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Mayor issues revised exec order, council asks for rescindment

Mayor Ann Thane issued a memo on October 23,2014 which rescinds a previous executive order issued back in August that gave direction to city staff  in regards to their interactions with Common Council members. Thane says the new order addresses concerns from the NY Civil Liberties union that the original order infringed on city employees’ first amendment rights. However, members of Common Council passed a resolution at yesterday’s council meeting asking the mayor to rescind the new order.

Thane claimed during discussions with the council back in August that she had received complaints from several different departments about the amount of time being expended on extended conversations with council members. The original executive order directed city employees to get approval from the mayor before meeting with common council members, that the mayor be informed of any requests for information from council members, and that any request for information requiring more than 15 minutes of work to produce would require the mayor’s approval.

The city received a letter from the NYCLU in September which asked the mayor to rescind the order because it “violates the First Amendment rights of public employees when they speak as private citizens to make statements about non-confidential matters of public concern.” The letter went on to say “specifically, our concerns rest on the notification and pre-clearance requirements that may have a broad inhibiting effect on all City employees – chilling potential speech before it happens, even for those who might ultimately receive permission to speak.”

The revised order states that “employees are to respond to reasonable information requests from Council Members and provide the requested information,” with the stipulation that any requests that are “complex or burdensome” or that would take more than 15 minutes to prepare should be brought to the attention of the employee’s department head before honoring the request. The memo defines an unreasonable request as one in which “preparation of the response will negatively impact other work.”

The order also states that if asked by a council member to complete a certain task, “it is appropriate to comply with such reasonable requests that are a part of the employee’s job description,” but asserts that the council members do not direct staff members and that staff are not obligated to comply to any given request.

The revised order reiterates the previous order’s direction that any meeting involving discussion of employee performance or department policy or procedure must be scheduled through the mayor’s office.

Finally, the order clarifies that “this executive order does not apply to any city employee in his or her non-official capacity when he or she wants to speak, associate, or meet with anyone as a private citizen regarding non-confidential matters or public interest.”

At Tuesday’s meeting, Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler said, “I’d like to recommend that you actually rescind the new [order] that you’ve put out. We don’t need this, the employees don’t need this, and we need to move ahead as best as we possibly can. But we don’t need a gag order hanging over us and that’s essentially what this is in one form or another. It needs to be done away with.”

Thane responded by saying “This is not a gag order…it is executive policy. It is to create efficiency and actually open doors of communication. And the concerns that were brought up by the NY Civil Liberties Union have been addressed…and it’s really not something that you can rescind by resolution because it’s executive policy.”

Corporation Counsel Gerald DeCusatis noted that the resolution was only a request for the mayor to rescind the resolution, not a rescindment in itself. The resolution was passed by all four council members present. Alderwoman Valerie Beekman was absent.

Today, NYCLU Attorney Lisa Laplace, who authored the letter to the city, said that she was glad that the city was “quick to partner with us to take on some of our comments.” Laplace said she has reviewed the new executive order and said the revisions were a step in the right direction in protecting employees’ first amendment rights, but that she felt “more could have been done.” She said that some of the policies needed to be “more fleshed out” in terms of protecting first amendment rights. Laplace said that NYCLU does not offer any guidelines or specific suggestions as to how municipal policies should be written.

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8 Responses to Mayor issues revised exec order, council asks for rescindment

  1. Luis says:

    The ego this Mayor displays is phenomenal. Yet after being told by the ACLU not to step on city hall employees rights to speak freely to the public. Mayor Thane is still pushing to continue to create anarchy at City Hall.

    This is by no means moving Amsterdam in the right direction.

    • Rob Millan says:

      Luis,
      The ACLU’s letter was and remains non-compelling- there is absolutely nothing tying their opinion to anything else.

      • Luis says:

        Rob, If that were the case and it’s not, then why did the Mayor move so quickly one day after receiving the letter from the ACLU informing her of her violating the civil rights of City Hall employees. Besides they have case law on their side but you would say it’s meritless? Sounds like someone attempting to grey the issue.

      • Tim Becker says:

        Nothing in the letter said “we’re going to sue you unless you change it,” but when you get a complaint from the NYCLU which has ample resources and files lawsuits on a regular basis, it’s kind of an unspoken/unwritten threat, the way I perceive it.

  2. Luis says:

    Rob, since you seem to think so little of the ACLU/NYCLU and their message. I cut and paste for you a little of what they do:
    About the NYCLU

    The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is one of the nation’s foremost defenders of civil liberties and civil rights.

    The NYCLU’s Annual Report
    Founded in 1951 as the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, we are a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization with eight chapters and regional offices and nearly 50,000 members across the state.
    Our mission is to defend and promote the fundamental principles and values embodied in the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, and the New York Constitution, including freedom of speech and religion, and the right to privacy, equality and due process of law for all New Yorkers.

    • Rob Millan says:

      Luis,

      I know very well who and what the ACLU/NYCLU are, and that’s not the point even in the slightest. The point is they are simply an organization that has basically informed the City they feel the Executive Order is illegal based on specific case law it has cited. That does not inherently imply the EO is illegal. And the mayor re-writing the EO is by no means an admission of any guilt.

      • Luis says:

        I could agree to that but your leaving out some very important facts. The NYCLU is not going to waste its time and resources on such matters unless they feel its violated their mission and the rights of New Yorkers.

        While you can state the obvious, no hearing has been held where this subject has been heard and argued and a final decision rendered. I would add that you would argue that is non-compelling in order to deflect that Mayor Thane violated the rights of City Hall employees.

        Before the NYCLU got involued this mechanism was used extensively by the adminastration to bully people and all kept quite at City Hall by abusing an Executive Order privilege.

  3. Alayne says:

    Sadly this is just another result of the mayors lack of managerial skills, which has been evidenced on many occasions including the lack of financial accountability in the recreation dept. and lack of responsibility in the legal dept.