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Why the mayor’s appointees should be confirmed

Since the founding of our democracy, advice and consent has been used to protect against the abuse of power within our government. The Federalist Papers identified this power, which bestows the legislature with the ability to confirm nominees of top executive branch officials, as “an excellent check upon a spirit of favoritism in the President, and would tend greatly to prevent the appointment of unfit characters from State prejudice, from family connection, from personal attachment, or from a view to popularity.”

It is a power that New York State has entrusted to its highest legislative branch however, one that is also selectively established for the New York City Council.

I believe that good government calls for us to expand this authority to include more of the city’s agency commissioners who control critical services that affect and determine the well-being of New Yorkers.

We must hold high standards for our commissioners. The City Charter makes it clear that their responsibility is not only to the mayor, but to all elected officials, indicating that they “shall advise and assist the mayor, other elected officials and bodies of elected officials in regard to the matters under the jurisdiction of their agencies.”

For decades, the Council has held this power related to several mayoral appointees. It currently includes the commissioner of the Department of Investigation, Taxi and Limousine Commission chair and members, and dozens of other positions on boards and commissions. The corporation counsel was newly made subject to advice and consent by a charter revision that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2019.

The Council has taken this responsibility seriously. During this administration, the Council has approved more than 35 mayoral nominees through such powers. It has helped ensure that qualified candidates are put forward, the public has an opportunity to engage, and there is focus on a nominee’s ability to perform charter-mandated responsibilities on behalf of New Yorkers.

That is why I am introducing legislation that expands the Council’s advice and consent powers to an additional 21 agency commissioners, such as Sanitation, Health and Parks.

A transparent process allowing nominees to introduce themselves to elected officials and the public they serve advances our collective goal of good government. Through an open hearing, the public could provide comments and engage meaningfully in a matter of civic importance.

A robust process benefits nominees, offering them an early opportunity to build relationships across government and earn the public’s trust by demonstrating their expertise and qualifications. It would empower commissioners to focus on sound governance of agencies and move the process of appointments out of the shadows, making it less likely that posts are used for political patronage.

As a city, we stand to benefit from this change.

The proposed legislation’s approach is incremental. It does not seek advice and consent for all of the more than 80 commissioner-level positions appointed by the mayor, nor for state law-derived positions or uniformed first responders. Yet, ensuring that heads of city agencies are accountable to sound governance is imperative for good government.

Once a nomination is made and accepted at a Council meeting, the Council would have 30 days to hold a hearing and act upon the nomination. If the Council does not act within this period, the nomination would be considered confirmed.

Top government leadership positions are an honor for accomplished public servants who meet the challenges and needs of the moment. We have seen examples of some strong agency leaders within this administration. A transparent advice and consent process would have identified strengths earlier and boosted partnerships with colleagues across government to deliver for New Yorkers.

This type of reform only strengthens our city’s government and representative democracy, bringing it in line with our state and federal governments. We must ensure these top positions remain beacons of public service, not tools of personal or political enrichment.

As the Federalist Papers noted, a person “who had sole disposition of offices, would be governed much more by private inclinations and interests, than when bound to submit the propriety of [their] choice to the discussion and determination of a different and independent body.” Advice and consent, then, is a powerful tool to ensure a level of democratic accountability against abuse and in support of public interest.

The foundation of our democracy including this provision illustrates foresight on the need to stem unfettered power.

This bill is focused on improving government, so we can continue to safeguard our future and the foundation of our democracy.

Adams is speaker of the New York City Council.

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