Common sense suggests that city commissioners, even those who serve part time, shouldn’t be lobbyists in the very industries they regulate. But-here’s a surprise-common sense doesn’t always prevail in municipal government.
The New York Post recently revealed that two part-time commissioners, Margery Perlmutter of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Harry Giannoulis of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, work full time as lobbyists, Ms. Perlmutter for New York University, which has an expansion plan before the Landmarks Commission, and Mr. Giannoulis for the National Biodiesel Board, which advocates for greener transportation alternatives.
Nobody has suggested that the commissioners have acted improperly in balancing their dual roles. In fact, Mr. Giannoulis’ lobbying firm was hired not to lobby on transportation issues but to monitor heating-oil legislation on behalf of the Biodiesel Board. Nevertheless, conflicts-and the appearance of conflicts-are inevitable. Ms. Perlmutter’s client, N.Y.U., must go before the Landmarks Preservation Commission as part of its laudable expansion plan in the Village. Ms. Perlmutter maintains that her work for N.Y.U. involves projects that will not come before the commission, and she plans to recuse herself when the N.Y.U. plan comes to a vote.
The question is not whether these two commissioners are handling their dual roles with discretion. They appear to be. The issue is whether City Hall should allow part-time commissioners to hire themselves out as lobbyists. Voters already are suspicious of the insider game that politics and lawmaking have become. Allowing commissioners to work as lobbyists in the very fields they regulate does little to inspire confidence in the integrity of their decision making.
Commissioners who work part time-and, in the case of Ms. Perlmutter, without salary-obviously are entitled to earn a living. But it surely is within the city’s right to insist that they not work as lobbyists while they are making important decisions in their public capacity.
It just doesn’t smell right.