Saturday, July 10, 2010

Charter Revision Commission: term limits, instant runoff voting on agenda, but not land use or the power of Borough Presidents and Community Boards

The City's Charter Revision Commission has held some interesting (and undercovered) hearings on issues like land use and the power of Borough Presidents and Community Boards, but it doesn't look like those complex topics are going to make it to the ballot this November.

Far more likely are term limits and instant runoff voting (IRV); the latter would be especially welcome to allow voters to rank their preferences in multi-candidate races.

It makes sense that issues like land use deserve more time and discussion; I'll have reports this coming week on some of the testimony.

Here are the press release, preliminary staff report and recommendations, and appendices.

The report on land use, government structure

The report states, near the end:
E. Issues Regarding Government Structure
Staff has carefully reviewed the detailed suggestions submitted by the City Council, as well as calls for increased powers for the Comptroller, Public Advocate, Borough Presidents and Community Boards on the one hand, and on the other, suggestions that the offices of the Public Advocate and the Borough Presidents should be abolished. Staff has been examining these suggestions and proposes to discuss them in the Final Report, in the hope that they will receive full consideration in the future. The suggestions for changes in the powers of elected officials implicate important issues of structure and operation. At this point we believe it is more fruitful to focus attention on term limits and the other issues discussed in Parts I-IV of this Report. We recommend reserving consideration of substantial structural changes for further study and discussion.

F. Land Use Issues
Staff has reviewed a wide range of suggestions regarding land use issues, including enhanced roles for Borough Presidents and Community Boards, requiring standards and application processes for membership on Community Boards, mandating that each community board be provided planning services, and issues involved in "Fair Share" and "197-a Plans."

With respect to selection and training of Community Boards, staff carefully reviewed the proposals put forth by Manhattan Borough President Stringer based on practices he has implemented. Staten Island Borough President Molinaro has suggested adoption of the model he has established for enhancing coordination between borough presidents and certain service delivery agencies. He has established regular meetings with borough commissioners from the Department of City Planning, the Department of Buildings, the Department of Transportation, the Parks Department and the Fire Department in order to review land use proposals, capital projects and mapping initiatives. Staff recommends that the Commission consider these proposals.

The thoughtful submissions by entities such as Pratt, the Environmental Justice Alliance, Jobs for Justice, and the City Planning Department regarding Fair Share and Section 197-a plans discuss proposals that would make substantial changes to the balance in the system of land use established in the 1975 Charter. Staff recommends that, like other proposals that significantly implicate important structural issues, these and other such land use suggestions put forth at the hearings and in written submissions to the Commission should be reserved for future consideration, while the Commission focuses on obtaining further public input on the issues described in Parts I-IV of this Report.
The summary

From City Hall News, Term Limits, IRV In Charter Report, But Punts On Non-Partisan Elections, Independent Budgets:
The preliminary report of the Charter Commission staff set to be officially released at a public hearing on Monday evening tackles several of the big issues that were brought before the body, but punts on a number of the most controversial.

Its first section, on term limits, presents two options: either rolling back the current three-term limit to two, or giving citywide officials and borough presidents two terms while leaving the City Council at three. This section also recommends that the commission propose an amendment that would restrict the Council from amending term limits changes in the future in a way that would benefit the incumbents voting on the proposed changes.

The report devotes its entire second section to a discussion of so-called instant run-off voting. For citywide elections, the commission report recommends that voters rank up to three candidates in order of preference, with the votes moving over if no candidate received 40 percent of the vote. For borough president and Council elections, the report simply recommends more discussion of possible integration of instant run-off voting. Halving the number of petition signatures necessary to get on the ballot is also recommended.
What's next?

The Staten Island Advance reported:
Some of the commission members plan to ask the mayor to "re-empanel" them for another year so they can delve into more complex issues, such the roles and scope of power of borough presidents and ways that decentralizing government could make it more effective and responsive to community needs.

"We are up against the clock," said Richmond County Clerk Stephen Fiala, the lone Island representative on the commission. "There are things we know that need to be re-visited in the city Charter, but because of the complications there is no time."
Preliminary Charter Commission Report.pdf

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