all meetings requested by registered lobbyists would be disclosed along with a brief description of the subject matter covered in the meeting. These disclosures would be publicly available online.
Strengthening Independent Oversight of the City Council
While an inspector general’s office exists for executive agencies—with a commissioner who can only be removed for written, publicly filed cause—I would push for legislation establishing a similar position in the City Council. The position would replace the now defunct Independent Compliance Office in the City Council, a short-lived position, which, despite its name, lacked true independence from the Council leadership. The new independent position would be nominated by the Council and approved by the mayor. To ensure the independence of this position, the office would have a set term of five years, a fixed salary that could not be decreased by the City Council, and would require at least five years of prior law enforcement experience. Staffing levels for the office would be fixed by law and would require agreement by the mayor to reduce. Among its functions, powers and duties, the office would investigate complaints from sources, or upon its own initiative, those concerning alleged abuses and fraud.
Unlocking Public Information With FOIL Reform
I will increase transparency with a series of reforms of the Freedom of Information Law. I will include FOIL statistics in the Mayor’s Management Report, mandate routine reports on outstanding FOIL requests to the Public Advocate and City Council, and establish a unified online source to file, process and track all FOIL requests. I will also levy fines and penalties against city agencies that regularly duck and delay FOIL requests, and proactively post online information that is most-frequently sought by FOIL request.
Reforming Local Elections
I will push for a number of reforms to make local elections more democratic and open to the people. This includes allowing same-day voter registration and making voter registration available online. I also support efforts that boost voter participation, such as allowing early voting and making election information materials available in multiple languages.
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 held a high standard for ethical conduct throughout my career and especially while in elected positions. I have continued to go beyond the current laws when it comes to transparency and disclosure and will continue these practices when Mayor—including disclosing meetings with lobbyists.
8. Does your current campaign have written policies and procedures on ethics matters? If so, please provide a copy.
My campaign is instructed to maintain the highest level of ethical standards. And we follow all CFB rules on campaign conduct.
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.
I am open to instituting additional reforms that would strengthen our public campaign finance system upon taking office.
Since elected Public Advocate, I have led the fight against the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling. The Citizens United decision delivered a body blow to our democracy and a fair and equitable election system. Over the past three years, I have successfully pressured companies such as Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley to adopt policies against spending their corporate treasury dollars in elections. In August 2010, I also founded the Coalition for Accountability in Political Spending (CAPS), the nation’s first and only bipartisan coalition of elected officials dedicated to curbing corporate influence in our political system.
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.
I have called for the strengthening of independent oversight of the City Council. While an inspector general’s office exists for executive agencies—with a commissioner who can only be removed for written, publicly filed cause—I would push for legislation establishing a similar position in the City Council. The position would replace the now defunct Independent Compliance Office in the City Council, a short-lived position, which, despite its name, lacked true independence from the Council leadership. The new independent position would be nominated by the Council and approved by the mayor. To ensure the independence of this position, the office would have a set term of five years, a fixed salary that could not be decreased by the City Council, and would require at least five years of prior law enforcement experience. Staffing levels for the office would be fixed by law and would require agreement by the mayor to reduce. Among its functions, powers and duties, the office would investigate complaints from sources, or upon its own initiative, those concerning alleged abuses and fraud. Additionally, I was one of the first mayoral candidates to push for an independent Inspector General of the NYPD. I fully support the recently passed legislation that creates a mechanism to review the NYPD’s practices and policies.