Commission Will Send Term Limits Referendum To The Polls But Not Much Else

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After half a year of work, the Charter Review Commission empanelled by Mayor Bloomberg is backing a list of seven proposals for approval at their scheduled meeting on August 23rd.

The Charter Commission, a tool for institutional change since 1938, was charged with reviewing a laundry list of controversial issues including non-partisan elections, term limits for elected officials, suggesting changes to the land use review process and the duties of borough presidents and the public advocate in city government.

Critics have argued that voters will be presented with a short-changed version of reform while important issues will be left unaddressed. Dr. Matthew Goldstein, chairman of the latest commission, argues that in light of the limited time they were given, the committee has done a good job fulfilled their mandate to ensure that topics on their agenda have been thoroughly researched and commented on during numerous public hearings.

That hasn’t convinced everyone – Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is among those who remain less than enthused with their results in recent statements:

By excluding forward thinking proposals from the ballot — from overhauling the city’s approach to long-term planning to rethinking the Department of Buildings with an Office of Inspection, to bolstering independence for elected and oversight agencies with independent budgets — the members of the Charter Revision Commission are missing a historic opportunity to restore confidence and interest in government among generations of New Yorkers.

While it’s not a perfect system, commissions have made positive, meaningful changes to New York City when called upon under past mayors (1963, 1975, 1988, 1989). It was a committee empanelled by Mayor Koch in 1989 that created the 51-member City Council, a public advocate elected city wide and limited roles for the borough presidents. It took three years, employed 52 full-time staffers and entailed 141 public hearings over two years to enjoy the representative government we have today. Let’s hope just six months of work will yield similar results.