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Letter: NYCLU Expresses Concern Over Proposed NYC City Charter Amendmends Concerning City Contracts

October 8, 2003 City Council Member Robert Jackson Chair, Committee on Contracts Mr. Joel Rivera Chairperson New York City Select Committee on Charter Revision Dear Messrs. Jackson and Rivera: We write to express concern regarding two proposals to amend the New York City charter as regards the City’s contract procurement practices. We have received late notice regarding today’s hearings on these issues before the City Council’s Committee on Contracts and the Select Committee on Charter Revision. We ask that you recognize, therefore, that the following comments are not intended to be exhaustive. But given the nearness of the election, in which these issues may be presented to the voters, we offer the following comments on the two proposals. One of these proposals would amend Section 1305 of the City Charter, which currently requires businesses contracting with the city to provide an employment report that includes information regarding “employment practices, policies, procedures, statistics and collective bargaining agreements.” Such information is necessary to ensure compliance with equal employment opportunity requirements mandated by federal, state and local laws. The Staff Report to the Charter Revision Commission states, without further elaboration, that this reporting requirement is “overly rigid.” However, the information included in these procurement-related employment reports – regarding such matters as hiring practices, collective bargaining agreements, as well as the race, gender, and ethnicity of a contractor’s employees – is necessary to determine the impact of city contracting practices on women and on ethnic and racial minorities. Without such information it is not possible to conduct even the most basic assessment as to the fairness and equity of a prospective contractor’s employment practices. As to the assertion in the Staff Report to the Charter Revision Commission that an employment report is overly burdensome, there is no evidence provided that this is in fact the case. Given the public policy interest in ensuring that organizations doing business with the city use fair and non-discriminatory contracting and employment procedures, it would seem that requiring such organizations seeking a city contract to complete an employment report is not an undue burden. We are also troubled by proposed Charter revisions that would amend Sections 319 and 320 of the City Charter, waiving the requirements that there be published notice and hearings regarding certain contracts should the mayor determine such a notice or hearing “may be detrimental to the security of the city or its citizens.” A waiver of public notice and hearing requirements in the city’s contract procurement procedures would constitute a dangerous precedent, one that is not justified by vague allusions to the need to protect public security. An open government is essential to ensure that elected official and other public employees are held accountable for their actins. The proposed waiver of the public notice and hearing requirement regarding contracts let by the city would in effect sanction secret government procedures regarding the disbursement of public monies to private businesses. The Charter Revision Commission states in its web site that this secret contracting procedure is necessary as a security precaution. This rationale, provided without factual support, is not persuasive. One need only scan recent front-page news stories to learn of highly questionable contracts let by the federal government to the Halliburton Corporation and to the Bechtel Corporation. These contracts were awarded through limited, or no-bid, procedure to organizations with close ties to officials of the federal government. The rationale offered for this suspect contracting process was national security. We reiterate that the foregoing comments are not intended as a comprehensive analysis of the proposed Charter revisions discussed. However, we find these proposals misguided; and in the absence of compelling evidence that indicates otherwise, we believe the Charter Revision Commission should reject the aforementioned proposals to amend New York City’s procurement practices. Sincerely, Robert A. Perry Legislative Counsel Donna Lieberman Executive Director cc: Members of the City Council Committee on Contracts Members of the New York City Select Committee on Charter Revision

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