For City Council, federal holidays are reason to celebrate

(David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)

TODAY is Thursday, but don't bother going to City Council chambers; Council is not meeting. As the Daily News reported this week, Council is off for Presidents Day - a holiday that fell on Monday.

Council has a longstanding tradition of not holding an official Thursday meeting the week of any federal holiday, which is practically self-parody for a legislative body that - how to put this nicely? - lacks a reputation for industriousness.

(This is on top of the fact that City Hall was officially closed on Monday.)

New Council President Darrell Clarke said he hopes to change this custom in the future, and maybe even have Council members meet during the summer. Which is good. But only if he actually makes it happen. When we asked Clarke's spokeswoman if we could count on Council holding a Thursday meeting the week of Memorial Day, the next federal holiday, she couldn't say for sure.

It's not like our elected representatives should be in desperate need of R&R. By yesterday, Feb. 22, Council had held just six total meetings and hearings in 2012 - tied for the fewest of any year in the past decade. Compare that with 2007, when Council had met 22 times by that date.

Serving as a Council member isn't exactly hard labor. While many spend long days while in session, the fact is they're officially entitled to more than 15 weeks of holidays, including the summer. The city charter does not mandate a minimum number of days Council must meet or work.

This year's number of meetings and hearings is low partly because it's the start of a new term, so bills couldn't be carried over from last year. But it also suggests a less-than-ambitious Council. These meetings are where issues get debated and laws get made, and Council's main appearance before the public - most other business is behind closed doors.

The meetings are just one measure of Council's productivity - constituent work is another, for example - and the quantity of meetings is not as important as the quality. On this score, a few Council members have done good work this year, introducing bills dealing with vacant land, school funding, minority-contract participation, and fiscal responsibility, among other things. But overall, Council seems lackluster, and we've seen very little from the six new members who many hoped would bring new energy. Almost a month into their new terms, few have introduced substantial bills. By contrast, the freshman class of 2008 introduced a bill to end DROP for elected officials in the first Thursday meeting of the year.

There's no question Council still has time to have a good session. If Clarke is working behind the scenes building coalitions for important work, and if his Council takes budget hearings more seriously than Anna Verna's did, it won't matter that Council had a slow first month. But it has been a slow first month.

Council: Step it up, and get to work.

This It's Our Money editorial was also published in today's Daily News.