CityLaw Profile – COIB General Counsel Wayne Hawley on Ethical City Government

Wayne Hawley. Image credit: NYC Conflicts of Interest Board

Wayne Hawley. Image credit: NYC Conflicts of Interest Board

Wayne Hawley has served with the Conflicts of Interest Board since 1999. Born in California, Hawley grew up in a military family and moved frequently, completing high school in Virginia before returning to California as an undergrad at Claremont McKenna College. He relocated to the East Coast again for Yale Law School, then in his words, “followed the bouncing ball” back to Los Angeles for two years of private practice. Hawley crossed the country again to work as staff counsel to the Cleveland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, finally arriving in New York City as executive director of MFY Legal Services in 1985. He held that position until joining the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board in 1999.

Hawley was drawn to the Board by a similarity to the public interest work he had done at MFY and the ACLU. Hawley described the Board’s staff as a “small public-interest law firm inside the City government.” Hawley manages the counseling side of the Board, providing legal and practical advice to New York City’s 350,000 public servants about the City’s ethics laws. Through the Legal Advice Unit, City officials receive confidential answers to their ethical questions by telephone or in writing. In the event of a more novel or difficult question, the Board itself will consider the issue before rendering a formal decision.

Hawley described the major challenge of his work is to apply the City’s ethics laws evenhandedly to all City officials, regardless of what position they hold in City government or how long they may have held it. With the City’s broad range of personnel seeking advice, Hawley enjoys the intellectual challenge as something that has helped keep him with the Board for the last sixteen years. “This position gives you a bird’s-eye view of City government, because all of government comes into contact with [the Board] at one time or another.”

In his time at the Board, Hawley said that the highest demands on the Board’s advisory capacity come in times of transition between mayoral administrations. At these times, incoming City officials seek advice on what they are and are not permitted to do in their new positions, and outgoing officials look to avoid ethical violations as they transition to the private sector. Hawley praised Mark Davies, executive director of the Board since 1994, as a continued and steadying influence on the Board’s operations during times of transition, but credited City officials and elected leaders throughout the years and from different administrations for respecting the Charter-mandated independence of the Board. “I think the system has worked as the Charter drafters intended that it would, where essentially the changes in administration don’t have an impact in how we operate here.”

One change Hawley would like to see at the Board is the establishment of independent budgeting for the Board’s operations. Currently, the Board must submit budget requests to the City Council every year, no differently than any other agency. But Hawley sees the fact the Board’s financing is subject to the discretion of the very officials it is charged with overseeing as at least a perception of a conflict of interest, though he emphasizes the conflict has never arisen. “We’ve never had any kind of interference with our budget, actual or even implied.” But Hawley worries about the perception. As a solution, he has argued for a City Charter amendment that would peg the Board’s budget to a set percentage of yearly City expenses, similar to New York City’s Independent Budget Office and the Campaign Finance Board. Hawley said the Conflict of Interests Board’s need for independence from the officials it oversees – both perceived and in fact – is equal to that of the IBO and CFB, and the Board’s funding should be treated similarly.

When asked what he’s most proud of in his time at the Board, Hawley described the continued high degree of consistence and responsiveness in applying the Board’s advice, regardless of the applicant’s position in City government. “You can be consistent, but if you don’t give someone an answer in a timely way, it doesn’t do anybody any good. And you can give someone an answer in a timely way, but if it’s not thought through carefully, then you’re just making it up.” When he’s not with the Board, Hawley spends his time with his wife of thirty years, Liz Mackay, and cheering on his favorite local teams – the winning ones. “I like to tell people I’m a loyal fan of all successful New York sports teams.”

By:  Michael Twomey (Michael is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2014)

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