Club Executive Board Member, Pierre Ratzki, who represents our District on the Rules Committee of the New York County Democratic Committee, reports on efforts to bring greater transparency, accessibility, and integrity to the county party through rules reform.
As we previously reported, at this past September’s County Committee meeting, a contingent of reform-minded members proposed a list of changes to the County Committee’s rules. The changes are aimed at increasing the transparency, accessibility, and integrity of the County party. In response, the committee voted to refer the changes to the Rules Committee, on which I am serving as this District’s representative. The Rules Committee has been debating the proposed changes, along with other ways to update our rules and further democratize the County Committee. The discussions, and my own thinking, have been informed by the comments and suggestions made at our divisional County Committee meeting, as well as input at our club meetings.
The Rules Committee will ultimately draft a report, which will include the changes that have achieved the support of two-thirds of the Committee members (a proposal to change the threshold for approval to majority support did not pass). Shortly thereafter, we will hold another meeting of the full County Committee, where the members will vote on which changes to approve.
The Committee has thus far met twice – on December 18, 2017, and on January 22, 2018. Our next meeting is scheduled for February 13, 2018, at 6pm, to be held in the conference room at 140 Broadway, 34th Floor. The meeting is open to any members who wish to observe the proceedings; please let me know if you wish to attend.
At our first meeting, we agreed to choose subcommittees to review each of the Articles in the rules. I chose to be a member of the subcommittee on Article V (General Provisions) and Article VI (Ethics). The subcommittees have met outside of the regular Rules Committee meetings.
At the second meeting, each subcommittee presented their suggested changes, which were then subject to discussion and debate. The most important changes we have debated thus far include:
- Increasing the notice to members of the County Committee biannual meeting, as well as of other District Committee meetings, and facilitating notification by email where available. Many County Committee members have not received timely notification of the meeting, or of other events, and increased notice would help more members become actively involved.
- Encouraging local organizations and District Leaders to collect full contact information, including email addresses and apartment numbers, from their districts’ candidates for County Committee, and to share that information with the County Committee. This would help enable the County Committee to provide its members with increased notice of meetings, including via email when requested.
- Publishing a full list of the County Committee online, which would increase the accessibility and transparency of the County party, and would help make members more accountable to constituents.
- Lowering the threshold for proposing new business at the County Committee meetings, which would encourage democratic participation by members. Additionally, we have discussed increasing the number of county-wide meetings, from once biannually to once, or even twice, per year. Many members feel that they are simply “rubber stamps” for the Committee’s predetermined agenda; however, through these proposed changes, the Committee can become a more responsive organization, and can take a leadership role in crafting policy positions for the local and state party.
- Creating an independent, standing Ethics Committee. As it currently stands, the Ethics Committee is a subcommittee of the Executive Committee – rather than a independent standing committee – and it has no fixed structure. Accordingly, it is difficult to file meritorious ethics complaints and have them addressed in a fair and expeditious manner. The proposed changes would create a permanent body with an even number of members. The changes would also limit the number of District Leaders and Executive Board members that can serve on the Committee, in order to further ensure its independence.
- Changing the system for filling vacancies in intercounty districts. The proposed rule would require that the counties hold a joint meeting of the two District Committees, under uniform rules and weighting, to determine which candidate will fill the vacancy; or, in the event that the committees do not hold a joint meeting, the Chairperson must direct 100% of New York County’s share of votes for the candidate with the most support in its committee. This rule is intended to encourage joint meetings, which are the most directly democratic means of filling a vacancy. It is also aimed at preventing party leadership from circumventing the democratic will of the county committee members, by choosing a candidate without majority support or simply not holding a District Committee meeting at all.
- Banning registered lobbyists, or anyone who receives more than $10,000 in compensation from any lobbying firm, from serving as either County Leader or County Chairperson. The rule would cover not only lobbyists, but persons who work in lobbying consulting, or in any position adjacent to lobbying that is a source of substantial income. Supporters of the ban (myself included) believe that the party should be free of conflicts of interest in it leadership, both in actuality and in appearance.
Negotiations and debate are ongoing. I am hopeful that we will have broad consensus over many – and possibly even most – proposed changes, and that where we have disagreements we can still achieve compromise. Ultimately, it will be up to the full County Committee to vote on any new rules, including any that may not have been adopted in the Rules Committee’s final report.
If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me at: [email protected].
The structure and membership of the Rules Committee is as follows:
Honorary Chair: Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President
Chair: Chung Seto
Vice Chair: Sylvia DiPietro
Assembly District Appointees:
65 AD: Vittoria Ferrule
66 AD: Jeanne Wilcke
67 AD: Gerald Kahn
68 AD: Jason Cruz
69 AD: Robert Botfeld
70 AD: Aries Dela Cruz
71 AD: Johanna Garcia
72 AD: Manny De Los Santos
73 AD: Meryl Brodsky
74 AD: Sandro Sherrod
75 AD: Sylvia DiPietro
76 AD: Pierre Ratzki