Pierre Ratzki, the 76th Assembly District's representative to the Manhattan Democratic Party's Rules Committee, wrote an update about their final meeting. I attended the meeting with Pierre, and there were mixed results. They came to a consensus around all the of proposed transparency-enhancing measures except for the most important one, the ban on lobbyists serving as Party Leader. I've copied his report below.
Since my last update, the Rules Committee has met two more times, on February 13th and March 1st. We are not likely to meet again in person, though we are continuing to talk by email and phone to work out the final details on the Committee’s report and recommendation.
The Committee has arrived at consensus on several rules changes, and we were able to agree on many important reforms that strengthen transparency, accountability, and the democratic nature of the County Committee. Some of the most important reforms include:
1) Increasing notice: Notice of County Committee meetings (including the County-wide meeting, as well as Executive Committee and Divisional meetings) will be sent by email to members who have provided their email address. Additionally, we agreed to increase the notice of the biannual County Committee meeting from 5 to 7 days.
2) Letting constituents know who represents them on the County Committee: The County Committee will publish the full membership list on its website, which will include the names and election districts (but, due to privacy concerns, not addresses) of all members.
3) Strengthening the grassroots nature of the County Committee: A new rule will lower the threshold for members placing items on the agenda for County Committee meetings. The current rules require that any new business originating from the membership have the support of at least 500 members, including at least 25 members from each of ten Assembly District parts, which is a near-insurmountable bar. Under the agreed-upon change, members can raise new business so long as it is supported by at least 90 members, including at least 15 members from each of 6 Assembly District parts. This change dramatically reduces the barriers to member-driven action, and is an important step in democratizing the County Committee.
4) Holding the County Leader accountable to the will of the County Committee’s members: A new rule will provide the following: whenever there is a vacancy in a seat that encompasses more than one county, the County Chairperson shall convene a joint meeting of the two (or more) relevant District Committees to choose which which candidate shall fill the vacancy. If a joint meeting is not held, and New York County’s share of the vote constitutes more than 50% of the voting power, the Chairperson shall vote 100% of New York County’s vote share for the candidate preferred by its District Committee. This rule change is designed to, first and foremost, encourage joint meetings whenever there is an intercounty vacancy, as this is the most directly democratic means of selecting a nominee. The rule also prevents the County leadership from circumventing the will of the District Committee members by failing to call a joint meeting.
5) Creating an independent and effective Ethics Committee: The Ethics Committee is empowered to hear ethics-related complaints and, if necessary, impose sanctions for violations. However, under the current rules, the Ethics Committee is only a subcommittee of the Executive Committee, and has no formal structure. Under the proposed changes, the Ethics Committee will become an independent, standing committee, consisting of five members of the County Committee. No County Leader, no more than one member of Executive Committee, and no more than one officer shall serve as a member. The rule change is aimed at ensuring the Ethics Committee’s independence from leadership influence, which is essential to its function as the County Committee’s oversight authority.
I am thankful to the other members of the Rules Committee for lively and fruitful debate, and I am glad that we were able to agree on these positive changes.
We also debated holding a County Committee meeting at least once a year, instead of only once every two years. I supported increasing the number of meetings, as I believe they provide a platform for members to band together and promote issues at the county-wide level. However, after much discussion, we agreed to organize a county-wide convention, most likely to be held in the summer. The convention would include, for example, workshops to promote effective local activism, as well as forums on pressing policy matters. It would be open not only to County Committee members, but to all local Democrats, and could be a good opportunity to build interest in the County party. I volunteered to help organize such a convention – please let me know if you are interested, and if you have any ideas for how to make the most of the event.
Finally, the Rules Committee thoroughly debated a rule that would ban registered lobbyists (or anyone who receives substantial compensation from any lobbying firm) from serving as either County Leader or County Chairperson the County Leader or County Chairperson. The full text of the proposed rule is as follows:
Article VI § 3 (e): Neither the County Leader nor the County Chairperson shall receive any compensation in return for lobbying the city or state of New York on any matter, nor shall they receive compensation in excess of $10,000 per year in aggregate from any business, partnership, or firm registered as a lobbyist with the city or state of New York.
I fully support this proposed change, and advocated for it repeatedly during the Rules Committee meetings. Further, when we held our last Divisional meeting, we voted nearly unanimously to support the change. It is critical that we hold our party to the highest ethical standards, and that we not only avoid conflicts of interest but also the appearance of such conflicts. If people perceive the County party to be captured by special interests, they are more likely to feel disillusioned and less likely to get involved – and now, more than ever, we need to foster grassroots enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, the Committee did not vote to recommend the lobbying ban. Myself and two others were the only three votes in support; we are, however, considering our options for pushing for this proposed change going forward, and I am eager to hear more from you on the issue.
If you want to get in touch, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or let’s talk at the next club meeting!