Laws on the books that keep New York City open and transparent

How city records and data are compelled into the public eye.

Open records are an important part of monitoring New York City government performance.

Open records are an important part of monitoring New York City government performance. TommL/Getty Images

Despite a long history of New York City mayors and their administrations trying to cloud the inner workings of city government, there are laws in the City Charter and administrative code that require them to be transparent in certain circumstances. Here’s a look at the most significant ways in which New York City’s laws compel top elected officials to share, share, share.

Mayor’s Management Report

One of the most prominent releases of city information is the Mayor’s Management Report, which is required by Section 12 of Chapter 1 of the City Charter. Released twice a year, the report is an overview of each city agency’s performance during the fiscal year. Its purpose is to ensure that each agency is effective and efficient in its efforts to serve the public.

The mayor must submit the first release, the Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report, to the City Council by Jan. 30 every year. It details agency performance during the first four months of the fiscal year – July 1 to Oct. 31). The full report, released each year by Sept. 17, fully captures the performance of each city agency during the prior fiscal year. Each agency also outlines its goals for the next fiscal year in the report, including how they plan to measure their performance on those goals.

Commission on Public Information and Communication

Section 1061 of Chapter 47 the New York City Charter establishes a Commission on Public Information and Communication. Chaired by the public advocate, the commission’s purpose is to educate the public about what kinds of information the city produces, its potential uses and how a member of the public may access that information. This means that the commission is also responsible for publishing an annual data directory, which is supposed to house all of the digital information produced or maintained by the city that is required by law to be publicly accessible. The only problem is that, according to the commission’s website, it hasn’t been able to deliver on this responsibility since 1993.

Open Data Law

New York City’s Open Data Law codifies the city’s responsibility to make publicly accessible information available on a single web portal. Then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg signed it into law in 2012, and then-Mayor Bill de Blasio made further amendments to the law throughout his tenure. It’s a robust resource – there are 2,900 datasets on the website – but it is not exhaustive. And according to the NYC Open Data website, less than 10% of planned dataset releases were published on time within the past 12 months, and just over half of all datasets are updated on time.

Annual Disclosure Law

New York City’s annual disclosure law requires certain city employees and elected officials – including the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, City Council members, borough presidents and district attorneys – to file public yearly reports of their financial affairs to the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board. The board reviews the reports to ensure an individual’s private financial interests do not conflict with their official duties.