The Quadrennial Pay Commission is releasing its recommendations for salary raises for elected officials this morning, and we can only guess that councilmembers will be in line for at least a 25% raise, and probably more. In return, perhaps their outside income will be capped: a compromise that means very little, since most members don’t have any outside income. In fact, a great many of them have never earned any money outside of their work as council staffers and now members.
A better idea might be that elected officials should be required to have outside income, at a real job, for at least 10 hours a week, outside their districts. Might keep them honest, and in any event teach them some job skills. Suppose councilmembers are required to give up their outside income? So would Peter Koo, who actually has shown some grit in his life, have to divest himself of his drugstores?
Anyway, here is a powerful argument for a Council pay raise that was written by a now-former councilmember. It first appeared in Gotham Gazette. Can you guess whose it is?
We want and expect our City Council members to be the best and brightest our city has to offer, but it is becoming harder and harder to expect top-of-the-line professionals to choose public service. A recent Gotham Gazette article reported that many City Council members earn outside income, with some making substantial amounts. This suggests that New York City's council members should be full-time city employees. Such a change would go a long way to truly reforming our city government.
Millions of New Yorkers no doubt pay their bills while earning less than their council member makes. Even though council members do have to disclose their incomes, the salary ranges they report have enormous variation -- sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars. You could throw a dart at a board with random salaries on it and make a better guess at what your council member earns moonlighting.
A Council Member's Job
Rather than have all this vague disclosure, the city should mandate that council members put in 40-hour weeks to enable them to provide true, full-time constituent services. Along with that, the city should increase the pay for the position. We should have to fill out time sheets just as our subordinates do and account for our time. Of course, some of the members already devote far in excess of a 40-hour week to their districts and the city, and for that, I am grateful.
We need to make an investment in our city's legislative body that will ultimately make the council stronger and more responsive to the people. I consider myself a full-time council member, working over 60 hours a week for District XX. I come to my council office every day and go to every council meeting and attend meetings for six different committees. I meet with community leaders and constituents throughout the morning, deal with office matters and travel around my district and the city to events in the late afternoons and evenings, including weekends. My district office is open on weekends and has a late night each week to better serve the varied schedules of my constituents, and we also are available on the web; I even update my major events and happenings on Facebook and Twitter to keep people informed.
The Full-time Advantage
Making the job full-time would give New Yorkers the complete attention from their elected officials that they deserve, and constituents would notice the difference. Council members would be more active in the community and be more hands-on in addressing their constituents' concerns. Leaders in business, law and other fields would be more inclined to run for public office and the entire city would benefit from the dedication.
Dozens of city department heads make over $200,000 per year, as well they should. They are top-shelf leaders and professionals who run complex agencies, supervising hundreds or thousands of personnel. Executive-level talent will earn at least twice this much, if not far more, in the private sector. And running New York City's bureaucratic, heavily regulated and sometimes archaic government is as challenging as any job you’ll find in the courtroom or on Wall Street.
We've seen the conflicts of interest that occur when elected officials run businesses on the side. For example, former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno was taken down by the blurring of the lines between outside income and political influence. It is not even the actual scandal or wrongdoing that will happen no matter how careful we are; a move toward full-time legislators would provide an atmosphere where even the very appearance of impropriety could not survive because influence peddling would have been largely stamped out.
Our public servants would be fully invested in one thing: public service. The time has come to ask our elected officials to make a full time commitment to the city and in turn, have the city make a full time commitment to them. It's about good government, it's about focused leaders -- it's about time.
Hint: the writer is now serving a ten-year sentence in the federal penitentiary. Yes, Dan Halloran, the erstwhile Whitestone Wotan, could reasonably be counted as a prime theorist behind the Commission’s recommendations. Who better to take advice from than a man whose elaborate electoral-theft schemes briefly netted him a few thousand dollars in a paper bag?
Last week’s stated meeting was very emotional. First, Speaker Mark-Viverito almost melted down regarding the failure of the Congress to pass legislation letting Puerto Rico default on its debts. As her colleagues sat staring at their cell phones, the Speaker launched into recondite arguments about Puerto Rico’s territorial status: “I want to be clear about something that some may consider controversial. The current territorial status of the island was not of our doing….It is unconscionable.”
Yes, it is true that the current status of Puerto Rico was not of “our” doing, if by “our” Mark-Viverito means New York City and New Yorkers, or the New York City Council that she ostensibly leads.
Has the Council or its Speaker ever so preoccupied itself with a matter that has patently nothing to do with the city? The Council has passed three resolutions just this year regarding Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. We have a mayor who jets off to Rome, Paris, Israel and the Midwest to advance his various agendas, and a Council speaker whose greatest preoccupation is Puerto Rico. How about these two spend the second half of their terms focused on New York City?
Next everyone saluted departing councilmember Maria del Carmen Arroyo, who was almost not allowed to run in 2013, you will recall, because her petitions were signed by the Yankees lineup, Mickey Mouse, etc etc., all giving the same home address and using the same handwriting. Her nephew went to prison for stealing from a Bronx non-profit, and then after he got out he got a job with another Bronx non-profit.
Maria del Carmen Arroyo gave a speech in which she said that her son had asked her to cite Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler,” about knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em, etc.
The Councilmember did not mention the apposite nature of the lyrics to her own fairly constant activities at the Yonkers Raceway casino, where she and her assemblymember mother reported tens of thousands of dollars of winnings.
She also didn’t mention that her son, Ricardo Aguirre, Jr., was paid about $60,000 for campaign work on her 2013 campaign—more than a third of her total expenditures.
Elsewhere in the Bronx, we hear that two current councilmembers, each of whom has been touched by scandal in the last two years, are said to be wearing wires. No one will talk to them for fear of winding up on Preet Bharara’s playlist.
Also, one has to wonder what is going on with Ruben Wills? He was indicted 18 months ago. When is his trial supposed to start? Unless, as with his colleagues in the Bronx, he is a walking microphone with orders to get dirt.