Whither The Green Book? New One To Arrive…At Last

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Whether it’s sitting in the top drawer of a public servant, splayed atop an editor’s desk or crammed in the backpack of an urban activist, the Green Book is a fundamental reference guide for anyone working in the civic sphere of New York City.

“It is a very important resource. It’s a staple for people to get information about those in government,” says Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a good government group.

The Green Book is a small but thick volume, bound in thin artificial leather, that’s loaded with the names, titles and office phone numbers of 6,000 employees of the City of New York – plus the salaries of a handful of high-ranking officials. Published by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS), a new edition has emerged every year – but for an occasional lapse due to extraordinary circumstances – for 90 years. Until last year, that is.
The latest issue of the Green Book was published in April 2006. Inspired by the art installation “The Gates” by Christo and Jeanne-Claude that adorned Central Park in February of 2005, the cover is orange – or saffron, as the artists called the color of the flag-like Gates installed along the park’s walkways. The directory was always referred to colloquially as “The Green Book” due to the cover’s traditional forest green color, but it became the official name in 1984. The release of the next Green Book is set for this month – nearly a year and a half late.

“We have brought it up to DCAS during our preliminary budget hearing earlier this year,” which was in March, said Eric Kuo, a spokesman for City Council’s Governmental Operations Committee, which has oversight over DCAS. “They said they were in the process of putting out a new one.”

“If there are further delays, then we would consider bringing it up to them again,” Kuo said.

There is no remarkable circumstance to explain the delay in publishing the Green Book. “It’s delayed because there were a number of changes in city and state government following the last edition,” said DCAS communications director Mark Daly. “All agencies were given the opportunity to comprehensively update their information.”

Changes in city and state government have been routine since the first Green Book appeared in 1918 under Mayor John Hylan, the city’s 96th mayor. “How long has Bloomberg been mayor?” wondered Robert Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government. “If there is a significant change, then it is understandable to allow more time, a couple of months maybe, but there are changes in city and state administrations all the time.” Daly offered no further explanation for the delay, and would not make Krishna Kirk, editor of the Green Book for a decade, available for an interview.

Agency staff find the Green Book an important tool to navigate through New York City’s people and politics. “The Green Book is helpful to the Ombud’s staff in our office,” said Alex Shoor, spokesman for the Office of the New York Public Advocate. “The more up-to-date, easy-to-access information that civil servants have, the better they are able to serve the needs of the people.” Denizens of City Hall also acknowledge the directory’s significance. “The Green Book serves as an important reference for city agencies, the public and our partners at other levels of government,” says mayoral spokesman John Gallagher.

The directory has been published nearly every year since 1918. In that year Supervisor of the City Record Peter J. Brady said, “The need of a comprehensive directory of city departments has long been recognized, but has remained for the present administration to issue the first edition,” according to the DCAS website. The publication dates varied in the 1990s to accommodate updates when the mayoral administrations changed. The volume not only documents changes in government, but also reflects changes in the U.S. economy: It was not issued in 1945 during a nationwide shortage of paper, and was only available every other year in the 1970s due to the city’s financial crisis.

The annual appearance of the Green Book is not mandated by legislation, however. “In terms of the law there is no statute that exists,” said Freeman. “But by providing a public service it is critical.”

Gene Russianoff, a senior attorney for the New York Public Research Interest Group who is known for his transit advocacy through the Straphangers Campaign, remembers the book “used to be really essential.”

“It was like the Gutenberg Bible, the starting point to all of your research,” he said. “In more recent times we rely more on the web.”

After 90 years of publication, numerous mayoral administration changes, economic crises and even the advent of the Internet, the Green Book is finally expected in the next few weeks. In fact, the online City Store is taking pre-orders for the 2008-2009 edition, priced at $19.95, and cloaked in the usual dark green. “We look forward to the Green Book being published,” said City Hall’s Gallagher. “Getting accurate and up-to-date information reflective of recent changes in state-level appointments was a priority.”

Others are less thrilled, noting that ongoing personnel shifts make the 600-some page reference go out of date almost upon publication. Daly from DCAS says the agency is looking into online options for the book. “It’s always a helpful resource, clearly worth having,” said Doug Turetsky, communications director of the New York City Independent Budget Office. “But don’t depend on it.”

– Abraham Paulos