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City’s New Civic Engagement Commission Misses Its Closeup

A still from a video ad promoting November 2018 ballot initiatives, including the creation of a Civic Engagement Commission.
A still from a video ad promoting November 2018 ballot initiatives, including the creation of a Civic Engagement Commission. Photo: NYC Mayor’s Office

The city’s new Civic Engagement Commission has some work to do to live up to its name — violating in its first gathering a law requiring city government to webcast meetings.

The commission’s 13 members convened at Manhattan’s Municipal Building on Centre Street Monday afternoon to begin planning its programs.

Under a City Charter amendment approved by voters last November, the commission is supposed to advise community boards, expand the City Council’s participatory budgeting citywide, provide poll interpreters and generally encourage greater civic involvement.

But no video feed of the meeting was or is available on the commission’s website, despite Local Law 103 of 2013’s requirement that agency and commission meetings be broadcast live “where practicable.” Video is required to be posted no later than 72 hours after a meeting’s conclusion.

After an inquiry from THE CITY on Friday, a City Hall spokesperson said “The video will be up today,” once closed captions are completed.

The video appeared on the commission’s website late Friday.

Six onlookers were in attendance when THE CITY reporter went to the commission’s opening session on Monday, where members discussed its operations and objectives.

Sarah Sayeed, who chairs the commission, urged the group to get “informed on what civic engagement is” and said that their official government email addresses would be set up imminently.

Sayeed said that the city’s Law Department was still developing bylaws for the group and apologized for not having answers to some members’ inquiries.

“I’m hoping over the course of the next few weeks we’ll come back with more definite answers on those questions,” she said.

Million-Dollar Campaign

More than 1 million New Yorkers voted to approve the creation of the Civic Engagement Commission this past November, one of three items on a ballot referendum generated by Mayor de Blasio’s 2018 Charter Revision Commission.

Another approved measure imposed an eight-year term limit on community board members. The Civic Engagement Commission is charged with helping equip new board members with the knowledge to make informed decisions on land use, budgeting and other matters.

The third item lowered campaign contribution limits and amplified a taxpayer-funded matching program intended to reduce the influence of the wealthy in politics.

City Hall spent more than $1 million on TV and online video, among other advertising, to persuade city voters to “#flipyourballot” and approve the three measures. Labor unions, under the banner “Democracy Yes,” added $120,000 in promotions.

All commission members are volunteers except Sayeed, who also holds the title of executive director.

This isn’t the first time the commission has been late: City officials were also late on creating the commission and naming members, missing an April 1 deadline.

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