My Thoughts on the Charter Review Commission

This November, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to vote on a series of revisions to the New York City Charter. These revisions will be put forward by a commission that was empaneled by the New York City Council. Ahead of public hearings, the commission staff has issued a report with recommendations for areas of focus. These are my thoughts on some of those recommendations.

Elections and Redistricting

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), also known as instant runoff voting, would allow voters to rank candidates, rather than simply choosing one. In the event that no one candidate receives a majority of votes, the lowest vote getter is eliminated and his or her votes are redistributed to the voters' second choices. I am a big supporter of RCV for several reasons:

1. It saves us the time and trouble of a second runoff election.
2. It ensures that the ultimate winner has at least some support from a majority of voters, even if the ultimate winner wasn't necessarily everyone's first choice.
3. It could cut down on negative campaigning, since candidates will also be campaigning to be voters' second or third choice.

The commission would have to decide which elections to apply RCV to - just citywide, borough-wide, City Council, etc? If implemented, the city would then need to embark on an ambitious campaign to educate voters about the new system. We've used RCV at the Four Freedoms Democratic Club for years, and people still sometimes get confused about how it works.

This is one issue I will definitely be advocating for!


Civilian Complaint Review Board

The CCRB is responsible for investigating reports of misconduct against the NYPD, and recommending disciplinary action, though their recommendations are not binding.

The commission has suggested looking into some reforms that would give the CCRB more teeth, including the following:

1. Requiring the Police Commissioner to provide written notice any time he or she chooses not to abide by the CCRB's recommendations and provide the reason.
2. Requiring the Police Commissioner to create a more consistent disciplinary matrix for all misconduct
3. Allowing the CCRB to delegate subpoena power to its most senior member, rather than requiring the CCRB to meet and vote every time it wants to issue a subpoena.
4. Allowing the CCRB to investigate and recommend discipline for officers who provide false statements to the CCRB.

While these reforms still leave the power of discipline fully in the hands of the Police Commissioner, they would provide more transparency and increase the effectiveness of the CCRB. I fully support any changes that create more accountability and transparency for the NYPD.


Conflicts of Interest

I'll just briefly touch on this section. While the commission staff made several recommendations, I'm particularly interested in strengthening the post-employment lobbying ban, and giving the Public advocate subpoena power. I'm very interested to see if the Commission takes up these issues.


Land Use

I was a little disappointed in this section. While it is true that many of the more ambitious land use reforms could be addressed via the more traditional legislative route, there was a real opportunity here to address some of the glaring inadequacies in our land use process. That said, here are the recommendations I'm most intrigued by:

1. Creating a pre-certification comment period for the public. Currently the public only learns of land use requests once an official request is made to the City Planning Commission. In reality, the land use process can begin years before the official request is made, via draft requests. This plan would allow interested parties (residents, community boards, etc.) to learn about plans and offer input at an earlier stage in the process.
2. Creating a method by which the dozen or so various planning documents could work together, perhaps by creating a single planning cycle, rather than the patchwork that currently exists. It's also recommended that these planning documents specify both long term and short term goals, and explain the metrics by which we can measure success.

So again, while I wish the Commission could have gone further, perhaps by requiring 10 year plans from each borough president, with borough-wide goals for affordable housing, air quality, school seats, etc., I fully support the recommendations put forward, and I sincerely hope that the City Council Members take it upon themselves to implement more ambitious reforms legislatively.

Finally, I was disappointed that the commission staff appears to have punted on issues such as campaign finance reform and procurement reform. While it is true, again, that these issues could be addressed legislatively, I do think that the Commission could at least create a framework for needed reforms.

This report is extremely detailed and well written. I've only skimmed the surface here, but I highly recommend reading the whole thing:

https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5bfc4cecfcf7fde7d3719c06/t/5cbe86c2e4966bc917c36e0f/1555990215645/PreliminaryStaffReport2019.pdf

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