Monday, November 1, 2010

City Charter: Queens Civic Congress - Says YES on Question 1 - No on Question 2

The Queens Civic Congress, a coalition of more than 120 major Queens neighborhood-based civic groups, hosted the first borough forum on Charter Revision in June 2010. Since then, QCC has participated in Commission hearings and spoken at town hall meetings across Queens. In September, at a public meeting, QCC delegates voted unanimously on the two major questions the Charter Revision Commission placed on the November ballot.


On August 23, 2010 the New York City Charter Revision Commission (CCRC) adopted two questions to be placed on the citywide ballot this November 2. While CCRC considered the Queens civic community’s call for two-term term limits, several issues that civic leaders called on CCRC to include in its “top down” Charter revision were dismissed as “too complex.” For instance, CCRC ignored the Citizens Union’s support for non-partisan elections as “divisive.” The Commission also failed even to consider calls by civic organizations to enhance the powers of the Borough Presidents, Public Advocate, and Comptroller. It also chose to put aside calls for changes in land use regulation. At the end of a three month process, the Commission was able to produce only a convoluted question regarding term limits and an equally contorted question dealing with six unrelated issues, most of which could be addressed by City Council legislation.



A Yes vote on this question would approve two-term term limits, but with a provision that the two-term limit not become effective until after the 2021 municipal elections. The Commission decided “in the interests of fairness,” it said, to give all city officials elected for the first time in 2005 or 2009 (including the Public Advocate, the Comptroller, the Bronx and Manhattan Borough Presidents and several Council members) the opportunity to serve three full terms. At no time in the months leading up to CCRC’s term limit proposal did anyone publicly mention or ask for a ten year delay before implementing term limits. The Commission ignored widespread public support for limiting changes in term limits to referenda and instead proposed to bar serving members of the Council from changing term limits. A NO vote on term limits would lock in the current three-term term limit law that the Council adopted in 2009 at the Mayor’s request. It would also allow the Mayor and Council to change term limits or eliminate them altogether.

The Queens Civic Congress reluctantly recommends a YES vote on Question One. QCC believes that despite postponing implementation of two-term term limits until 2021, the overriding concern for most New Yorkers is to restore the two-term limit, which they overwhelmingly voted for in two referendums, and according to recent polls continue to support. CCRC also overruled the public’s calls for referenda to change term limits and instead barred the Council from changing term limits for any elected official during that official’s term in office. A NO vote would present the Mayor and Council with a strong and possibly irresistible temptation to make the current three-term term limits permanent or to eliminate term limits altogether.



The second question on the November 2 ballot combines several unrelated topics which appear to be “reformist”: New campaign spending disclosure requirements; a reduction in the number of petition signatures for candidates in municipal elections; the merger of the Voter Assistance Commission and the Campaign Finance Board; the strengthening of the Conflicts of Interest Law; and the inclusion of certain transportation and waste management facilities in the City’s siting map .

CCRC tucked two propositions that would hand more power to City Hall into the middle of its “reforms”: The merger of administrative tribunals and adjudications into an Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (centralizing more power for the office of the Mayor); creation of a new commission to review requirements for reports and advisory bodies, and waive the present requirements, subject to Council review, where the new commission finds the review of no continuing value (effectively limiting the Council’s oversight of mayoral agencies and increasing the Mayor’s power);.

The Queens Civic Council recommends a NO vote on Question Two. QCC believes that the Council, following public hearings could address most of these issues. QCC is concerned that the issue of administrative tribunals and that dealing with reports to the Council are, in fact, efforts by the Mayor to further centralize power in City Hall at the expense of public oversight and Council review.

A NO vote on Question 2 would send these unrelated “reformist” issues back to City Hall, which could submit legislation to the Council on each issue.