Council Approves Bill to Require Council Input on Commissioner Appointments

Image credit: New York City Council.

On June 6, 2024, the New York City Council passed Int. 908, which amends the City charter to require the advice and consent of the City Council for 21 commissioner appointments. The 21 city agencies affected by this bill are: Aging; Buildings; Children’s Services; Citywide Administrative Services; Consumer and Worker Protection; Cultural Affairs; Design and Construction; Environmental Protection; Finance; Health and Mental Hygiene; Homeless Services; Housing Preservation and Development; Information Technology and Telecommunications; Parks and Recreation; Sanitation; Small Business Services; Social Services; Transportation; Youth and Community Development; City Planning. The primary sponsor of Int. 908 was Speaker Adrienne E. Adams.

The mayor would have 60 days to present a nomination before the City Council, and if the Council rejects the nomination, the mayor will have 60 more days to present another nomination. A deputy commissioner will be appointed as an acting commissioner until a new commissioner is confirmed to head the relevant agency. The bill requires the mayor to “make all reasonable efforts” to get a commissioner confirmed within 120 days.

Since the bill limits an elected official’s power by restricting the Mayor’s ability to directly appoint commissioners, state law requires that the bill also be presented as a ballot question for voters before the bill can go into effect.

This bill was introduced to City Council on May 23, 2024. The public hearing was conducted on May 29, 2024. The Committee and City Council approved Int. 908 on June 6, 2024. This bill has been introduced, had a public hearing conducted, been voted on and approved by City Council in less than fourteen business days.

On May 23, 2024, at the public stated hearing Speaker Adams discussed Int. 908, which mandates advice and consent to “ensure that city agencies commissioners who control critical services that affect and determine the well-being of New Yorker’s are held to the highest standards.” Speaker Adams emphasized this bill does not apply to the other over 80 commissioner level positions appointed by the mayor and “is certainly not about curbing the power of any particular Mayor but is instead focused on improving government.” During the public stated hearing, Speaker Adams said “advice and consent powers are a powerful tool to ensure that our government maintains a level of democratic accountability in support of the public interest.” Councilmember Lincoln Restler, a co-sponsor of this bill, stated Mayor Eric Adams has undermined a fundamental concept to democracy – checks and balances. Councilmember Restler cited examples of events that have occurred during Mayor Adam’s term, including commissioners being handcuffed at city hall, not being able to meet with elected officials without Mayor Adams present, and commissioners not getting the opportunity to answer questions about their budgets at council hearings. Restler said “this is not how New York City government should work.”

Councilmember Restler stated this proposed bill is trying to mimic the 1989 charter revision commission which was the last major overhaul our cities governance. He said the intent of that legislation was to create a strong city council and ensure a government bureaucracy that is responsive to New Yorkers.

Ahead of the public hearing on May 29th, Mayor Eric Adams stated Int. 908 would “[add] the uncertainty and potential for public spectacle of an “advice and consent” process to the list of sacrifices would seriously hamper the city’s ability to attract and retain good talent. We have a clear example of how this process can be corrupted by politics when we look to our nation’s capital and see a process that is weaponized and politicized to score cheap political points and is a disservice to the American people. This legislation would have the same effect on New Yorkers.”

Other past elected officials and former commissioners similarly opposed the bill and submitted written testimony. I. Daneek Miller, former New York City Councilmember, stated, “adding an additional level of legislative review will not enhance professional investigations, but risks a crippling effect at the start of every new administration or when crucial openings arise during an existing administration. No public benefits from partisan and political gamesmanship that such a process will invite – weeks and weeks, if not months, of hearings which will prevent successive City Halls from delivering for New Yorkers.” Other former Councilmembers who submitted similar testimony included C. Virginia Fields and Hon. Helen D. Foster. Former agency commissioners Mitchell Silver and Gregg Bishop and other city officials had also submitted written testimony in opposition.

The only written testimony submitted in support was from Public Advocate and former Councilmember Jumaane D. Williams. He stated that this legislation will “increase oversight, transparency, and accountability by strengthening [City Councils] role in providing advice and consent.” Mr. Williams also argued that City Council having oversight on just 21 of 80 overall Commissioner appointees wasn’t enough. “I would propose adding additional leadership positions to this list, including police commissioner and education chancellor, positions that are charged with the protection of our most vulnerable New Yorkers.”

At the hearing, Betsy Gotbaum, the Executive Director of Citizens Union and former Public Advocate and Commissioner of the Department of Parks and Recreation, said this legislation would not be in the best interest of New Yorkers. Ms. Gotbaum said time should be given to look into the consequences of this proposed legislation on particular agencies and the commissioners that would be given more power from this bill require more scrutiny. Ms. Gotbaum said she is, “afraid this bill will dimmish the power of the mayor and we need a strong mayor with good oversight working with the council.”

Tiffany Raspberry, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, stated at the hearing that “the Council already has significant checks on the mayor’s power, including budget, land use, and oversight. The Council regularly holds oversight hearings, approves of the budgets, and legislates reporting requirements from City agencies. If there ever are shortcomings from any agency, the Council then holds those who have been appointed to do these jobs accountable. If for whatever reason the Council feels that information they are seeking is not being produced, they also have the authority to subpoena the administration to compel us to comply or face legal sanctions by a court. In other words, oversight from the Council already exists. Expanding that oversight to having final say on the mayor’s choice of who they want to lead agencies to carry out the polices that city voters elected them to carry out would be a disservice to New Yorkers for the reasons outlined throughout this testimony.”

On June 6, 2024, both the Committee on Governmental Operations, State & Federal Legislation, and the full Council voted to approve the bill. The full Council voted 46 to four to approve; Councilmembers Kamillah Hanks, Vickie Paladino, Joseph C. Borelli, and Kalman Yeger voted against. Some of these council members stated that they felt this bill was pushed along too fast and thought the bill was just a power grab.

The bill is currently sent to the Mayor for signature. If Mayor Adams chose to veto this bill the City Council has enough support to override the veto, but the issue will still need to be approved by voters in a referendum before the change can truly take effect.

By: Chelsea Ramjeawan (Chelsea is the CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2025.)



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