With the Best of Intentions: Ending City Council Stipends

Elizabeth Benjamin, who writes The Daily Politics, a must-read political blog, cites Frank Lombardi’s Daily News report that several members of the City Council are foregoing the extra stipends—anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 in so-called “lulus”—they could get for chairing a Council committee or subcommittee. Three of the members, Ydanis Rodriguez, Matthieu Eugene, and newcomer Jumaane Williams, are generously calling for their lulus to go to relief efforts in Haiti.

Benjamin reports that the good-government group “Citizens Union wants to get rid of the stipend system, arguing it is little more than a tool with which the speaker exerts control over rank-and-file members – bestowing favors on those who are loyal, and, as with [Councilman Charles] Barron, punishing those to step out of line.”

What Benjamin does not say is that the main beneficiary of ending the lulu system would be the mayor, who, without a powerful Speaker, would find it easier to reward or punish individual Council members to achieve mayoral goals. The Council as a body would find it harder to unify around an issue.

Due to a legal principle called the “doctrine of curtailment,” a change such as eliminating lulus might have to be made through a public referendum. A charter revision commission could call for such a referendum on November’s ballot. This is yet another reason for voters to be alert to how the charter revision game is played.

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