The Conflict of Interest Board Should Take A Look At This……
You should know that this week, Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams will be sworn in as the New York City Public Advocate. Like many New Yorkers, I wish him well in his newly elected office.
You should also know that since the time when former Public Advocate Tish James was sworn in to serve as New York State’s duly-elected Attorney General, Manhattan Councilman Corey Johnson has been wearing two governmental hats: one as a City Council Member and the other as the Acting Public Advocate.
Corey Johnson was duly elected as Councilman in the 3rd District, and then by vote of his Members, was elected to the position of City Council Speaker.
It is important for you to know that the Public Advocate is a citywide elected post, serving as an independent ombudsman or watchdog over various City services and agencies, including the City Council.
The mechanism for Corey Johnson to ascend to the Acting Public Advocate position is founded under Section 44 of the New York City Charter, which states: “the speaker shall act as public advocate pending the filling of the vacancy pursuant to subdivision c of section twenty-four, and shall be a member of every board of which the public advocate is a member by virtue of his or her office.”
However, there are those who wonder if a constitutional problem exists in our New York City governmental system because of Corey Johnson’s failure to resign or step aside as Councilman and City Council Speaker during his tenure as Acting Public Advocate.
An article written on September 7, 2018 by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter in the, Gotham Gazette stated:
“It would be the first time since the creation of the office of public advocate and the current office of the speaker, through a charter revision in 1989, that the clause would go into effect. It’s unclear how the speaker would approach the dual role, even in the interim, as he would both lead his 51-member legislative body and large central staff, and, as the title suggests, an office that advocates for the interests of everyday New Yorkers and keeps a watch on the functions and failures of city government. Both Johnson’s and James’ offices declined to comment for this article. Johnson has endorsed James for attorney general.”
You should know that there hasn’t been a lot written about “dual office holding.”
Dual office holding is when a legislator holds more than one elected and /or appointed governmental positions.
Under common law, there has long been a prohibition on the practice of dual office holding.
This particular undecided legal question of dual office holding may be something that the Conflicts of Interest Board of the City of New York should be investigating. They may want to refer to their own 1991 case of James Molinaro, where they acknowledged why there is a ban on dual office holding: “The rule was intended to prevent public servants from being subject to conflicts of interest as a result of conflicting duties to their political offices and to their constituents.”
For example, when Speaker Cory Johnson oversaw the New York City Council’s vote to disband the “For Hire Vehicles” Committee, perhaps the Public Advocate or Acting Public Advocate might have had a position contrary to that of Corey Johnson and more in favor of the For Hire Vehicle drivers who relied on this committee to be heard.
In this regard, there may have been a conflict of interest, which may in fact, invalidate the City Council’s actions, which was prompted by Acting Public Advocate/Speaker Johnson to disband that “For Hire Vehicles” Committee.
While this issue may seem to become moot on the day that the Honorable Jumaane Williams is sworn in, it is not moot.
Since this situation can reoccur, and because of the doubtful legality of actions that were taken during this interim period that began on January 1, 2019, this issue should be addressed by Conflicts of Interest Board.
I am City Councilman Rev. Ruben Diaz, and this is What You Should Know.
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