After three months of hearings on myriad ways the city's governing document could be altered, Mayor Bloomberg's Charter Revision Commission meets Monday night to consider a much pared-down to-d0 list prepared by its staff.
The meeting, which will not take public testimony but is open to the public and will be webcast at the commission's web site, takes place at 6 p.m. at the Surrogate's Courthouse, Room 239, 31 Chambers Street.
The 15-member commission was appointed by the mayor in March to consider changes to the city's 400-page charter, which governs elections, land use, budgeting and most other aspects of how city government runs. Voters must approve any changes. In order to appear on the November 2010 ballot, the commission must propose changes by early September.
In April the panel held public hearings in each borough to gather ideas for study. In May and June it held "issue forums" where experts testified on five aspects of government: land use, voter participation, public integrity, government structure and term limits.
But in a report released Friday, the commission staff recommended a far shorter list of topics for close consideration as the September deadline nears:
- revising term limits to move from a three-term to a two-term limit for all office holders, or just for city- and borough-wide officials
introducing instant-runoff voting, in which voters would name their second-choice, to resolve elections where the first-round winner fails to obtain a large enough share of votes
- combining the Campaign Finance Board and Voter Assistance Commission
- reducing the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot for city office
- disclosure of political spending that occurs outside of a particular campaign, but helps specific candidates
- increasing fines for violations of Conflict of Interest rules
Omitted from the list were nonpartisan elections, reforms of the land use process, improvements to the "fair share" requirements in the 1989 charter and other topics that witnesses had raised.
It is unclear whether the commissioners will accept the staff's recommendations.
Adam Friedman, the executive director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, which has recommended comprehensive changes to the city's land use process, says he is "cautiously optimistic" that the panel might pursue a wider agenda than the staff has recommended.
"The dilemma everyone faces is that, yes, it is very complex. There's something about the commission process that makes it very hard to deal with complex issues," he says. But if the current panel has too little time, Friedman says, it's important not to waste time starting the next one. "If it's too complex to get onto the [November] ballot, you have to start right away on the 15-month process of hearings" for the next commission, he says. The current commission, or a new one, must be reappointed to begin that process.
The Independence Party brought hundreds of supporters to the commission's hearings to push for nonpartisan elections, which failed in a 2003 charter vote. But Harry Kresky, a party lawyer, says the omission of nonpartisan voting from the list of recommendations is not discouraging. "This is a very engaged issue and people's minds are changing and it's an ongoing process. The report itself says that in the coming weeks the staff will be reviewing it. I think they're still looking at it," he says. "The Independence Party is in this for the long term. These kinds of changes don’t come instantly."
Eddie Bautista, the executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, had hoped for changes to the Fair Share language in the 1989 charter, which was supposed to give communities a chance to resist having a disproportionate number of waste facilities, sewage plants and other burdensome facilities located in their neighborhoods. The 1989 language left loopholes that Bautista and his allies wanted to close.
"The jury's still out on it. It's disappointing," Bautista says. He was puzzled by the staff's conclusion that changes to Fair Share represented "substantial changes to the balance in the system of land use established in the 1975 Charter." Bautista insists that "none of us proposed anything other than fixing the 1989 charter."
"If this was not something that was low-hanging fruit to correct an injustice, I don’t know what is," he added. Bautista said NYEJA was meeting to decide whether to push harder for a change this year, or wait for a second round of charter changes that could come in 2011 or 2012.
It's unclear, however, that there will be anything to wait for. "There is no guarantee as to whether the mayor is going to re-empanel this commission or any other commission," Bautista said. "This may be the last shot we had."