Council Grills de Blasio's Choice for City Watchdog

, New York Law Journal

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Mark Peters, Mayor Bill de Blasio's pick to head the city's watchdog agency, was questioned at a City Council committee hearing Thursday about his close relationship with the mayor and his ability to be independent.

Peters, a partner at Edwards Wildman Palmer, was nominated to serve as commissioner of the Department of Investigation (DOI), which investigates city employees and contractors who may be engaged in corrupt or unethical activities. The position pays $205,180 a year.

Peters worked for five years in the state attorney general's office, serving as chief of the public integrity unit and deputy chief of the civil rights bureau.

Peters was de Blasio's campaign treasurer and a campaign donor, raising concerns about potential bias.

"It is imperative that DOI is independent, that it is not beholden to any political figure, including the mayor or outside interests," City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said.

Peters repeatedly said his relationship with the mayor would not affect his independence, and he has a "demonstrated record of independence," noting specific examples from his career and his approval from the law enforcement community and others. "The importance of a strong independent DOI cannot be overstated," he said.

Councilman Dan Garodnick told Peters, "the question this committee has to grapple with is, how close is too close?" He probed Peters on what hypothetical investigations would require Peters to recuse himself.

Councilman Rory Lancman said his concern was "the public's trust" and "what they're going to know is the mayor has appointed his campaign treasurer to be the [DOI] commissioner."

Peters discussed the newly created role of the inspector general for the city's police department, which he would have to select by April 1 with "significant input" from the mayor. He said the IG would report directly to him, probably on a daily basis.

Peters' position must be approved by the City Council. A vote is scheduled next week.

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