Charter Commission Reveals Ballot Issues

Lorna B. Goodman

Mayor Michael Bloomberg will like what his charter revision commission plans to place on November’s ballot.

After a whirlwind round of 13 public hearings, meetings and panel discussions, and consideration of testimony from hundreds of individuals and groups, the 2010 NYC Charter Revision Commission has narrowed its ballot agenda to include term limits, which satisfies Bloomberg’s 2008 commitment to billionaire term limits advocate Ron Lauder, along with several other changes that could subtly shift power towards Bloomberg’s end of City Hall.

The selected issues are laid out in a July 9 staff report, which the commission will discuss at its 6:00 PM July 12 public meeting at the Surrogate’s Courthouse in Manhattan.

In addition to term limits, the report submitted by Executive Director Lorna B. Goodman recommends 2010 ballot consideration of instant run-off voting (IRV) in party primaries for city-wide races; reducing the number of petition signatures needed to get on the ballot in future NYC elections; consolidating the voter assistance commission and the campaign finance board; tightening the rules of the campaign finance board and the conflicts of interest board; and establishing a Commission on Performance Reporting to trim the number of reports that mayoral agencies and advisory bodies must submit each year.

Most of the reports the commission would examine are intended to make government more transparent.

The charter proposals that are likely to draw the most attention from the mainstream media will be term limits and instant run-off voting. The “sleeper” issues — perhaps even more crucial to a Republican mayor — will be halving the petition signature requirement, which diminishes the petition-circulating advantage of the city’s Democratic clubs and municipal labor unions; and the Commission on Performance Reporting, which, in addition to being able to propose the elimination of an advisory group or reporting requirement, would (according to page 57 of the staff report) have the power to review any effort by the City Council to “extend or enhance” an existing reporting requirement, thereby giving the commission — and the mayor — leverage over the Council.

This language may drop out as the Council realizes its implications. Similarly, the reporting commission’s deliberations default to the mayor’s advantage; Council silence would constitute approval of a recommendation to drop a report currently required of a mayoral agency.

The charter revision commission’s staff report recommended excluding from the 2010 ballot several issues that either “need further study, are not within the Commission’s authority or for other reasons should be reserved for the future.” Among these are: Non-partisan (“Top Two”) Elections; Changes in Registration and Election Procedure; Streamlining the Charter; Budget Issues; Issues Regarding Government Structure; and Land Use Issues.

Following its July 12 meeting, the charter commission will hold another round of public hearings, scheduled for July 19, 21, 26, 28, and August 2, to refine the staff report’s recommendations and develop specific language for November’s ballot propositions. These must be finished by Labor Day.

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