Bill Thompson’s Responses to Public Integrity Questionnaire for Citywide Candidates

Ten Questions About Public Integrity For Citywide Candidates 2013
Responses from Bill Thompson

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.

Promoting integrity in government contracting will be a top priority in my administration. The fact is that the number of private contracting under the Bloomberg administration has exploded. We need to seriously consider finding ways to protect the public in general from unscrupulous contractors. The first step is to make the process more transparent and accountable to the public. I also support measures for harsher penalties and where permissible to bar those who seek to engage in efforts to defraud the city. Lastly, in order to end waste and abuse, there must be a coordinated effort led by the Mayor and carried out across agencies and jurisdictions.

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.

Under Mayor Bloomberg the Department of Buildings and Health Department have been used as a source of revenue as opposed to a way for our local government to ensure safety. Bloomberg has managed to destroy the credibility of many City agencies because they are no longer focused on making our City work better, but rather on a way to fill the City’s coffers. I want to work to make sure that these agencies are appropriately staffed and create a new mandate for City agencies to work with our City’s residents and businesses as opposed to nickel and diming them. Enforcement of our City rules and regulations is important but it can’t be the only focus for our agencies we have to work to make things less bureaucratic. The system of waiting months upon months for a basic permit will stop. I believe that we can both be diligent and still work in an expedient manner if our City agencies are appropriately staffed and trained. The most important thing that we can do for our City is change the mindset from frivolous enforcement to one of cooperation and service, which is what we want to achieve.

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.

The City Council discretionary spending scandals and no bid contracts involving Mayor Bloomberg are a blight to our City that makes people question government. These scandals are part of the reason that so many people within our City are disinterested and disengaged in politics. As Mayor, I will commit to work toward reforming the entire disclosure process so that the public can fully understand the relationships between local public officials and private businesses and nonprofits and community organizations. I also pledge to work with good government groups to find the best ways for us to implement policy to inspire confidence in 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?

Yes, as former President of the Board of Education and New York City Comptroller I established procedures and policies to root out waste, corruption and promote good governance and transparency.

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, as elected officials we should inspire confidence that we are performing our work in a manner that is free of corruption, undue influence and in a manner that we believe is in the best interests of our City. It is my belief that being New York City Mayor is one of the most important elected offices in our Country and I will uphold the highest possible ethical standard. The rest of the country and world look to New York City for inspiration and leadership and we must restore that vision. Therefore, we should conduct our business with absolute and work toward having our City’s residents engaged and informed on all issues concerning our City’s governance.

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?

Based upon the scandals that we have seen over the past several years involving members of the City Council breaking the public trust with member items and discretionary funding we need to reform this system as soon as possible. As always, we must also find ways to root out corruption and abuse. I believe that we should work together to develop harsher penalties for public officials who break the public trust and engage in illegal activity while they are in office. The general public deserves a government that is free and clear of corruption and we should always strive to achieve that end.

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.

Yes, as Mayor I am prepared to take whatever action is necessary within the authority of the office to improve ethical conduct in city government. I will be willing to work with the City Council to pass legislation that promotes positive ethical conduct and punishes unethical behavior. I am also willing to use executive orders to achieve that end. The most important measure that we can take is to promote more transparency. Unfortunately, this past Mayor has perfected the art of the backroom deal and believes that the general public doesn’t need to be informed about important policy initiatives that affect the City.

8. Does your current campaign have written policies and procedures on ethics matters? If so, please provide a copy.

Yes, our Policy Book contains our ideas toward running a City government that is honest and ethical. Attach a copy of this section.

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.

It is my belief that our City has a very good model for the rest of the country in terms of creating a system that promotes all people to participate in the electoral process because of matching funds. However, the system is not perfect and there are ways that we can improve it. We must provide better education on campaign finance, so we can encourage even more participation from our citizens. As for rooting out cronyism, we must ensure that decisions are based on merit and we have to continue to focus on public disclosures for every contribution that is made to a campaign. We should focus on ensuring that the contribution limits continue to be low so that the people and groups with the most means cannot simply use their vast resources to buy the most influence. And, finally we need to make examples of the people that violate the law. We need to make the penalties harsh to protect the public. We also need to make sure that we have enough oversight of our electoral system and campaign finance board that we are able to immediately spot illegal behavior.

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.

The most important reform that we can make to our City agencies is ensuring that they are appropriately staffed and trained. Unfortunately, the Bloomberg model has been to starve City agencies of resources in favor of outsourcing. The result has been City agencies that are apathetic to dealing with important issues because they lack the personnel or training to appropriately do the job. We have to change that. City agencies that have a sufficient staff that are well trained and a new Mayor that believes that government can work for the people will change the public’s attitude about city government.

Demand Accountability and Ethics in Government

People feel less confident in government than they have in a long time. Day in and day out we read stories about ethical lapses, abuses of power and corruption. Given the negative press that is generated every day, it is understandable why so many of our City residents view government with so much cynicism and apathy. After 12 years of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who undermined the will of City voters when he overturned the rule on term limits, it is time to work to restore public trust in our local government. This initiative includes reforming our government so that it becomes more transparent and accountable to the general public. The first step towards starting the healing process is talking directly to the public and asking for its input and guidance towards making our government more ethical and honest. Below are five ways that we can achieve our objective.

End the Practice of Negotiating the Budget Behind Closed Doors. As Mayor, Thompson will restore our city’s trust in their local government by making government more open and transparent. Each year Mayor Bloomberg and the City Council engage in a “budget dance” where they threaten to defund important government services only to restore them in the last minute to earn cheap political points. This Administration will open up the books and negotiate the budget in a transparent manner.

Expose Special Interest Tax Breaks to Public Scrutiny. Bill Thompson will ensure that all corporate tax breaks and earmarks are available on the City’s website in an easily searchable format. Centralize Ethics and Lobbying Information for Voters. Under a Thompson Administration, the City’s website will include a centralized database of lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings in a searchable, sortable and downloadable format.

Reform Council Member Items. Thompson will amend the process by which member items are distributed to ensure that the funds are awarded to not-­‐for-­‐profits that have a track record for integrity. Thompson will also work to reform the system so that the community greater input into where City Council funding goes.

Protect Whistleblowers. Often the best source of information about governmental waste, fraud and abuse are government employees that are willing to speak out on the corruption. Thompson will encourage such actions and make whistleblowers feel comfortable and protected when they speak out against governmental abuse.