Is 760 Official Commendations By An Elected Official Too Many?

The New York Times reports that in two years New York City Comptroller John C. Liu has handed out more than 760 official commendations to individuals and groups. The Times reports that nearly one-quarter of the recipients of the commendations are connected to Liu’s political campaign. Official commendations have been provided to:

“A Liu donor who runs a business importing hair from China to make wigs got one. So did a travel agent who has booked busloads of gamblers on trips to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut and backed Mr. Liu’s campaigns. Then there is the hotel developer in Chinatown, another loyal contributor, who collected three Liu commendations within six months.

The pace with which Mr. Liu is bestowing the awards – more than one a day – and the priority he gives to such ceremonies suggest a political outreach effort as much as an official duty. While other officials might send the commendations along in the mail, he personally delivers most of them, in every borough, posing for photos with recipients and building good will at the events.

At minimum, Mr. Liu has significantly expanded and elevated the commendation process, say recipients and people familiar with the process. His predecessors, William C. Thompson Jr. and Alan G. Hevesi, handed out perhaps a few dozen each year, and almost always to cultural organizations, not people.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg delivered 20 proclamations in 2011, none to people. Members of the City Council, including Speaker Christine C. Quinn, typically issue 20 to 25 annually.”

In the Buffalo area proclamations honoring individuals and organizations take up a lot of elected officials and taxpayer funded staff time. As I reported in another post, when reviewing the Town of Tonawanda Board minutes, I was shocked to learn that over the past 3 years the Town Board has issued 780 proclamations honoring deceased town residents, constituting 25% of the Boards voting action. Staff members have to be responsible for reading newspaper death notices, typing up the proclamations, submitting names for the Board meeting and then mailing the proclamation to the decedent’s family. While I am sure that family members appreciate the proclamations, is this really an appropriate use of government resources?

In 2008 the Erie County Legislature adopted 349 proclamations and enacted five local laws.

In August of 2008 Parade Magazine had an article titled “Why Is Congress Doing So Little?” Apparently Congress that year enacted less legislation than any session within the last decade. According to an analysis by the nonpartisan organization Taxpayers for Common Sense, in 2008 Congress passed just 260 laws and 74 of those were renaming post offices! What Congress did pass however were hundreds of resolutions to congratulate various people and organizations and to recognize important events such as June 30th as National Corvette Day. In a moment of honesty, Rep. John Shimkus (R., Ill) the sponsor of the National Corvette Day resolution stated “It’s probably not the best use of our time, but we have to do something. These resolutions make it look like we’re working.”

Elected officials have important issues to address but from the local level up to the national level, they spend a lot of time on symbolic resolutions and commendations honoring people dead or alive. Do you accept that issuing commendations are an important and necessary part of an elected officials job or do you believe that such activities are simply blatant trolling for votes?


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Gordon Lee Salmon

It never ceases to amaze me at the lengths some people will go to promote themselves! Thanks for blowing the whistle.