NEW ROCHELLE, NY — On the day Senior U.S. District Judge John D. Bates in Washington ordered the Presidential Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice to cease work and ordered Attorney General Bill Barr not to release the committee’s final report, it is time for the City School District of New Rochelle and the City of New Rochelle to consider adopting policies along the lines of The Federal Advisory Committee Act.
Under the Act, an advisory committee is defined as “any committee, board, commission, council, conference, panel, task force, or other similar group” that dispenses “advice or recommendations” to the President of the United States. They are provisional bodies without operational functions. Committees composed of full-time officers or employees of the federal government do not count as advisory committees under FACA.
Judge Bates’ ruling came in response to a lawsuit from the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The City School District of New Rochelle has created, and in many cases disbanded, numerous ad hoc committees such as the Culture and Climate Committee, the Solutions to Suspension Committee, the Task Force on Reducing Violence in the Lives of Children and Youth (Brice Task Force), Citizens Advisory Committee on the Budget, the Green Ribbon School Committee, the District-Wide Healthy and Safety Committee, the School SAVE Committee, Facilities and Finance Committee, Advocacy and Outreach Committee, Equity, Excellence and Innovation Committee, the Equity and Access Committee and more.
The City of New Rochelle has likewise created, and in many cases disbanded, numerous ad hoc committees such as the Advisory Committee on Immigrant Affairs, Ecology & Natural Resources, Energy Conservation Committee, LGBTQ Committee, Municipal Housing Authority, Preservation Plan Advisory Committee, Telecommunications Advisory Committee, Veterans Advisory Committee and Policing Review Committee and more.
The purpose of the Federal Advisory Committee Act was to ensure that advice by the various advisory committees is “objective and accessible to the public” by formalizing the process for “establishing, operating, overseeing, and terminating” the committees. The Act requires a Committee Management Secretariat charged with monitoring compliance.
As these committees are often compromised largely of volunteers the Committee Management Secretariat should be required support services including acting as recording secretary for committee meetings, preparing agendas and meeting packets, maintaining a web page for the committee to publish meeting notices, agenda, minutes, presentations, resolutions, recommendations and reports.
A committee policy should limit the formation of committees to only those which are deemed essential, limits their powers to provision of advice to bodies such as the New Rochelle Board of Education, the New Rochelle City Council or heads of agency and limit the length of term during which any such committee may operate.
Federal Advisory Committee Act was an attempt by Congress to curtail the rampant “locker-room discussion” that had become prevalent in administrative decisions. These “locker-room discussion” are masked under titles like “task force”, “subcommittee”, and “working group” meetings, which are less than full FACA meetings and so they do not have to be open to the public. FACA declared that all administrative procedures and hearings were to be public knowledge.
A policy on committees should require, among other things, the following:
- Central Database and Directory of all Committees￼
- Clear Committee Mission Statement
- Public Process for Selecting Members
- Formal Decision-Making Process such as Roberts Rules of Order
- Adherence to Open Meetings Law (public announcement before meetings, agenda packets posted online, etc.)
- Adherence to Freedom Information Law including retention of records as required under New York State Records Retention Law.
- A website with a list of committee members including contact information, photographs, curriculum vitae for each member.