NYC.gov — A Modest Proposal
By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.
April 17, 2006
Torchlight No. 2, A Closer Look at NYC.gov, found much to praise about New York City's municipal website but accessing useful knowledge on urban sustainability wasn't easy. Now the City has the perfect opportunity to highlight its current sustainability work while carrying out its legal responsibilities here's how.
The City's web masters should create an interactive rulemaking page that would disseminate all relevant rulemaking information while serving as an easy to use forum for public comments and agency responses.
The rules that dot the i's and cross the t's of all new City laws must go through the steps prescribed by the City's Administrative Procedures Act, "CAPA". Seven pages of single-spaced technicalities spell out the exact procedures for rulemaking. CAPA's core goal is to ensure that the public knows that rules are being drafted and to provide the public with the opportunity to comment, and even have an impact, on the final product. This is good. However, CAPA was written well before the Internet era. Its public notification requirements are satisfied by the publication of a law's proposed rules in the City Record at least 30 days prior to a public hearing. Since subscriptions to the City Record cost $400 a year — or $600 to subscribe to the faxed edition — the number of regular readers is likely to be quite limited. The full City Record is not available online. A CAPA requirement that rulemaking notices be mailed to the City Council, Corporation Counsel (the City's own legal department), community boards, the news media and "civic organizations", is a clumsy add-on for achieving an informed public. Another CAPA requirement that each City agency annually publish a "regulatory agenda" simply is not equivalent to substantive information about the content of a particular proposed rule.
The first initiative of my proposed interactive rulemaking site is that it should launch Law 86, the Green Building law, which goes into effect on January 1, 2007. By posting CAPA-required notices about the Green Building Law's draft rules and meetings and by allowing electronic submission of comments and posting of agency responses on www.nyc.gov, the City would take the next logical step into the electronic era. A link to the language of law itself would be another smart move.[i] Free, online access to draft rules, meeting notices and public comments would both satisfy and expand the good purposes of CAPA and its valuable commitment to open government. This material should be posted on the web site of the "lead agency" responsible for crafting the rules for Local Law 86. Of course, existing CAPA hard copy and City Record filings can be retained, since access to the Internet shouldn't be the cut off point for an informed citizenry.
While on the topic of Local Law 86, signed by the Mayor in October 2005, it's worth pointing out that no public meetings about draft rules have been announced yet. Nor has the Mayor publicly named the "lead agency" or agencies that will be responsible for rule writing and carrying out this ambitious law. It's eight months until the law is supposed to go into effect and the clock is ticking. What are we waiting for?
[i] Download PDF for the text of Local Law 86. Technically, this law adds a new section to the City Charter. However, the current online City Charter is updated only through July 2004, prior to the passage of this legislation. See New York City Charter