Role of the New York City Council and Council Committee Systems
The New York City Council is the law-making body of the City of New York. It is comprised of 51 members from 51 different Council Districts throughout the five boroughs (16 from Brooklyn, 8 from the Bronx, 10 from Manhattan, 14 from Queens, and 3 from Staten Island.) The Council monitors the operation and performance of city agencies, makes land use decisions and has sole responsibility for approving the city’s budget. It also legislates on a wide range of other subjects. The Council is an equal partner with the Mayor in the governing of New York City.
The budget is the centerpiece of policymaking in government. Through the budget, the Council establishes priorities, allocates resources and sets the policy agenda for the year. It is the single most important municipal document that affects the lives of New Yorkers. While the Mayor proposes the city’s spending priorities for the upcoming year, the Council has final budget approval powers. During the budget process, the Council may change budget priorities and add special “terms and conditions” requiring city agencies to report to the Council on how specific monies are being spent throughout the year.
Under the 1990 Charter revision, the Council acquired the power to review land use issues and approve zoning changes, housing and urban renewal plans, community development plans and the disposition of city-owned property. This power gives the Council the most significant voice in the growth and development of New York City. The Council holds regular oversight hearings on city agencies to determine how agency programs are working and whether budgeted funds are being well spent.
As legislative body, the Council makes and passes the laws governing the city. The Council has passed landmark legislation on designated smoking areas in public places, campaign finance, anti-apartheid, solid-waste recycling and restrictions on assault weapons. Legislation pending in the Council is called an Introduction, often abbreviated “Intro” or “Int”, and is assigned a number. When an Introduction is signed by the Mayor it becomes Local Law and is assigned a new number. Local laws may also be enacted over the objection of the Mayor through the veto override process. Once enacted, Local Laws are incorporated into the City’s Charter and Administrative Code.
Resolutions are used by the Council as a vehicle for legislative action and to express the sentiment of the body on important public policy issues. These issues may or may not fall under City jurisdiction. Resolutions may also be used to adopt land use decisions such as down zoning, and to adopt the annual City budget for both expense spending and capital spending.
Most of the Council’s legislative work is done in committee. It is there that proposed legislation is initially debated and the members of other government branches and the public are given a chance to comment. Each Council Member serves on at least three of the Council’s standing committees, sub- and select committees and panels. The standing committees must meet at least once a month unless the Charter mandates otherwise. Committee assignments are made by the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections and voted on by the entire Council.
Most Council hearings are held in the Council Chambers or the adjoining Committee Room in City Hall. Hearings are also held in the Hearing Room on the 16th floor of 250 Broadway. Meetings of the entire Council, referred to as Stated Meetings, are held twice a month at City Hall. A weekly schedule of Council hearings is available in the Council’s Office of Communications in City Hall.
The Speaker of the Council, Christine Quinn, the Majority Leader, the Minority Leader, and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum are ex-officio members of all committees. The Council Speaker is elected by the Council members and is primarily responsible for obtaining a consensus on major issues. The representative for the position of Minority Leader is elected from among the party with the next largest representation. Although not a member of the Council, the Public Advocate presides at the Council’s Stated Meetings and votes in the case of a tie. In the Advocate’s absence, the Speaker presides or designates a presiding officer, or the body may elect from among its membership a President Pro Tempore to preside.
Source: New York City Council website