NYC Charter Revision: They didn’t say it in so many words, but the 2010 Charter Revision Commission members are heading in the direction of giving the mayor even more power than Mike Bloomberg has today — at the expense of the City Council and government transparency.
How: by creating a new “reporting commission,” putatively to get rid of unnecessary advisory bodies and trim the number of reports the mayor has to submit each year. Some of those reports are not used. But the charter revision commission would give the new reporting commission the power to review (and reject?) any future City Council decision to “extend or enhance” a report the mayor already provides.
Because a majority of the members of the reporting commission would be appointed by — you guessed it — the mayor, he would be able to frustrate the Council if it wants to ask for additional information from his agencies: a loss for the Council and transparency, and a gain for him.
Most of the evening’s discussion was about term limits. Most commission members who spoke — and chairman Matthew Goldstein himself — rejected the idea of restricting the mayor to two 4-year terms while allowing Council members three, thus destroying any chance of marginally increasing the Council’s effectiveness.
The meeting at Bronx Community College drew only seven speakers testifying from the floor. This light turn-out elicited no comment from Chancellor Goldstein, who has cited his panel’s creative use of the Internet as enhancing outreach. Indeed, we watched the webcast session from a hotel room in Syracuse, NY. But, more likely, the meeting’s sparse attendance may have been the public’s way of saying “This late in the game, we really don’t expect our input to have much effect on what this commission decides.”
Brooklyn commission member Carlo Scissura and Bronx member Father Joseph McShane were among those who didn’t attend the session. Their absence denied us the chance to hear their customary principled comments and their reactions to Chancellor Goldstein’s characterization of the commission’s current consensus. This, Goldstein said, includes:
- Giving voters a chance to choose between two or three 4-year terms for all elected officials, with no distinction made between the mayor and others;
- Preventing the Council from undoing any term limits changes adopted by charter referendum (this may not be legally possible);
- Limiting incumbent Council members from awarding themselves pay increases while in office;
- Deferring instant runoff voting (IRV) to a future commission;
- Decreasing the number of signatures required to get on the ballot in Council elections;
- Consolidating the Voter Assistance Commission within the Campaign Finance Board;
- Tightening up independent campaign contribution disclosure rules;
- Increasing Conflicts of Interest Board fines, mandating training, and barring Council members from supporting budget items in which they have an interest;
- Continuing to discuss an independent budget for the COIB;
- Consolidating administrative tribunals; and
- Creating the reporting commission we discussed above and here.
Overall, most of the charter commission members, sans Scissura and McShane, made comments to show that they have thought individually about term limits but are willing to be team players. Except for vice-chair John Banks, all — even term limits opponents Stephen Fiala and Hope Cohen — ultimately said they will support Goldstein’s wish to place a “two and two” term limits question on November’s ballot.
After almost four months of working together to shape the city charter’s future, the 15 charter commission members undoubtedly have developed a strong sense of team identity and mutual respect. They also probably understand that the most important external critic of their performance is the mayor who appointed them — and whose remaining incumbency and personal wealth could give him the power to shape their professional futures.