Monday, May 24, 2010

How about that under-the-radar Charter Revision Commission? Hearing Tuesday in Brooklyn takes on term limits

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who spends an inordinate amount of time sending out press releases commenting on every possible matter of public interest (except one), is doing something useful: casting light on the shadowy efforts by the New York City Charter Revision Commission to amend the charter regarding issues like term limits, land use, and public integrity.

There's no small self-interest, as well; Mayor Mike Bloomberg wants the commission to examine whether the Public Advocate's office should be abolished.

Hearing on term limits

On Tuesday at 6 pm, the commission will hold a hearing on term limits at Brooklyn Borough Hall. It will be webcast live. Three nationally recognized experts will testify and those wishing to testify can begin signing up one half-hour prior to the start of the forum.

The hearing on land use will be Thursday, June 24, in Flushing, Queens.

Aggressive pace

The pace, commissioner chair Matthew Goldstein admits, is "very aggressive." A draft report is due at the end of June and a new set of hearings in July. By early August, a draft final report is due. After that, the commission will decide--by September 3--whether to adopt any proposals for placement on the ballot.

Among the 16 commission members appointed by Bloomberg: Carlo Scissura, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz's chief of staff, and Anthony Crowell, counselor to the mayor.

Lander: limit ballot to term limits

Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander testified:
Only Consider Review of Term Limits Law for 2009
Because the term limits law was changed by the Mayor and the City Council in 2008 in a manner that overrode the twice-expressed will of the voters and that raised significant citizen outcry, I believe it is appropriate to review these changes to the law at this time.
Lander proposed--for 2012--potential changes, such as requiring a proactive and comprehensive planning process and that independent offices like the public advocate, comptroller, and community boards get a fixed percentage of the city budget.

Crain's: give people a vote on term limits

Crain's New York Business, noting that the commission can extend its work next year, editorialized this week:
As for this year, voters deserve a chance to affirm or undo the change in term limits that Mr. Bloomberg and 29 City Council members passed so controversially in 2008. That is the very reason the mayor formed the revision commission.

Voter participation clearly needs attention.... New Yorkers should be asked if they favor early voting, same-day registration, nonpartisan elections and other measures that could boost turnout.

The issue of government structure could mean just about anything, although it seems unlikely that voters will be asked to eliminate the offices of borough president or public advocate.... Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer makes a strong case that borough presidents and community boards should have a greater role in planning.

Private developers deserve changes that would shorten the time from project conception to completion so they won't have to guess what the economy will be five or eight years hence. But these and other land-use changes appear too complex for the commission to sort out in three months.
Robbins on the political forces

The Village Voice's Tom Robbins summed up the issues in a lengthy, fascinating 4/29/10 piece headlined Mike Bloomberg Wants to Make Sure No One Ever Again Pulls a Mike Bloomberg:
Bloomberg apparently wants to make sure he's the last third-term mayor, a sort of better-late-than-never idea. The commission will probably try to restore the two-term limit that voters already approved in two referendums, but that Bloomberg and his council allies overturned in 2008 because they believed we couldn't get along without them.

Having satisfied his own self-interest, Mayor Mike is no doubt willing to go back to two terms. But the council, no surprise, would love to stick with three. The council, however, has nothing to say about a charter commission or the amendments it puts on the ballot....

The surprise is that the state legislature is threatening to do something for the council members who covet a third term.

One bill would give the council the power, by a two-thirds vote, to kill any charter commission proposal, starting with a term-limit reduction...

The other, and far more reasonable bill, tries to attack the flaws and fears about the ongoing commission process.

The flaws -- other than the fact that the mayor hand-picks the entire commission -- revolve mostly around the rapid pace of this mysterious change, which has even drawn the ire of the New York Times editorial board.

...What is really driving the second Brennan bill is a concern that Bloomberg's commission might try to package a term limit reduction, which would almost undoubtedly pass, with the abolition of partisan primaries, which might not pass if separated. So the bill, and this is the one that just got out of the senate committee, requires that charter proposals appear on the ballot "as separate proposals to the extent practicable."
Liu vs. IBO and de Blasio

Comptroller John Liu would like to absorb the New York City Independent Budget Office (NYC IBO) into the Comptroller's Office. That's a lousy idea; the IBO officials, unlike the Comptroller, are not running for higher office.

Liu also would like to change the line of succession so the Comptroller, rather than the Public Advocate, take over if the Mayor can no longer perform the duties of the office. Liu has a point; the Comptroller's office is larger and has more granular responsibilities.

In response, de Blasio said that "the Public Advocate has a broad mandate to provide independent oversight on City Government and for that reason was rightly placed next in the line of succession."

Six of one, half-dozen of another. Who'd you like better as mayor, Liu or de Blasio? Bill Thompson or Betsy Gotbaum?

Little outreach

de Blasio's office writes:
Since March, the Commission has held eight public hearings, but only 1,000 people -- .012% of the City’s population -- have shown up. This lack of public engagement in such an important issue may have major effects on how New York City government is run.

The Public Advocate’s office is encouraging all New Yorkers to urge the Commission to make the charter revision process as democratic as possible. The Charter Commission’s next public hearing is tomorrow at 6 p.m. in the Brooklyn Borough Hall. We hope you can make it.

Our office also produced a video asking New Yorkers to get involved in charter revision by attending tomorrow’s hearing.

Also, you and your readers can sign on to the online petition calling for a more democratic charter revision process.

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