IMAGINE IF THIS WERE HAPPENING TO A CORPORATION

By Madeline Provenzano

Picture this: you are a stock holder in a world renowned company that operates on a balanced budget, provides excellent services and is generally considered to be responsive to its investors. One morning you open the paper to find that over 80 percent of the company's employees, including the most fiercely dedicated and productive members, will be fired simply because of how long they have been on board. The next day a new president, managers and staff -- most new to this industry -- are expected to pick up exactly where the last team left off, including the almost immediate task of developing and implementing a $37 billion budget. First, you'd marvel at how anyone could think this was a good way to affect change. Then, you'd call your broker.

In 18 short months, this is the scenario that will play out in New York City. All at once, in the most abrupt and arbitrary manner possible, our City will be in the hands of an inexperienced Council, a brand new executive branch and across the board staff changes that will ripple out to the farthest reaches of city agencies.

First and foremost, in the minds of many City Council members, will be leadership. The strong, consensus-building, productive leadership that emerged over the years under Peter Vallone will be gone. In its place, I fear, a power grab: members jockeying for the spotlight, knowing full well that they have but a few short years to make their mark. Over 50 individuals, most unknown to each other, will be expected to choose a Speaker immediately. In turn, the new Speaker will have to assign Committee Chairmanships and memberships to virtual strangers.

As a Council Member, I brought to the table 19 years experience as Chief of Staff to a former member. I thought I had seen it all. I knew most Council members, was on a first name basis with Commissioners and was an expert at navigating the often Byzantine maze of city agencies and services. Still, how shocked was I to find that as a legislator, I had much to learn from the more senior members.

The invaluable historical perspective that can only be provided by seasoned members of the legislature will be lost forever. Our city will suffer. New York deserves a diverse legislative body comprised of a mix of veteran members and new blood. Instead, under the term limit law, we will be relegated to a stagnant formula of freshman and lame ducks.

This trickles down to the entire City Council staff. Remember, City Council staff serve at the discretion of the Council members. Good, knowledgeable staff need continuity, job security and long term leadership to do their jobs effectively.

Just as this mandated turnover in the council will trigger a loss in historical perspective, the constant lame duck status of members in their second term threatens to diminish the future. Large capital projects, such as parks and street repair are fought for and budgeted through Council District offices. From the germ of an idea to its fruition, a capital project can take a dozen years, with council members shepherding projects through various phases, serving a variety of roles from budget director to cheerleader. Knowing that you will not be the Council Member at the ribbon cutting could severely hinder the political motivation for taking on long term capital projects.

Surely, the next Council will be forced to review the term-limit law. While there is validity to the argument that the re-election process is a bit too cushy for incumbents, the present law is deeply flawed - and not only because it limits a voters' right to choose the most experienced legislator for the job. The law is written in terms of terms rather than years, and whole districts, three of which are in the Bronx, could lose out on the ability to produce council leadership.

Madeline Provenzano (D-C) represents the 13th district in The Bronx, covering Allerton, Morris Park, Pelham Parkway North and south, Pelham Bay, Throggs Neck, Country Club, Zerega and City Island.

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