On Monday April 19, the New York City Charter Review Commission held a public hearing at La Guardia Community College in Long Island City. Below is a portion of the testimony given by LICA member Dan Jacoby. A full videotaped record of the proceedings is also available at http://www.nyc.gov/html/charter/html/home/home.shtml
I will submit specific policy proposals later; tonight I want to focus on process. This charter is our city’s constitution, and therefore should not be changed for light or transient causes. Nor should it be changed without serious deliberation and open debate.
Unfortunately, any significant changes that you may propose in September will require us to vote on them without time for serious deliberation or sufficient debate. Two months isn’t long enough to sift through any substantial proposal, especially when most votersare focused on state and federal elections.
Questions abound regarding term limits, the Public Advocate, Borough Presidents, and Community Boards. But there is a lot more.
What about the budget process? Should the duties of the Administration for Children’s Services be changed, and if so, how? How should public complaints against the police department be handled? What about the appointment, and the practices, of the Board of Standards and Appeals? They have huge power to grant all sorts of variances, yet they are answerable only to the Mayor. Did you know that there is an “Art Commission” in the City Charter? These are but a few of the myriad issues that should be dealt with by this commission. You don’t have time, and we won’t have time to understand fully your recommendations for this year and make an informed decision in November.
There should be three criteria for any proposed change to go on this year’s ballot:
1. It should be simple and straightforward;
2. It should be unconnected to any other potential change; and
3. It should not be at all controversial.
In other words, it should be a no-brainer.
Two years ago, Mayor Bloomberg tried to push a congestion-pricing plan on us without time for full debate. His plan went down in flames; the same is likely to happen with anything you propose for this year’s ballot that does not meet those three criteria.
There is a better way. Submit your report after Thanksgiving, and we will have plenty of time to debate your recommendations openly. If necessary, a new commission can be appointed next year to amend your proposals whenever that open debate leads to a better solution.
Do this wrong, and your work is likely to go down in flames. Do it right, and your work will lead to a better city government, and a better city, for all of us.