By Sabina Mollot
Earlier this month, members of the City Council voted to give themselves $36,000 raises, and last Friday, it became official when Mayor de Blasio authorized the massive boosts in pay. He was also a beneficiary, though he won’t accept the raise for the remainder of his term. Most Council members defended the move, pointing out that that the money was contingent upon enacting a package of ethics reforms, like restricting certain kinds of outside income. It also put an end to the stipends, also known as lulus, that get doled out by the Council speaker to various members for chairing committees, a practice that has been linked to crony-ism.
Council Member Dan Garodnick, who authored the bill restricting outside income and changing the status of the Council to be considered full-time employment, along with fellow East Side Council Member Ben Kallos, was among those defending the raises.
However, he pointed out the next time the Council’s up for a raise, members will only be allowed vote to authorize raises for upcoming and not current terms. This will be ensured by having the Quadrennial Commission, which recommends the raises, be appointed later in the legislative session. (This could of course mean the same elected officials will get the raise they voted on if reelected.) The raises authorized last week, which boost legislators’ pay from $112,500 to $148,500, are retroactive to January 1.
On the raises and reforms, Garodnick said he’s long been against lulus (which can be as high as $25,000), and for the past 10 years he’s been in the Council, he hasn’t taken any. He currently chairs the Economic Development Committee and has previously chaired the Committee on Technology, the Consumer Affairs Committee and the Planning Committee. Had he accepted lulus, he said, they would have been for $10,000 each year up until the last two years when they would have been $15,000.
“I asked that the stipends be done away with altogether,” said Garodnick. “I felt very strongly that they should be eliminated.”
However, the main inspiration for the reforms was Albany, where last year’s sordid corruption scandals against both legislative chamber leaders led to long-called for ethics reforms actually seeing the light of day.
For the city’s elected officials, there will be more transparency regarding personal income, with disclosure reports being put online.
“Today it is too difficult more members of the public to see financial disclosure,” Garodnick said.
Still, not everyone within the legislative body supported the latest round of pay hikes.
A Post article noted that three Republican members who were opposed to the raises found them to be “an obvious conflict of interest.” They recommended an independent body rather than the Council be given the task of issuing raises.
The Council hasn’t gotten a raise since 2006. As for the reason for the 10-year delay, normally the Quadrennial Commission, whose members are appointed by the mayor, convenes every four years to recommend raises, which the Council votes on. However, Mayor Bloomberg never called a Quadrennial Commission after 2006, so it hadn’t met since then. Garodnick noted that the Commission will meet again in 2020, which is when the new regulation about prospective raises will come into play. Garodnick is a co-sponsor of that legislation, which was authored by James Van Bramer.
The no lulu policy was a rule change, and required a vote in the Council, but didn’t require legislation.
In other news, Garodnick, who’s running for higher office, seems to be enjoying the fact that half a dozen people have already expressed interest in his District 4 Council seat, with one already on the ballot.
“I wish them well,” said Garodnick. “I’m happy to be a resource to whoever lines up for the seat. This is an important district and deserves top notch representation.”