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Business owners’ Bill of Rights

BY CHRISTINE QUINN, KAREN KOSLOWITZ, and DIANA REYNA
It’s often said that small businesses are the backbone of our economy. These mom-and-pop companies invest in our communities, put our neighbors to work, and provide the innovation that fuels economic growth.

Now more than ever, local government needs to support and engage these businesses and help them to propel us out of the recession. But instead of helping, we too often find ourselves getting in their way.

To address this problem, the City Council and the Bloomberg Administration have engaged in a comprehensive regulatory review process. Over the past year we’ve spoken to small business owners in all five boroughs, and examined the ways that city agencies create and enforce rules on small businesses.

One of the biggest complaints we heard is that our rules are enforced in a way that’s unfair and inconsistent. Many complain that inspectors are looking for any excuse to give them a ticket – and they get different results each time a new inspector walks through the door.

Here’s a story we heard from a small business owner in Brooklyn. One inspector told him his license was posted in the wrong place and made him move it. The next inspector gave him a ticket and told him to move it back to the original spot.

Hard working New Yorkers think we’d rather nickel-and-dime them to death than help them identify and fix real problems. They deserve better. They deserve inspections that are consistent and transparent, that protect both the safety of consumers and the future of neighborhood businesses.

So, the City Council unanimously passed legislation to create a Business Owner’s Bill of Rights. It will outline important protections that business owners have when undergoing an inspection.

For example, business owners have a right to an inspector who behaves in a professional manner, with knowledge of applicable rules and regulations, and who can answer reasonable questions relating to the inspection. They are entitled to consistent enforcement. And if business owners feel they’ve been treated unfairly, they have the right to contest a violation, or file a complaint about an inspector.

The Mayor’s Office of Operations will develop a plan to distribute the Bill of Rights to all relevant business owners. By posting it online, and providing it to business owners who are being inspected, we’ll make sure everyone has the information they need to know if they’re being treated fairly.

Now agency inspections are far from the only challenge business owners face. Though the city is slowly pulling itself out of the recession, small businesses are still buried under the financial and credit crisis.

A recent National Association of Independent Business survey found that 60 percent of small businesses couldn’t get all the credit they needed, and 5 percent didn’t even seek credit because they thought it was unavailable.

So the City Council convened a banking summit of city and financial leaders – including Representative Nydia Velazquez, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, the New York Bankers Association and the New York Business Development Corporation – to see how they could best help small businesses.

At the summit, we announced “Credit for Success: Second Look,” a program that literally gives small businesses a second chance at loans. “Second Look” will create a pool of money specifically for businesses that have been denied more traditional lines of credit. Loan amounts range from $25,000 to $150,000, and are accompanied by small business counseling and support.

We want to empower small businesses to better protect themselves, and make sure every business owner has a fair chance to succeed here in the five boroughs. It’s one of the most important ways we can help create more jobs and strengthen our economy. And it sends a clear message to new entrepreneurs, that New York City is a place where small businesses can thrive.

Quinn is the Speaker of the New York City Council, Koslowitz Chairs the Council’s Consumer Affairs Committee, and Reyna Chairs the Council’s Small Business Committee.

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