Thursday, January 28, 2010

Council Members Receive Committee Assignments

Ulrich, Koslowtiz and Van Bramer Support Reform Efforts

By Conor Greene

The City Council’s 51 members received their committee assignments – as determined by Speaker Christine Quinn – last week, with several local officials named to important positions. The assignments come at a time when a government watchdog group Citizens Union is pushing for the end of awarding stipends to committee chairs.

Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) was assigned to six committees: civic service and labor, education, housing and buildings, public safety, transportation and waterfronts. He is beginning his first full four-year term on the City Council after defeating Democrat Frank Gulluscio in November. He served most of 2009 after winning a special election earlier that year to replace Joseph Addabbo, who joined the State Senate.

Ulrich was promoted by his party to the position of Minority Whip, which comes with a $5,000 stipend. Ulrich has pledged to donate that money to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

“I am truly grateful for the trust and confidence that my colleagues have placed in me,” said Ulrich. “These committee assignments will allow me to better serve my constituents, and the communities within my district. At each hearing, I will be a voice for the needs and concerns of the people that I represent. And even though times are tough for many families, it’s important for them to know that someone is standing up for them at City Hall.”

Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) received a key assignment when she was named chair of the fire and criminal justice committee. Since taking office, she has been an active member of that committee, addressing issues including the city’s new “failed Unified Call Taking system,” which is used to dispatch crews to emergencies. She also fought against the planned closings of 16 fire companies, which was avoided when $17 million was restored to last year’s FDNY budget.

“I believe that the committee… is one of the most important with regards to the safety and protection of all New Yorkers, and it is an honor to serve as chair” said Crowley. “As chair, I will prioritize the protection and safety needs of all New Yorkers to ensure that, come budget time, these vital services are not compromised.” Crowley will receive a $10,000 stipend for heading that committee.

Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), who is again representing the area after serving two terms on the Council before being forced out by term limits, was named chair of the consumer affairs committee, which also comes with a $10,000 stipend.

Newly-elected Council member Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), whose district includes parts of Maspeth, was named chair of the cultural affairs and libraries committee. The former director of Queens Library’s external affairs said in a statement that he has always been passionate about cultural institutions.

“They embody the vitality of this city, increase tourism and are an integral part of the economic engine that keeps New York the most dynamic city in the world,” he said. “I am keenly aware of how essential libraries are to the every day lives of New Yorkers, and I will fight to protect the invaluable services and programs that they provide.”

The assignments come as Citizens Union is calling upon the Council to cut in half the number of committees and ending the practice of awarding stipends to committee chairs. The CU is urging the 21 Council members who expressed support for ending the awarding of stipends on top of the $112,000 base salary to support this effort.

“The practice of awarding stipends needs to end,” said CU Director Dick Dadey. “They go to almost every member to increase their pay and help bring loyalty to the Speaker. Stipends drive up the number of unnecessary committees and strengthen the influence of the Speaker beyond what is necessary because she decides who gets them and how much they get. The use of stipends is a throwback to an older boss-drive system of government.”

According to CU, the 21 members who voiced support for reforming the system of doling out stipends include Ulrich, Koslowitz and Van Bramer. Crowley did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment on her position on this issue.

The other Council members from Queens supporting the reform are: Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), Julissa Ferreras (D-Corona), Dan Halloran (R-Bayside), Peter Koo (R-Flushing) and Diana Reyna (D-Ridgewood).

There are 46 Council committees, subcommittees and task forces, with stipends totaling nearly half a million dollars annually, according to the CU.

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