NYC Charter Revision: If anything, Matthew Goldstein’s treatment of a group of protesters at Monday’s charter revision commission hearing was efficient. When the protesters interrupted the Harlem State Office Building session by chanting “Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like,” Goldstein didn’t even blink.
Apparently well-schooled in street theatre, the CUNY Chancellor waited for the protesters to finish their call-and-response and deliver their statements demanding a more democratic process before he returned to the business at hand. He didn’t waste a Joule of energy.
Goldstein’s invited guests, who also waited while the middle-aged protesters did their thing, were 2005 charter commission chair Ester R. Fuchs, currently a fellow at the Partnership for New York City, her 2005 executive director, Terri Matthews, current Bloomberg deputy mayor for legal affairs Carol Robles-Roman, and David B. Goldin, the mayor’s Administrative Justice Coordinator.
Their task was to educate the 2010 commission about two “efficiency” initiatives contained in its preliminary staff report for possible ballot inclusion this November.
Fuchs and Matthews spoke to the merits of creating a standing commission of mayoral and Council appointees to review and trim the number of city advisory groups and reports — something the 2005 charter panel also had considered but not placed on the ballot, because, as Fuchs explained, “there was some opposition to it that could have derailed the rest of our work.”
Robles-Roman and Goldin argued for the charter to mandate consolidation of twelve diverse mayoral agency administrative tribunals — where administrative law judges currently rule on disputed traffic tickets and sanitation summonses, among other violations — under the umbrella of the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH). They reported that the Bloomberg administration already had begun this process by transferring the Environmental Control Board (ECB) from the Department of Environmental Protection to OATH.
When asked by 2010 charter commission vice-chair John Banks why such consolidations now should merit a charter provision, they essentially said it would speed up a process that currently requires City Council approval at each step. Banks — a veteran Council staffer — replied that “some would argue that there is a more deliberative and open process by having the Council’s involvement.”
As with the reports review commission, the consolidation of administrative tribunals would reduce the need for the mayor to seek Council approval each time he wishes to change the way he does business.
Goldstein used the transition between the invited panelists and public testimony to project the rest of the commission’s schedule. After hearings calendared for July 28 and August 2, he hopes for a meeting on August 12, when there would be “a formal vote by the commission on the items that we believe should be brought to the voters,” another on August 16, and then one on August 19 at which the commission will vote on its formal report, which will include background, chronology, decision rationale, and a “roadmap” for future charter commissions. Later in the session, Goldstein mentioned one or two additional meetings, at which members of the public will have a chance to express their reactions to the final ballot proposals.
Goldstein summarized the evening’s theme — and that of the entire Bloomberg charter revision initiative — by repeatedly emphasizing that the 2010 commission was seeking to increase “efficiency” in government.
City Council member Robert Jackson, the first of 17 public speakers, chided Goldstein for this single-minded focus. Jackson told the commission that its primary purpose was to encourage participatory democracy. His remarks reminded us that the Bloomberg administration’s efficiency mantra usually translates into increased central control, a “one size fits all” approach to governing a huge, diverse city, and a willingness to sacrifice public participation to facilitate real estate development, control the schools, and carefully manage how information is distributed.
So far, Bloomberg’s 2010 charter revision commission has not been brash enough to argue for the ultimate municipal efficiency initiative: elimination of the offices of all elected officials but the mayor’s. But we’ll bet that with a few glasses of wine under their belts, that thought has crossed the minds of some Bloomberg advisors.