Buried deep in New York City’s laws lurk obscure bits of bureaucracy like the Tattoo Regulation Advisory Committee and the Horse Drawn Cab Stand Report. Many have endured for decades in name only, while others carry on, with or without a reason for being.
These dusty corners of government are about to get a housecleaning. This Friday, a new Report and Advisory Board Review Commission — that’s right, a commission on commissions — will hold a public hearing reviewing 21 mandated reports and boards that city agencies say have outlived their usefulness.
The commission consists of three members of the City Council — Speaker Christine Quinn, Gale Brewer and Leroy Comrie — and four appointees of the mayor, including his budget, technology and legal chiefs. By a majority vote, they will be able to suspend any or all of the reports and task forces. The Council will then vote to ratify the commission’s recommendations.
As requested by a majority of city voters last fall, the group will review all 175 reports and advisory bodies that have piled up in the City Charter and administrative code, the two blocks of law that govern New York City. Most are vestiges from past crises and administrations — like the Arson Strike Force, initiated in 1978 by the City Council and run until 1993 by the Fire Department in cooperation with the city’s police department and housing, welfare and finance agencies.
“I’m all for transparency, but people forget how big we are,” said Councilmember Brewer, who chairs the council’s Committee on Governmental Operations. “This review process is a good idea.”
For the first round, the the commission asked city agencies to recommend commissions and reports they no longer had reason to produce. The fire department volunteered the Arson Strike Force, which has not met for two decades and whose data is available in the Mayor’s Management Report and the Bureau of Fire Investigation annual report.
Another item under scrutiny by the commission, the Zoning and Planning Report, is supposed to detail the agenda of the City Planning Commission for the future development of the city. Though the mandate has been in the City Charter since 1989, the Department of City Planning has never released the report. The department told the commission that it would be redundant since the information is on its website and in PlaNYC.
David Reiss, who runs the Community Development Clinic at Brooklyn Law School, said that the report in any case would not do what the City Charter asks it to do – provide the city with a long-term development plan. “I’m in favor of some well-resourced arm of the city government thinking about the big picture,” said Reiss. “But [the Department of] City Planning doesn’t do comprehensive planning. It responds to proposals brought to it.”
Civic and advocacy groups are now mobilizing to ask the commission for clemency on some reports, which they say they rely on as important sources of information on government activities and the functioning of the city.