On August 23, 2010, the 2010 New York City Charter Revision Commission agreed on a set of proposals to place before voters on Election Day, November 2, the culmination of one of the most important democratic processes in our city.
I commend Mayor Michael Bloomberg for appointing a dedicated group of women and men to serve as commissioners and charging them to work openly and independently. The commissioners undertook an unprecedented outreach effort to communicate with citizens -- it listened to and learned from voters, public officials and experts in multiple hearings in each of the five boroughs and it enabled the participation of an even wider audience through the use of technology.
All of us owe a great debt of gratitude to the commissioners who have worked tirelessly over the last six months to understand the issues of importance to New Yorkers. Each volunteered significant time and attention to ensure that our government is transparent and responsive to the needs of the people. I thank each of them for their wisdom and willingness to serve.
The commission has come forward with two comprehensive proposals for the November 2 ballot, which can be found on the commission’s website at www.nyc.gov/charter.
We knew from the outset that the issue of term limits for elected officials would demand considerable discussion and study. The commission considered all options and focused on the goal of improving government over the long term, rather than focusing solely on how current officeholders might be affected. After consulting with expert witnesses, reading numerous research papers and listening to hundreds of citizens and public officials, the commission recommended proposing a limit of two four-year terms for elected officials, applicable to officials first elected to office on or after November 2, 2010. The proposal would prohibit the City Council from altering the term limits of elected city officials then serving in office. The commission’s proposal would phase in structural reform to the charter so that with each subsequent election, a greater proportion of City Council members would be subject to the two-term limit until it is applicable to every Council member. (Readers might remember that the original 1993 term-limit referendum also resulted in phased-in reform.)
The other question to be placed on the November 2 ballot contains several proposals related to elections and government transparency, efficiency, and integrity. In combining these proposals, the commission considered the fact that New York City voters will be using new paper ballots, which has limited space, this November.
The second proposal would require the disclosure of independent campaign expenditures, in order to provide the public with more information about the expenditures; reduce signature requirements for petitions, thereby expanding ballot access; reconstitute the Voter Assistance Commission (VAC) within the Campaign Finance Board (CFB) in order to increase VAC’s impact; strengthen the city’s conflicts of interest law to establish mandatory training for public servants and increase penalties for violations; consolidate administrative tribunals in order to streamline operations and provide uniform standards of review and professionalism; review reporting requirements and advisory bodies to ensure their usefulness; and amend the “fair share” law to provide the public with additional information about the location of certain transportation and waste facilities.
During the commission’s deliberations, it became clear that we could not thoroughly address all of the issues that surfaced during the hearings. A fair and thorough consideration of these complex issues – including nonpartisan elections and significant changes to land use procedures and government structures – requires a deep drilling into their very bedrock, and this was simply not possible in the commission’s abbreviated time frame.
Each of the complex issues -- involving, for example, the city’s land use procedures, the balance of powers between various elected officials and the relationship between centralized and decentralized government -- could be the sole focus of a commission. We hope that future commissions will build on the rich work completed by this commission and its staff.
I take great pride in the careful and committed work of the women and men on the commission and in a process that encourages citizens to have a voice and a vote in the future of their city.