Council holds hearing on patronage at Board of Elections
Gentile says more oversight is needed
Patronage and dysfunction at the city’s Board of Elections were the focus of a tense City Council hearing on Feb. 28, as lawmakers vowed to make changes to insure more transparency at the board that oversees elections in the city.
The council’s committees on Oversight and Investigations and Governmental Operations jointly held the hearing to probe more deeply into a recently released report from the Department of Investigations (DOI) that detailed a shocking level of institutional dysfunction and patronage at the Board of Elections (BOE).
Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) is the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Investigations.
NY1 News reported that the DOI’s undercover probe found that the BOE is dysfunctional, is overrun by nepotism, and that there are dead people still listed on its rolls.
In its report, issued in December, the DOI issued more than 30 recommendations for the BOE to adopt.
“Our work here today was a positive step towards a better democratic process in New York City. This is one step in the effort to address concerns raised by the Department of Investigations report, which showed how far we need to go to support and oversee New York City’s elections,” Gentile said.
“I look forward to working with all of my colleagues to increase efficiency, transparency and accountability at all levels,” Gentile added.
The BOE needs to move away from and “opaque hiring system of nepotism and patronage,” said Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Upper East Side), chairman of the Committee on Governmental Operations.
The committees heard testimony from Department of Investigation Commissioner Mark Peters and Board of Elections Executive Director Michael Ryan as well representatives from good government groups like Citizens Union, Common Cause, League of Women Voters, and the New York Public Interest Research Group.
There was a tense atmosphere in the room, the New York Daily News reported. Peters testified that the BOE was uncooperative and “outright hostile” during the investigation and Ryan denied the charge, the News reported.
The bottom line, according to the two committee chairmen, is that the city needs to insure fair and open elections.
“Our mandate is to protect voters, and that means facilitating a positive voting experience. Patronage, nepotism and politics at the Board of Elections cannot be enemies to the democratic process,” Kallos said.
At the hearing, the BOE made a number of commitments to improve the agency, according to Gentile. The BOE agreed to a standardized hiring and screening process and agreed to consider a civil service exam hiring process for employees.
The BOE also made a commitment at the hearing to investigate and terminate any employee found to be requiring workers to take part in political activities or punishing an employee for taking part political activities.
“The New York City Board of Elections has made progress under executive director Michael Ryan, but it has a long way to go before it is a fully effective and professional agency. New Yorkers have a right to a democracy that just works. Dysfunction at the institution responsible for our democratic choice is simply unacceptable,” Kallos said.
Gentile said that he and Kallos will continue to monitor the progress of the BOE’s actions.