Going on the Record - How to Make Your Voice Heard to City Gov't

November 13, 2016

Giving testimony at a City Council hearing is a great way to make your voice heard to local government. Although the process may seem difficult, once you know the basic rules and procedures it’s actually a simple and effective way to help influence local policy. In this webinar we explain everything you need to know from how to check in, how to shape your messaging, to how long your testimony should be. 

Watch Going on the Record: Making Your Voice Heard to City Government now, or reach the transcript, below. 

Going on the Record: Making Your Voice Heard to City Government


There are a lot of ways to reach out to your City Council member these days. You could call their office or send an email to their staff. You could write a letter or sign a petition. If you’re short on time, you can even tweet! One of the most effective ways to have your voice heard, however, is to speak to your City Council member in person.

But how?

Participate in a City Council Committee Hearing! According to the City Council website, “It is there that proposed legislation is initially debated and members of other government branches and the public are given a chance to comment.” That’s where you come in.  City Council Committees typically host public hearings once a month.

Here at New Yorkers for Parks we regularly draft oral and written testimony to share at City Council Parks Committee Hearings.  We view these hearings as opportunities to build a case for increased funding for parks, advocate for programming and call for more park staff.

But why?

The public input process allows citizens to directly inform our elected officials. The truth is that feedback from constituents can shape the decisions made by our City Council. Furthermore, participating in the public process helps to ensure transparency- the more our officials hear from voters in their districts, the more likely they are to act.

Where do I start?

1) Find out who represents you at : http://council.nyc.gov/html/members/members.shtml

The City Council website provides the address of your member’s legislative office, district office, email address and relevant phone numbers

2) Sign up for the NYC Council E-Newsletter to find out about upcoming hearings: http://council.nyc.gov/html/action/enews.shtml

3) Regularly check the NYC Legistar portal for calendar of hearings by committee: http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx

Oversight vs. Legislative Hearings

There are two types of hearings:

Oversight hearings allow the Council to convene agency officials to be questioned on a given topic. These hearings give the Council an opportunity to dig deeper into the roles and responsibilities of various city agencies, programs and projects and can be a platform for longer-term strategy around funding or future legislation.

Legislative hearings provide the Council with the chance to introduce new legislation and discuss the impact of proposed bills. Agencies, experts, advocates and members of the public are encouraged to attend these hearings to weigh in on the impact any given legislation will have.

How do I get to a hearing?

Once you find out which hearing you want to attend from Legistar, make sure to look up directions to the meeting. Most hearings are held at either City Hall or 250 Broadway, a city building across from City Hall Park. Arrive early and prepare to go through airport style security. Be sure to tell the security officials your purpose and destination. Once you enter into the room, you will need to find the Sergeant-at-Arms who is the city employee who will check you in. Depending on the hearing, you may be asked if you are in favor or against the given topic. The Sergeant-at-Arms will call you up to speak when it is your turn to provide public input.

What happens during a hearing?

First, the City Council Committee members will ask questions of program officials and agency staff. These officials will present their prepared testimony and participate in a Q & A with the councilmembers. Next begins the public comment period. This is the opportunity for organizations, like NY4P, and individuals, like you, to speak. The Sergeant-at-Arms will call on you.

How should I prepare my testimony?

A few pieces of advice. Keep it tight! Generally public comments are restricted to 2 minutes. Be sure to state your case early on so you don’t run out of time- we recommend you practice reading your statement in advance with a timer. It’s important to tell the Council which neighborhood you are from, how many residents you represent, and what kind of programming your community organization offers. Incorporate your community into your testimony by telling the elected officials that their decision is going to have an impact on more than just one resident.  Finally, bring 20 printed copies of your testimony to the hearing. These will be distributed to City Council members and assure that your testimony is officially submitted on the record.

What should I expect out of the hearing?

City Council members have very busy schedules and may not be able to stay for the duration of the hearing. This does not mean that they won’t hear your testimony, but it is a good reason to remember to print and bring along copies. Remember, hearings are not a trial, but rather an opportunity to better understand a topic by listening to what expert organizations and community members have to say. Your opinion will help shape the decision-making process that takes place after the hearings.

Next steps?

NY4P provides lots of resources to park advocates and community groups in order to empower our advocate network. One of our greatest resources is our Advocacy Guide, created by NY4P with Partnerships for Parks and the Center for Urban Pedagogy. This guide is available in English and Spanish and maps out how to get funding for the parks and public spaces in your neighborhoods. It is available as a PDF download on our website and we are also happy to mail physical copies to you and your community members. NY4P will continue to host informational webinars to provide our constituents with the tools they need to advocate for their public spaces. Finally, we host borough meetings each winter to gather park users together in one space to think deeply about how we can shape the next fiscal year’s budget and upcoming mayoral and City Council elections.

Step One

Click here to sign up for our newsletter to receive information about upcoming borough meetings, webinars, council hearings and other NY4P events.