Manhattan Beep Outlines Charter Wish List

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A panel considering revisions of the city’s governing structure now has a road map of changes it might pursue, courtesy of Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.

Appointed by Mayor Bloomberg in March, the 15-member Charter Revision Commission completed a round of public hearings in April and is beginning a second round that will focus on specific issue areas, like land use and the balance of power among city officials. The commission could place charter revision proposals before the voters in November, or wait until the following year.

Those proposals could cover any part of the 400-page charter, which has evolved since the boroughs consolidated in 1898 and governs everything from the powers of the mayor to the process for changing zoning on a particular street.

In an 86-page report released Tuesday , Stringer argues for a new charter containing better equipped community boards, more powerful borough presidents and the creation of three new city offices.

Stringer calls for providing each community board with “a qualified urban planner” and making the process for appointing people to those boards more formal and transparent—but retaining for borough presidents final authority on who sits on the boards.

Some community board members and supporters who testified at April’s public hearings wanted the boards to have more than their current, limited advisory role in land use decisions, but Stringer’s recommendations do not echo that desire.

The borough president, or “beep,” does call for the creation of an “independent planning office,” and for the five borough presidents to have more authority over land use decisions. The report says borough presidents and the public advocate should be able to appoint members to the Board of Standards and Appeals and the Landmarks Commission, whose members are now appointed by the mayor. When the city acts out of step with community-produced 197-a land use plans, Stringer’s report argues, it should “be justified in writing with an opportunity for the community board and public to respond.”

Stringer’s report also calls for the creation of a Department of Food and Markets and a new Office of Inspection to take duties away from the Department of Buildings. Stringer also wants the Department of City Planning to create realistic projections of the need for school seats, and for the city comptroller to periodically analyze the citywide need for seats.

Finally, Stringer calls for borough presidents to be given independent budgets, more say on contracting and city spending in their boroughs.

“Despite the many ways in which borough presidents are positioned to produce positive impacts on city governance and policy, the Charter does not provide the tools for borough presidents to fulfill their intended core functions in government,” the report reads. “Borough presidencies were established to provide a unique and independent perspective and voice for the boroughs.”

The commission’s second round of hearings will unfold over May and June. The commission’s next event will be Monday, May 17 at 6 p.m. in Room 14-220 on the 14th floor at Baruch College, 55 Lexington Avenue at 24th Street.

The meeting will feature testimony by past charter revision chairs: Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch, who ran the 1988 commission; F.A.O Schwartz, Jr., who headed the sweeping 1989 review; Randy Mastro, chair of the 1999 and 2001 panels; and Ester Fuchs, who operated the 2005 commission.

Like all commission hearings, Monday’s will be webcast live. But at this session, there will be no public testimony.