City Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez on Thursday will introduce legislation prohibiting city lawmakers from making more than $25,000 from side jobs and requiring them to disclose more information about outside employment. It would be the most significant ethics reform proposal since the convictions of Councilmember Bobby Henon and former electricians union leader John J. Dougherty on federal corruption charges.
The bill “allows for more transparency and clarity, and I think we have a responsibility to review ourselves periodically, particularly after cases like this,” said Quiñones-Sánchez, a longtime nemesis of the politically powerful union and the only member of Council who has called for Henon to resign. “What we saw and what was ultimately decided by the courts presented a challenge for Council.”
The reform push comes a month after a jury convicted Dougherty and Henon on bribery and honest services fraud charges in a case that centered on the $70,000 salary Henon collected from Local 98 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers while on Council. Prosecutors cast that payment, which Henon disclosed at the time and has maintained was for services unrelated to his Council duties, as a payment from Dougherty to do his bidding on Council.
It’s unclear whether the proposal will gain support on Council. The bill will be debated in the new year, as Thursday is Council’s last session before its winter break.
Three other members listed outside jobs on their most recent financial disclosure forms. Councilmembers Derek Green and Brian O’Neill are both attorneys and reported receiving income from law firms. O’Neill, however, has since retired from his legal job and is no longer being paid by the firm, Fox Rothschild. Councilmember Allan Domb has a real estate business and operates a well-known brokerage.
Councilmembers David Oh and Isaiah Thomas listed ownership stakes in small businesses.
Currently, lawmakers are only required to list their outside sources of income and do not have to provide details such as their duties or how much they make at the other jobs.
Quiñones-Sánchez’s proposal would require them to include a statement that describes the nature of the employment “in sufficient detail to determine what conflicts of interest, if any, may arise out of such income.”
Patrick Christmas, policy director for the good-government group the Committee of Seventy, said he hasn’t yet reviewed the bill but applauds Quiñones-Sánchez for proposing ethics reform.
“We are pleased to see the Councilwoman pushing the discussion around what the reforms should be in the aftermath of the Local 98 trial, and this includes of course considerations around outside employment and conflicts of interest,” Christmas said.
The Committee of Seventy has previously endorsed banning all outside employment for lawmakers, a prohibition in New York and other cities. Christmas said the new proposal may lead to a middle ground.
“It appears as though she’s seeking to find a balance or thread the needle between a full-fledged ban on outside employment and providing some opportunity for members to hold jobs that should not cause any kind of conflict of interest or public integrity concern,” Christmas said.
The bill also includes a provision unrelated to outside employment that alters the definition of what constitutes a conflict of interest when Council members consider legislation that could affect their personal finances.
Currently, the Board of Ethics maintains that there’s no conflict for Council members when a piece of legislation before them benefits them individually as long as the proposal in question affects a broad range of people. For example, members who own businesses can vote to lower the business tax rate despite the fact that such a change will save them money.
Quiñones-Sánchez’s bill would tighten that exemption by clarifying that “the fact that others may have similar financial interests” does not mean a member does not have a conflict of interest, potentially widening the types of situations that could require members to recuse themselves from debates and votes.
The bill, however, also says there is no conflict when members have financial interests that are so common that enforcing the rule would be impractical or unnecessary to protect the city’s integrity.
The provision is sure to generate debate over what circumstances it would apply to. But if the bill is approved as it is currently written, the provision could affect Domb, given his vast holdings, which also include restaurants.
Lawmakers next year will also consider a proposal by Council President Darrell L. Clarke that would tweak the process for handling potential conflicts of interest by requiring members to provide written notice when they recuse themselves from votes. Clarke said his proposal is unrelated to the Local 98 case.