Sexy Charter Changes Coming


I have been challenged to make the Charter Revision Commission announced Thursday sexy. I am not sure I’ll reach that bar, but I am going to try to make it interesting.

What is the City Charter? Think of it as the constitution of the city. It is the document that decides how the city works–everything from the existence of a City Council to what The Long Term Planning and Sustainability Office should be doing.

It is quite long, with 356 pages and 74 sections. You can read it here, if you’d like.

Two years ago, the Mayor promised that he would appoint a Commission to look at city government holistically, from his 2008 State of the City:

Modernizing City government also requires a comprehensive look at its structure and operations, something that hasn’t happened since Mayor Koch appointed a Charter Revision Commission 20 years ago. Since then, a lot has changed, and we’ve come to see redundancies, antiquated regulations, and areas for cost-savings. It’s time to apply those lessons in order to make government more open, accountable, and efficient – not just this year, but permanently. Today, I am pleased to announce that we will appoint a new Charter Revision Commission that will conduct a top-to-bottom review of City government over the next 18 months.

He had not done much to follow up with that claim. Last year, during the fight over whether terms limits should be extended from two to three terms, the Mayor promised a seat on the commission to billionaire Ronald Lauder, a strong proponent of term limits. Other than that, there isn’t been much movement on it. In the end the commission exists, although Lauder opted out–he prefers to prod from the outside than to handle the difficult work of work.

Liz Benjamin writes that not only are term limits on the table for the new commission but so is:

How the city budget process functions, whether the controller and public advocate should get their budgets set by the mayor and council, whether the public advocate’s office should exist, whether New York needs borough presidents and what their power should be, whether the Uniform Land Use Review Process needs fixing, and yes, nonpartisan elections.

The Citizen’s Union is also setting up a parallel process, as their executive director said in the Mayor’s press release:

Citizens Union is also organizing its own internal task force on charter review, and we too will specifically look at the historic and far-reaching changes made by the 1988 and 1989 commissions, and those since, to see if those transformations have lived up to their promise, and if not, why not, and examine how they can be improved.

I think you can get a flavor for the CU’s perspective on the issue from their recently released City Policy Agenda.