Councilmen Differ On Funding Transparency
By DOMENICK RAFTERCouncilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) became the first member of the City Council from Queens, and first Republican on the Council, to agree to list his member items and applications on the NYC Open Government Portal, a searchable database of council members' discretionary funds and applications.
Halloran, who listed transparency as one of his major issues in last year's campaign, pledged to post his member items on the site, which is part of the City Web site of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. De Blasio introduced the idea for a searchable database in March, after the indictment of Bronx councilman Larry Seabrook on charges that he embezzled city money through phony non-profits.
"New York City needs leaders who make good on their promises," Halloran said. "As elected officials, we are entrusted with the public's money. That trust is sacred to me and I am determined to keep it. I strongly believe that the taxpayers' dollars should be made publicly available at all times. This initiative will give New Yorkers faith that their monies are well spent."
Council Members Erik Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn), Jessica Lappin (D-Manhattan), Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan) and Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) joined Halloran in listing their member items and member item applications on the site. Other members are expected to follow suit.
Some members, including Council Speaker Christine Quinn, said they won't turn over their member item application information to the Public Advocate's site. Instead, Quinn said the City Council would post member items on their own site starting next year. She said more time would be needed to post them in an organized fashion. She has the support of two veteran Queens council members, Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) and James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows). Vallone is considering the Public Advocate's request, but thinks the Speaker's idea is more plausible.
"To do this the right way, it has to be done in a uniform, mandatory manner," said Vallone. "The way [the Public Advocate] is doing it is voluntary."
Vallone defended already existing rules, saying that Council funding "has been the most transparent funding in the United States." He said the "vast majority" of member items being discussed can already be accessed and the only thing further the Public Advocate is requesting are applications from groups requesting money, rather than groups who actually got money. Vallone said that information would make the database "inaccurate, incomplete and next to useless," because of the number of applications that never lead to any funding allocated.
Gennaro said he "stands behind" the Speaker's plan and added that he has always made his budget allocations public to his constituents and will continue to do so.
"The Public Advocate has not contacted me or my office to request any budget information," he said. "As I have done every year, I will fully disclose all of my budget allocations in the form of a budget newsletter that is mailed to my constituents, the residents of the 24th Council District."
Halloran noted that member items are important to the community, even in tough financial times.
"I am committed to providing funding for local organizations that need it most and that give back to our community," Halloran said. "Charities and local organizations are critical in these hard economic times. I will be proud of every dollar I allocate and will personally vouch for the organizations I assist with funding."
Vallone agreed, saying that member items are aimed at purposes like Boys and Girls Clubs and Little Leagues that help youth stay off the street and cut down on crime.
"I will defend every cent I give out [in member items,]" Vallone said.
De Blasio's Web site can be found at pubadvocate.nyc.gov/open-govt.
Reach Reporter Domenick Rafter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125.