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On March 3, 2010, Mayor Bloomberg announced the appointment of a City Charter Revision Commission consisting of fifteen members charged with reviewing the entire Charter of the City of New York.  The Commission held hearings in all five boroughs to solicit public input, issued a report outlining findings and recommendations, and voted on questions to be put before the voters to amend or revise the Charter.  More information about the City Charter Revision Commission, including its members, its final report, and transcripts from its hearings, can be found on the commission website.

Citizens Union was named by Mayor Bloomberg as a resource to the Commission, and issued its own report, , and testified before the Commission as to its recommendations.  See the press release for further information, including an executive summary  of the report.

The questions the Commission decided to put before the voters are provided below as they will appear on the ballot.  Beneath each question is Citizens Union’s recommended vote on the question.

City Question 1 – Recommended Vote: NO

Term Limits: The proposal would amend the City Charter to:
• Reduce from three to two the maximum number of consecutive full terms that can be served by elected city officials; and
• Make this change in term limits applicable only to those city officials who were first elected at or after the 2010 general election; and
• Prohibit the City Council from altering the term limits of elected city officials then serving in office.

Shall this proposal be adopted?

In releasing its report Increasing Avenues for Participation in Governing and Elections on charter revision, Citizens Union recommended that a limit of three four-year consecutive terms be established for the city council and a limit of two four-year consecutive terms be established for the mayor, comptroller, public advocate, and borough presidents.  Citizens Union believes that this is the best approach for effective governance of the city, striking the appropriate balance of power between the mayor and council.  Consequently, on ballot question #1 we recommend a “no” vote, which would maintain the status quo of three terms for all city elected officials. Citizens Union believes that the negative effects of limiting council members to two terms outweigh any benefits from limiting executives to two terms.

Council members limited to two terms will not have adequate time to develop needed expertise in complex budgetary processes or in the issue areas they oversee in their committees.  The imposed limit on experience will also ensure the Council Speaker is less seasoned and undermine the Speaker’s ability to lead the legislative body.  A two-term limit also creates more turnover among members and diminishes stability, continuity and institutional memory in the council.  Two-term council members will also be more inclined to focus on their political futures rather than concentrate on their current positions.

While Citizens Union was troubled by the manner in which term limits were extended from two to three consecutive terms in 2009, it does not believe that the City should revert back to a policy that is worse simply because the manner in which it was changed was inappropriate.  It is more important to establish term limits that allow for effective governance of the council and other city offices than to reactively re-impose a two-term limit because of the troubling manner in which term limits were extended.  It is important to emphasize that this proposal does not impact current politicians who voted to extend term limits, as it allows all sitting members to serve up to three consecutive four-year terms even if the proposal is enacted.

City Question 2 – Recommended Vote: YES

Elections and Government Administration: The proposal would amend the City Charter to:

• Disclosure of Independent Campaign Spending: Require public disclosure of expenditures made by entities and individuals independent from candidates to influence the outcome of a city election or referendum;
• Ballot Access:
Generally reduce the number of petition signatures needed by candidates for city elective office to appear on a ballot;
• Voter Assistance and Campaign Finance Board:
Merge voter assistance functions, including a reconstituted Voter Assistance Advisory Committee, into the Campaign Finance Board, and change when Campaign Finance Board member terms begin;
• Conflicts of Interest Law:
Require all public servants to receive conflicts of interest training, raise the maximum fine for a public servant who violates the City’s conflicts of interest law, and allow the City to recover any benefits obtained from such violations;
• City Administrative Tribunals:
Authorize the Mayor to direct the merger of administrative tribunals and adjudications into the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings and permit the Department of Consumer Affairs to adjudicate all violations issued by that department;
• City Reporting Requirements and Advisory Bodies:
Create a commission to review requirements for reports and advisory bodies and waive the requirements, subject to City Council review, where the commission finds they are not of continuing value; and
• Map for Facility Siting:
Include in the City’s facilities siting map those transportation and waste management facilities operated by or for governmental entities, or by private entities that provide comparable services.

Shall this proposal be adopted?

Citizens Union in issuing its report on charter revision, Increasing Avenues for Participation in Governing and Elections,  put forth several similar proposals to those that make up ballot question #2.  Therefore, Citizens Union recommends a “yes” vote on ballot question #2.  Citizens Union’s proposals included the disclosure of independent campaign spending, enhancing ballot access by reducing the number of petition signatures needed by candidates to appear on the ballot, merging the Voter Assistance Commission into the Campaign Finance Board, and including all polluting/infrastructure facilities in the Atlas of City-Owned Property, not just those properties owned by the City.  Citizens Union believes those proposals in question #2 that it did not weigh in on (related to conflicts of interest law, city administrative tribunals, and city reporting requirements and advisory bodies) are aligned with our principles of efficient and honest government.  While we encourage a “yes” vote on question #2, Citizens Union believes the question should have been divided into separate ones to allow voters to make more distinct choices on the many proposals presented.

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