Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/charter-revision-commission 2019-04-25T12:32:38+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Max & Murphy Podcast: The 2019 City Charter Commission Narrows Its Focus 2019-04-24T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-24T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8471-max-murphy-podcast-the-2019-city-charter-commission-narrows-its-focus Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/may-b-d-blasio-first-ferry.jpg" alt="may b d blasio first ferry" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: mayor's office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong>April 24, 2019 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: The 2019 City Charter Commission Narrows Its Focus<br /></strong></p> <p>The 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission released its "preliminary staff report" on Tuesday, indicating which areas of city governance and elections the commission will further consider as it prepares to propose changes to voters in November. Gail Benjamin, chair of the 2019 commission, joined the show to discuss the staff report, the commission's work thus far, some of the proposals the commission will consider moving forward, and more. Then, city budget expert Carol Kellermann, former president of Citizens Budget Commission, joined the show to give her analysis of the commission's preliminary report.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/610730856&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/podcast19/may-b-d-blasio-first-ferry.jpg" alt="may b d blasio first ferry" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: mayor's office)</p> <hr /> <p><strong>April 24, 2019 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: The 2019 City Charter Commission Narrows Its Focus<br /></strong></p> <p>The 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission released its "preliminary staff report" on Tuesday, indicating which areas of city governance and elections the commission will further consider as it prepares to propose changes to voters in November. Gail Benjamin, chair of the 2019 commission, joined the show to discuss the staff report, the commission's work thus far, some of the proposals the commission will consider moving forward, and more. Then, city budget expert Carol Kellermann, former president of Citizens Budget Commission, joined the show to give her analysis of the commission's preliminary report.</p> <p>Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/TweetBenMax" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@TweetBenMax </a>and <a href="https://twitter.com/jarrettmurphy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JarrettMurphy</a>. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max &amp; Murphy," and listen to Max &amp; Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org</p> <p><iframe src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/610730856&amp;color=%23ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_teaser=true" width="100%" height="185" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe></p> <p>

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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2019 Charter Commission Report Indicates Areas of Focus for Crafting Ballot Proposals 2019-04-23T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-23T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8468-2019-charter-revision-commission-indicates-focus-areas-proposals Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayorbill-sex-harrass-comm.jpg" alt="mayorbill sex harrass comm" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/mayor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>The 2019 Charter Revision Commission released its <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5bfc4cecfcf7fde7d3719c06/t/5cbe86c2e4966bc917c36e0f/1555990215645/PreliminaryStaffReport2019.pdf" target="_self">preliminary staff report</a> on Tuesday, outlining recommendations from staff to the commissioners to further examine and pursue proposals to change city governance. This summer, the 15 members of the commission will decide which changes to city governance they will put before voters in November.</p> <p>The commission staff recommended moving ahead with consideration of changes to voting procedures, strengthening police accountability processes, reducing conflicts of interest for public servants, increasing the powers of the public advocate, and giving community boards and borough presidents a slightly stronger voice in the city’s land use process.</p> <p>The commission has spent the last several months studying the New York City Charter, the city’s foundational governing document, and hearing from experts and members of the public about improvements to city governance and administration. The staff report’s recommendations were culled from more than 300 ideas proposed to the commission which, in December, narrowed its broad focus to the major topics of elections, governance, finance and land use.</p> <p>The recommendations will underpin another round of public hearings, one in each borough, that will be held in the next three weeks before the commission releases its final proposals, which will be presented to voters on the November ballot for approval or disapproval.</p> <p>One of the most significant proposals in the report is a recommendation that the commission consider establishing ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, for city elections. Currently, the city holds runoffs in citywide primary elections for mayor, comptroller, and public advocate if one candidate does not garner a requisite 40% of the vote. In other cases, the candidate with the most number of votes is simply declared the victor. The report said the commission should study which offices and elections would benefit from ranked-choice voting (primaries, specials, or general elections), whether it should be phased in and whether a hybrid system could be employed so that, if no candidate gets 40% after all ranked votes are counted, the race would move to a traditional runoff.&nbsp;</p> <p>Runoffs are cost- and labor-intensive and often show minimal voter turnout. Under ranked-choice voting, voters can rank candidates in order of preference and if no candidate meets the threshold for victory, the one with the least number of first-rank votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed until a winner emerges. This kind of system would help avoid a runoff like the one held in the 2013 Democratic primary for public advocate, which cost more than $11 million that year, or about four times the annual budget for the office at that time.</p> <p>The report also recommends bringing the city’s special election timelines in line with the state’s, to give the Board of Elections adequate time to send out military ballots, and to give candidates elected in special elections a longer term to avoid holding an election so quickly after they take office. Case in point, Jumaane Williams became public advocate in February and will have to defend his seat later this year.</p> <p>A prominent issue before the commission, and one that the de Blasio administration has struggled with, is the lack of accountability and transparency regarding police disciplinary procedures in the city. Advocates repeatedly urged the commission to consider giving the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates complaints of abuse of power and force by police officers, more teeth and the commission staff seems to have heeded those pleas.</p> <p>The report recommends further consideration of changes to how members of the CCRB are appointed, possibly by giving the public advocate an appointee on the board and allowing greater input by the City Council. It proposes that commissioners consider requiring the police commissioner to formally explain when he or she does not abide by the CCRB’s disciplinary recommendations and the creation of a non-binding disciplinary matrix that standardizes penalties for disciplinary violations. And, it recommends giving top staff at the CCRB the power to issue subpoenas and to investigate instances where police officers make false statements in ongoing CCRB investigations and prosecutions.&nbsp;</p> <p>As far as broader government oversight goes, the commission staff seemed to take a strong position on increasing the powers of non-mayoral entities. The report also pushes for giving subpoena power to the public advocate, if not some other mechanism to facilitate the office’s requests for information from city agencies and officials, and recommends exploring ways to give borough presidents increased authority as well.</p> <p>The commission also explored stronger protections against conflicts of interest for public servants. The staff report proposes allowing the public advocate and comptroller to each appoint a member to the Conflicts of Interest Board, and recommends increasing the amount of time that former public servants are prohibited from lobbying city officials. Such post-employment restrictions, the report notes, are stronger at the state level than in the city.</p> <p>A more esoteric area of conflicts that the report also addresses involves the Corporation Counsel, the city’s top lawyer. The report suggests requiring that appointment to be made for a set term with the advice and consent of the City Council, as opposed to a strictly mayoral appointment as it currently stands, as well as mandating that the corporation counsel issue a set of rules regarding how conflicts of interests are navigated when the office represents different city entities against each other. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The report also recommends continuing to look at slightly shifting the balance of power in the city’s land use approval process, possibly by proposing that borough presidents and community boards get more time, potentially within a fixed window, to weigh in on land use applications before they are certified. Like in other areas of city governance, this potential proposed tweak is far less significant than some called for.</p> <p>Several elected officials and urban experts who testified before the commission advocated for the requirement of the creation of a comprehensive plan for the city that takes a more holistic approach to the city’s future. With those proposals in mind, the commission staff detailed the city’s planning landscape, which they found is already vast, with as many as 12 separate kinds of planning-related documents, but does not necessarily fit together. The report recommends creating a “planning cycle” and incorporating all the disparate elements with clear progress indicators and a uniform public engagement process, among other things.</p> <p>The report also attempts to improve the city budgeting process by requiring more transparency around budget units of appropriation -- which are meant to reflect spending on programs or personnel; clarifying the instances where the mayor can use impoundment powers; and requiring the city’s revenue estimate to be issued at an earlier date so it cannot be used as a political tool in budget negotiations.&nbsp;</p> <p>Separately, the report urges the commission to identify city agencies and offices that would be better served with either a guaranteed or independent budget. It mentions, for example, the public advocate, comptroller, borough presidents, Conflict of Interest Board, CCRB, Board of Correction, and Department of Investigation.</p> <p>The report also takes stock of the city’s attempts to promote diversity in procurement through an Office of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises, run by a top official under the mayor’s office. The report points out that there is no legal requirement for that office to continue under future administrations and that it may be worthy of including one in the charter, headed by a deputy mayor or other senior official who reports to the mayor.</p> <p>With hundreds of proposals presented to the commission, the staff took note of several that were worthy of inclusion but would be better pursued through local law passed by the City Council. They included a system of “democracy vouchers” for election campaign financing, improvements in nonprofit procurement, stipends for members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and shifting oversight of animal welfare away from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.</p> <p>The charter revision commission will now hold a public hearing in each borough over the next several weeks in order to solicit feedback on the preliminary staff report and path ahead.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayorbill-sex-harrass-comm.jpg" alt="mayorbill sex harrass comm" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/mayor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>The 2019 Charter Revision Commission released its <a href="https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5bfc4cecfcf7fde7d3719c06/t/5cbe86c2e4966bc917c36e0f/1555990215645/PreliminaryStaffReport2019.pdf" target="_self">preliminary staff report</a> on Tuesday, outlining recommendations from staff to the commissioners to further examine and pursue proposals to change city governance. This summer, the 15 members of the commission will decide which changes to city governance they will put before voters in November.</p> <p>The commission staff recommended moving ahead with consideration of changes to voting procedures, strengthening police accountability processes, reducing conflicts of interest for public servants, increasing the powers of the public advocate, and giving community boards and borough presidents a slightly stronger voice in the city’s land use process.</p> <p>The commission has spent the last several months studying the New York City Charter, the city’s foundational governing document, and hearing from experts and members of the public about improvements to city governance and administration. The staff report’s recommendations were culled from more than 300 ideas proposed to the commission which, in December, narrowed its broad focus to the major topics of elections, governance, finance and land use.</p> <p>The recommendations will underpin another round of public hearings, one in each borough, that will be held in the next three weeks before the commission releases its final proposals, which will be presented to voters on the November ballot for approval or disapproval.</p> <p>One of the most significant proposals in the report is a recommendation that the commission consider establishing ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, for city elections. Currently, the city holds runoffs in citywide primary elections for mayor, comptroller, and public advocate if one candidate does not garner a requisite 40% of the vote. In other cases, the candidate with the most number of votes is simply declared the victor. The report said the commission should study which offices and elections would benefit from ranked-choice voting (primaries, specials, or general elections), whether it should be phased in and whether a hybrid system could be employed so that, if no candidate gets 40% after all ranked votes are counted, the race would move to a traditional runoff.&nbsp;</p> <p>Runoffs are cost- and labor-intensive and often show minimal voter turnout. Under ranked-choice voting, voters can rank candidates in order of preference and if no candidate meets the threshold for victory, the one with the least number of first-rank votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed until a winner emerges. This kind of system would help avoid a runoff like the one held in the 2013 Democratic primary for public advocate, which cost more than $11 million that year, or about four times the annual budget for the office at that time.</p> <p>The report also recommends bringing the city’s special election timelines in line with the state’s, to give the Board of Elections adequate time to send out military ballots, and to give candidates elected in special elections a longer term to avoid holding an election so quickly after they take office. Case in point, Jumaane Williams became public advocate in February and will have to defend his seat later this year.</p> <p>A prominent issue before the commission, and one that the de Blasio administration has struggled with, is the lack of accountability and transparency regarding police disciplinary procedures in the city. Advocates repeatedly urged the commission to consider giving the Civilian Complaint Review Board, which investigates complaints of abuse of power and force by police officers, more teeth and the commission staff seems to have heeded those pleas.</p> <p>The report recommends further consideration of changes to how members of the CCRB are appointed, possibly by giving the public advocate an appointee on the board and allowing greater input by the City Council. It proposes that commissioners consider requiring the police commissioner to formally explain when he or she does not abide by the CCRB’s disciplinary recommendations and the creation of a non-binding disciplinary matrix that standardizes penalties for disciplinary violations. And, it recommends giving top staff at the CCRB the power to issue subpoenas and to investigate instances where police officers make false statements in ongoing CCRB investigations and prosecutions.&nbsp;</p> <p>As far as broader government oversight goes, the commission staff seemed to take a strong position on increasing the powers of non-mayoral entities. The report also pushes for giving subpoena power to the public advocate, if not some other mechanism to facilitate the office’s requests for information from city agencies and officials, and recommends exploring ways to give borough presidents increased authority as well.</p> <p>The commission also explored stronger protections against conflicts of interest for public servants. The staff report proposes allowing the public advocate and comptroller to each appoint a member to the Conflicts of Interest Board, and recommends increasing the amount of time that former public servants are prohibited from lobbying city officials. Such post-employment restrictions, the report notes, are stronger at the state level than in the city.</p> <p>A more esoteric area of conflicts that the report also addresses involves the Corporation Counsel, the city’s top lawyer. The report suggests requiring that appointment to be made for a set term with the advice and consent of the City Council, as opposed to a strictly mayoral appointment as it currently stands, as well as mandating that the corporation counsel issue a set of rules regarding how conflicts of interests are navigated when the office represents different city entities against each other. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>The report also recommends continuing to look at slightly shifting the balance of power in the city’s land use approval process, possibly by proposing that borough presidents and community boards get more time, potentially within a fixed window, to weigh in on land use applications before they are certified. Like in other areas of city governance, this potential proposed tweak is far less significant than some called for.</p> <p>Several elected officials and urban experts who testified before the commission advocated for the requirement of the creation of a comprehensive plan for the city that takes a more holistic approach to the city’s future. With those proposals in mind, the commission staff detailed the city’s planning landscape, which they found is already vast, with as many as 12 separate kinds of planning-related documents, but does not necessarily fit together. The report recommends creating a “planning cycle” and incorporating all the disparate elements with clear progress indicators and a uniform public engagement process, among other things.</p> <p>The report also attempts to improve the city budgeting process by requiring more transparency around budget units of appropriation -- which are meant to reflect spending on programs or personnel; clarifying the instances where the mayor can use impoundment powers; and requiring the city’s revenue estimate to be issued at an earlier date so it cannot be used as a political tool in budget negotiations.&nbsp;</p> <p>Separately, the report urges the commission to identify city agencies and offices that would be better served with either a guaranteed or independent budget. It mentions, for example, the public advocate, comptroller, borough presidents, Conflict of Interest Board, CCRB, Board of Correction, and Department of Investigation.</p> <p>The report also takes stock of the city’s attempts to promote diversity in procurement through an Office of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises, run by a top official under the mayor’s office. The report points out that there is no legal requirement for that office to continue under future administrations and that it may be worthy of including one in the charter, headed by a deputy mayor or other senior official who reports to the mayor.</p> <p>With hundreds of proposals presented to the commission, the staff took note of several that were worthy of inclusion but would be better pursued through local law passed by the City Council. They included a system of “democracy vouchers” for election campaign financing, improvements in nonprofit procurement, stipends for members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and shifting oversight of animal welfare away from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.</p> <p>The charter revision commission will now hold a public hearing in each borough over the next several weeks in order to solicit feedback on the preliminary staff report and path ahead.</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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</p>
New York City Should Have a Comprehensive Plan 2019-04-15T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8449-new-york-city-should-have-a-comprehensive-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayorsofficesi.jpg" alt="mayorsofficesi" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(Photo: Spencer T Tucker/Mayor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>The 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission is deliberating whether to propose to voters in November that a requirement for a comprehensive city plan be added to the charter.</p> <p><strong>Should New York City have a comprehensive, well-considered plan?</strong><br /> Yes.</p> <p>A comprehensive, well considered, plan should be good for everyone. It would involve all of us in the creation and maintenance of a shared vision for our city and its neighborhoods. It would provide&nbsp;predictability for communities, property owners, developers, elected officials, and municipal and state agencies. &nbsp;</p> <p>It would provide an agreed plan on which to base the expeditious adoption of regulations such as zoning. It would make it easier to base actions on the intention, and not just the words, of a regulation, such as zoning.</p> <p>It would promote coordination among agencies at neighborhood, community, borough, city, and regional levels. It would allow for more rapid approval of projects and proposals consistent with the plan.</p> <p><strong>Is the Zoning Resolution New York City’s comprehensive, well-considered plan?</strong><br /> Yes and No. &nbsp;</p> <p>New York State law requires New York City to base its land use regulations on a comprehensive plan. However, the law allows two versions of a comprehensive plan: statutory and common law. &nbsp;(See <a href="https://www.dos.ny.gov/lg/publications/Zoning_and_the_Comprehensive_Plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><em>Zoning and the Comprehensive Plan</em></a> for a discussion of the distinction between the two approaches.)</p> <p>The statutory approach calls for the adoption of a defined comprehensive plan on which zoning is based; the common law approach accepts the existing regulations and their history as the comprehensive plan.&nbsp;The latter approach allows the City to treat the zoning resolution as its comprehensive plan.</p> <p>Using the Zoning Resolution as a comprehensive plan is, therefore, legally permissible but fundamentally wrong. Why?</p> <p>First, zoning is but one tool in a regulatory regime intended to implement a common vision for our urban environment. Other tools include the City Map, the building code, the State Multiple Dwelling Law, street design standards, park design standards, landmark designations, development incentives such as J51 and 421a, inclusionary housing programs, industrial retention programs, measures to deal with residential displacement, the capital budget, and more.</p> <p>Second, the Zoning Resolution addresses only a portion of our urban environment and is therefore not comprehensive. It deals only with land use and building density and form. It does not address matters outside of zoning, such as providing schools or parks or subways. A comprehensive plan would address much more than the Zoning Resolution does. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>What might a comprehensive plan for New York City look like?</strong><br /> In 1969, during the Lindsay administration, New York City’s Department of City Planning published <a href="https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/c42cb93f-8f3d-ca65-e040-e00a18064e5c/book?parent=8b252450-c603-012f-14f1-58d385a7bc34#page/595/mode/2up" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><em>Plan for New York City</em></a>.</p> <p>The plan was in six volumes: the first volume addressed the general vision for the city and the following five volumes spoke to what was happening in each of the five boroughs. The borough volumes had a chapter for each community district and additional chapters for special planning and urban design projects. The document was part vision and part inventory. (See <a href="https://www.citylandnyc.org/former-cpc-chair-discussed-1969-plan-for-new-york-city/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">CityLand for a discussion of the creation of the plan with former CPC chair Don Elliott</a>.)</p> <p>More recently the Bloomberg administration published <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc/downloads/pdf/publications/planyc_2011_planyc_full_report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><em>PlaNYC</em></a> and the de Blasio administration publishes <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/OneNYC_Progress_2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><em>OneNYC</em></a>. Both offer a counterpart to the vision volume of the 1969 document without offering counterparts for the community chapters.</p> <p>A comprehensive plan for New York City should include both a city-wide vision and community-centric plans. The city-wide vision rightly comes from the administration after consultation with all. The community-centric plans are provided for by section 197a of the City Charter, which encourages local groups, including community boards and borough presidents, to offer plans.</p> <p>A comprehensive plan needs to comprise at least three dimensions:</p> <p>One, it needs to address the full range of issues that concern a location.</p> <p>Two, it needs to address the issues at the appropriate geographical levels – community, county, city, region.</p> <p>And three, it needs to address the issues as they evolve over time.</p> <p>(See <a href="http://cityclubny.org/planning-one-great-city-for-all/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Planning One Great City for All</a>.)</p> <p><strong>For example?</strong><br /> Supertall residential towers, using gerrymandered zoning lots, mechanical voids, and stilts to increase their heights (see <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Gimignano" target="_blank" rel="noopener">San Gimignano</a>), have raised questions about the intention of our zoning regulations.</p> <p>Currently one looks to the Zoning Resolution and reads that mechanical space does not count as zoning floor area. This suggests that a mechanical space in a building, no matter the height of the space, does not count as zoning floor area; which allows even tower-on-a-base buildings to loft the expensive apartments to extraordinary heights. However, if one reads the City Planning Commission reports on tower-on-a-base development or the Special Lincoln Square District one sees that the buildings were intended to be no more than approximately 33 floors and approximately 330 feet tall.</p> <p>If one were to treat these City Planning Commission reports, rather than the text of the Zoning Resolution, as the comprehensive plan there would be a basis to disapprove a building under tower-on-a-base or Special Lincoln Square District rules taller than approximately 330 feet.</p> <p>Therefore, a well-considered comprehensive plan would be a better basis than the text of an actual regulation to understand what the regulation was intended to accomplish.</p> <p><strong>Is a comprehensive plan too difficult for New York City?</strong><br /> Maybe. &nbsp;</p> <p>The 1969 Plan for New York City was not submitted to the Board of Estimate or City Council for approval and neither PlaNYC nor OneNYC were submitted to the City Council for approval, as required by the statutory approach to establishing a comprehensive plan.</p> <p>One anticipates that preparing and adopting such a plan would be contentious and procedurally difficult. However, one hopes that the process would be constructive for all involved, fostering democratic deliberation and giving citizens, municipal employees, and elected officials experience with better governance. One also hopes that achieving a shared vision for the future of our city would facilitate the implementation of the plan and expedite the review of projects consistent with it.</p> <p><strong>Should New York City’s Charter be amended to require a real comprehensive plan?</strong><br /> Yes. &nbsp;</p> <p>The 2019 Charter Revision Commission should recommend to voters this November that the City Charter be amended to create and maintain a living comprehensive plan. This should include provisions that:</p> <p>The city-wide parts of the plan be prepared by the mayoral administration in consultation with all interested parties and that the community-centric parts of the plan be prepared jointly by the applicable community board, borough president, and the city administration.</p> <p>The plan should be revised frequently to keep it current with evolving conditions and goals.</p> <p>Zoning and other regulations be amended to be consistent with the plan.</p> <p>Agency actions be consistent with the plan.</p> <p>Actions that are consistent with the plan qualify for expedited approval including abbreviated land use review (ULURP) and community/environmental impact (CEQR).</p> <p>***<br /> John P. West III has 49 years of professional experience in urban design, city planning, and real estate development, mostly in New York City, and is head of the City Club's Urban Design Committee, a consultant to BFJ Planning, and a member of the MAS Planning Committee and the AIANY Urban Design and Planning Committee, among other roles. In the past, he was on the Zoning Committee of REBNY, chair of the Development Committee of the Long Island City Development Corporation, now the LIC Partnership, and a member of Manhattan Community Board Six for 40 years, among other roles.</p> <p>

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<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayorsofficesi.jpg" alt="mayorsofficesi" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(Photo: Spencer T Tucker/Mayor's office)</p> <hr /> <p>The 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission is deliberating whether to propose to voters in November that a requirement for a comprehensive city plan be added to the charter.</p> <p><strong>Should New York City have a comprehensive, well-considered plan?</strong><br /> Yes.</p> <p>A comprehensive, well considered, plan should be good for everyone. It would involve all of us in the creation and maintenance of a shared vision for our city and its neighborhoods. It would provide&nbsp;predictability for communities, property owners, developers, elected officials, and municipal and state agencies. &nbsp;</p> <p>It would provide an agreed plan on which to base the expeditious adoption of regulations such as zoning. It would make it easier to base actions on the intention, and not just the words, of a regulation, such as zoning.</p> <p>It would promote coordination among agencies at neighborhood, community, borough, city, and regional levels. It would allow for more rapid approval of projects and proposals consistent with the plan.</p> <p><strong>Is the Zoning Resolution New York City’s comprehensive, well-considered plan?</strong><br /> Yes and No. &nbsp;</p> <p>New York State law requires New York City to base its land use regulations on a comprehensive plan. However, the law allows two versions of a comprehensive plan: statutory and common law. &nbsp;(See <a href="https://www.dos.ny.gov/lg/publications/Zoning_and_the_Comprehensive_Plan.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><em>Zoning and the Comprehensive Plan</em></a> for a discussion of the distinction between the two approaches.)</p> <p>The statutory approach calls for the adoption of a defined comprehensive plan on which zoning is based; the common law approach accepts the existing regulations and their history as the comprehensive plan.&nbsp;The latter approach allows the City to treat the zoning resolution as its comprehensive plan.</p> <p>Using the Zoning Resolution as a comprehensive plan is, therefore, legally permissible but fundamentally wrong. Why?</p> <p>First, zoning is but one tool in a regulatory regime intended to implement a common vision for our urban environment. Other tools include the City Map, the building code, the State Multiple Dwelling Law, street design standards, park design standards, landmark designations, development incentives such as J51 and 421a, inclusionary housing programs, industrial retention programs, measures to deal with residential displacement, the capital budget, and more.</p> <p>Second, the Zoning Resolution addresses only a portion of our urban environment and is therefore not comprehensive. It deals only with land use and building density and form. It does not address matters outside of zoning, such as providing schools or parks or subways. A comprehensive plan would address much more than the Zoning Resolution does. &nbsp;</p> <p><strong>What might a comprehensive plan for New York City look like?</strong><br /> In 1969, during the Lindsay administration, New York City’s Department of City Planning published <a href="https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/c42cb93f-8f3d-ca65-e040-e00a18064e5c/book?parent=8b252450-c603-012f-14f1-58d385a7bc34#page/595/mode/2up" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><em>Plan for New York City</em></a>.</p> <p>The plan was in six volumes: the first volume addressed the general vision for the city and the following five volumes spoke to what was happening in each of the five boroughs. The borough volumes had a chapter for each community district and additional chapters for special planning and urban design projects. The document was part vision and part inventory. (See <a href="https://www.citylandnyc.org/former-cpc-chair-discussed-1969-plan-for-new-york-city/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">CityLand for a discussion of the creation of the plan with former CPC chair Don Elliott</a>.)</p> <p>More recently the Bloomberg administration published <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc/downloads/pdf/publications/planyc_2011_planyc_full_report.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><em>PlaNYC</em></a> and the de Blasio administration publishes <a href="https://onenyc.cityofnewyork.us/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/OneNYC_Progress_2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener"><em>OneNYC</em></a>. Both offer a counterpart to the vision volume of the 1969 document without offering counterparts for the community chapters.</p> <p>A comprehensive plan for New York City should include both a city-wide vision and community-centric plans. The city-wide vision rightly comes from the administration after consultation with all. The community-centric plans are provided for by section 197a of the City Charter, which encourages local groups, including community boards and borough presidents, to offer plans.</p> <p>A comprehensive plan needs to comprise at least three dimensions:</p> <p>One, it needs to address the full range of issues that concern a location.</p> <p>Two, it needs to address the issues at the appropriate geographical levels – community, county, city, region.</p> <p>And three, it needs to address the issues as they evolve over time.</p> <p>(See <a href="http://cityclubny.org/planning-one-great-city-for-all/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Planning One Great City for All</a>.)</p> <p><strong>For example?</strong><br /> Supertall residential towers, using gerrymandered zoning lots, mechanical voids, and stilts to increase their heights (see <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Gimignano" target="_blank" rel="noopener">San Gimignano</a>), have raised questions about the intention of our zoning regulations.</p> <p>Currently one looks to the Zoning Resolution and reads that mechanical space does not count as zoning floor area. This suggests that a mechanical space in a building, no matter the height of the space, does not count as zoning floor area; which allows even tower-on-a-base buildings to loft the expensive apartments to extraordinary heights. However, if one reads the City Planning Commission reports on tower-on-a-base development or the Special Lincoln Square District one sees that the buildings were intended to be no more than approximately 33 floors and approximately 330 feet tall.</p> <p>If one were to treat these City Planning Commission reports, rather than the text of the Zoning Resolution, as the comprehensive plan there would be a basis to disapprove a building under tower-on-a-base or Special Lincoln Square District rules taller than approximately 330 feet.</p> <p>Therefore, a well-considered comprehensive plan would be a better basis than the text of an actual regulation to understand what the regulation was intended to accomplish.</p> <p><strong>Is a comprehensive plan too difficult for New York City?</strong><br /> Maybe. &nbsp;</p> <p>The 1969 Plan for New York City was not submitted to the Board of Estimate or City Council for approval and neither PlaNYC nor OneNYC were submitted to the City Council for approval, as required by the statutory approach to establishing a comprehensive plan.</p> <p>One anticipates that preparing and adopting such a plan would be contentious and procedurally difficult. However, one hopes that the process would be constructive for all involved, fostering democratic deliberation and giving citizens, municipal employees, and elected officials experience with better governance. One also hopes that achieving a shared vision for the future of our city would facilitate the implementation of the plan and expedite the review of projects consistent with it.</p> <p><strong>Should New York City’s Charter be amended to require a real comprehensive plan?</strong><br /> Yes. &nbsp;</p> <p>The 2019 Charter Revision Commission should recommend to voters this November that the City Charter be amended to create and maintain a living comprehensive plan. This should include provisions that:</p> <p>The city-wide parts of the plan be prepared by the mayoral administration in consultation with all interested parties and that the community-centric parts of the plan be prepared jointly by the applicable community board, borough president, and the city administration.</p> <p>The plan should be revised frequently to keep it current with evolving conditions and goals.</p> <p>Zoning and other regulations be amended to be consistent with the plan.</p> <p>Agency actions be consistent with the plan.</p> <p>Actions that are consistent with the plan qualify for expedited approval including abbreviated land use review (ULURP) and community/environmental impact (CEQR).</p> <p>***<br /> John P. West III has 49 years of professional experience in urban design, city planning, and real estate development, mostly in New York City, and is head of the City Club's Urban Design Committee, a consultant to BFJ Planning, and a member of the MAS Planning Committee and the AIANY Urban Design and Planning Committee, among other roles. In the past, he was on the Zoning Committee of REBNY, chair of the Development Committee of the Long Island City Development Corporation, now the LIC Partnership, and a member of Manhattan Community Board Six for 40 years, among other roles.</p> <p>

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Does New York City Need a Chief Diversity Officer? 2019-04-14T04:00:00+00:00 2019-04-14T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8447-does-new-york-city-need-a-chief-diversity-officer Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-office-city-hall-riders.jpg" alt="mayor office city hall riders" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Many days throughout the year there are people gathered on the steps of City Hall calling on city government to make policy. On March 14, a rally of women and people of color who own businesses, organized by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, focused on a change that could significantly alter the direction of city government and opportunities for those business owners and others in similar positions.</p> <p>Those in attendance were backing Stringer’s push to have the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission put a proposal on the November ballot to require a Chief Diversity Officer in the mayor’s cabinet and one at each city agency.</p> <p>Fittingly, Mayor Bill de Blasio, AirPods in his ears, walked into City Hall at the time of the rally, seemingly paying it little mind. Over the last several years, Stringer has assailed the de Blasio administration’s approach to contracting with MWBEs -- minority- and women-owned business enterprises -- and called on the mayor to add a chief diversity officer (CDO) to his administration. De Blasio has adjusted the city’s MWBE contracting goals multiple times and created an MWBE office in 2016, but he has not created the CDO position. He has also repeatedly dismissed Stringer’s criticisms.</p> <p>A second-term Democrat who created a CDO at the comptroller’s office upon taking the citywide position in 2014, Stringer has now pushed the issue to the fore as the 2019 charter commission considers what changes to the city’s central governing document and structure it will propose to voters this fall -- it is listed first among Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/A-New-Charter-to-Confront-New-Challenges.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">65 charter revision proposals</a>.</p> <p>The City Hall rally, which included Stringer, MWBE owners, faith leaders, Manhattan City Council Member Ben Kallos, and Brooklyn Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, came just hours before Stringer and others testified before the commission on the subject of adding the CDO positions to the charter.</p> <p>Among other responsibilities, the CDO position would oversee city procurement and contracting with MWBEs, as well as strategies to improve those efforts. The city spends billions of procurement dollars each year to buy things such as office supplies or hire contractors on city construction projects. The CDO would also focus on issues of equity and diversity in city government, with each CDO at individual city agencies handling these tasks with a narrower scope.</p> <p>“I’ve said to the mayor every year that we would really benefit from a chief diversity officer in City Hall,” Stringer told Gotham Gazette just after the rally. “For me, talk is cheap. We’re either going to be in the business of equality and economic justice or we’re not.”</p> <p>The CDO in Stringer’s office, currently Wendy Garcia, is tasked with overseeing all of its procurement dollars, about $14 million spent annually.</p> <p>“Every time I see a law or a regulation or some rule that inhibits minorities or women to have access, my job is to fix it and change it,” Garcia told Gotham Gazette in an interview. According to Stringer’s charter revision proposals, Garcia has helped the Office of the Comptroller almost double its spending with MWBEs to over 24% of its procurement spending in fiscal year 2017.</p> <p>“I think people do not fully appreciate the role of the chief diversity officer,” Stringer said. “Imagine a chief diversity officer in City Hall in this building right now working every day across all agencies to look at ways to up-spend to bring more people into the procurement process. This is a necessary part of government. It’s the future of the city. There’s nothing more important than creating wealth with opportunity.”</p> <p>Each year, Stringer puts out an MWBE report card for city agencies and the mayor’s office, and he includes his office as well. Six of the 32 agencies graded by the Comptroller’s Office already have CDOs: Department of Design and Construction, Department of Finance, Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Department of Sanitation, Department of Transportation, Fire Department, and Law Department. (None of the agencies with chief diversity officers increased their share of procurement going to MWBEs by over 2.5% from 2017 to 2018 except the Department of Finance which spent only $25 million on procurement in total, about 21% of its procurement dollars.)</p> <p>The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) has one of the biggest procurement budgets in city government, totaling nearly $1.7 billion, about as large as the other agencies with CDOs combined. DDC hired Chief Diversity and Industry Relations Officer Magalie D. Austin in 2014. According to budget testimony delivered last month by DDC Commissioner Lorraine Grillo, "Mayor de Blasio singled out DDC as the top performing agency in the City’s M/WBE program. We’ve awarded more than $1 billion to M/WBE firms since 2015. Between FY15 to FY18, our overall M/WBE utilization rate has increased from just under ten percent to 23 percent."</p> <p>Furthermore, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and New York State also have chief diversity officers. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who took office in 2011, responded to a <a href="https://cdn.esd.ny.gov/mwbe/Data/NERA_NYS_Disparity_Study_Final_NEW.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2010 disparity study</a> by focusing on the state’s procurement dollars going to MWBEs. In 2014, he upgraded his goal for MWBE utilization from 20% to 30% of the value of state contracts. In fiscal year 2017, the percentage of MWBE utilization in New York State was 28.6%, according to Empire State Development’s Division of Minority and Women's Business Development <a href="https://esd.ny.gov/esd-media-center/reports/division-minority-and-womens-business-development-annual-report-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Annual Report 2018</a>.</p> <p>The state chief diversity officer originally solely oversaw the MWBE procurement process but has recently added workforce diversity and inclusion duties as well. Currently, the role of chief diversity officer is filled by Lourdes Zapata.</p> <p><strong>Other Major Cities Have CDOs</strong><br />Outside of New York City, the position of chief diversity officer can be found in other major city governments around the country, almost all only created in the past five years.</p> <p>There are currently chief diversity officers in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Columbus, San Antonio, Austin, Nashville, and Buffalo. The duties (and titles) of these CDOs vary – most of the positions are human resources in nature, such as researching workplace diversity, recruiting diverse applicants for city jobs, and raising awareness for diverse hiring practices.</p> <p>If the proposal passed, New York would be the first major city with a chief diversity officer whose main job duty would be to oversee procurement for MWBEs.</p> <p>In Philadelphia, the role of <a href="https://www.phila.gov/departments/office-of-the-chief-diversity-and-inclusion-officer/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer</a> is filled by Nolan Atkinson Jr. When offered the job, “I had one qualification. I wanted the title to be the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer,” he told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “I believe inclusion is vital in having a successful tenure in this position.”</p> <p>Atkinson’s office provides diversity training to city employees, publishes quarterly reports, and oversees the Office of Economic Opportunity, which manages procurement to WMBEs.</p> <p>Philadelphia city government awarded over $440 million out of an estimated $1.4 billion contracting budget (30.5%) to M/W/DSBE’s (Philadelphia includes business owners with a disability) in fiscal year 2018, a $128 million increase over fiscal year 2017, according to the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce’s Office of Economic Opportunity Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report. Philadelphia has set an “aspirational” goal of 35% of contracting dollars to go to diverse businesses. In terms of city employee diversity, the Philadelphia city workforce skews heavily male, at 65% of the workforce, and 58% of “new hires.”</p> <p>Boston’s CDO Danielson Tavares has had more success reflecting the city’s population in the city’s workforce but does not oversee procurement.</p> <p>Danielson Tavares, <a href="https://www.boston.gov/departments/mayors-office/danielson-tavares" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chief Diversity Officer</a> of the City of Boston, told Gotham Gazette, “my initial mandate was as to try to diversify the [city government] workforce to be as reflective of the city population as possible with special attention to underrepresented populations.”</p> <p>According to the first ever <a href="https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/document-file-08-2016/2015.04.14_final_draft-updated_city_of_boston_workforce_profile_report_tcm3-50873.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">workforce report</a> looking at diversity in Boston in 2015, just 42% of city workers were non-white while 54% of the city was non-white. The <a href="https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/document-file-12-2017/quarterly_department_diversity_report_december_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">December 2018 report</a> showed that out of the nearly 1,500 new city hires in the year before the report, 55% were non-white.</p> <p>Something both Atkinson and Tavares emphasized: for a CDO position to work, they need the support of the mayor of the city.</p> <p>It doesn’t seem like the proposal has it in New York.</p> <p><strong>The New York City Push, MWBE Spending, &amp; the Charter Revision Commission</strong><br /> In a statement to Gotham Gazette, de Blasio spokesperson Raul Contreras highlighted the work of the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises but was noncommittal regarding the CDO proposal that’s in front of the charter revision commission.</p> <p>A chief diversity officer in New York would undoubtedly cause changes in the procurement spending infrastructure with the Mayor’s Office of M/WBE’s currently overseeing procurement to M/WBE’s. When asked at a March 21 press conference -- one week after the Stringer-led rally and testimony at the charter revision commission -- about the possibility of a CDO in New York City, de Blasio said, “I think the current approach is a very aggressive, effective way. We’ll always look at ways we can improve it, but I think this model is the way to get it done.”</p> <p>“If you’re chief diversity officer and you don’t report to the head, you’re set up to fail,” said Wendy Garcia. “If you’re reporting directly to the head, you’re part of the system.”</p> <p>“As long as it doesn’t get overly politicized, we see the power and leverage of a position like this necessarily maintained,” said Julie Nelson, Co-Director of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality (GARE).</p> <p>An issue the 2019 Charter Revision Commission brought up in <a href="http://www.charter2019.nyc/hearings/13" target="_blank" rel="noopener">its hearing</a> was the already existing framework in the city overseeing M/WBE investment. Commissioner James Caras asked the panelist of experts who testified on the issue if a CDO was really necessary as the duties of the position, diversity hiring and overseeing the M/WBE program, are already handled by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and the Mayor's Office of M/WBEs, respectively.</p> <p>Commissioner Stephen Fiala argued that the specifics of how a CDO would integrate with the current MWBE officers in city agencies are unknown and would only add to a complicated charter and city bureaucratic structure.</p> <p>“We’re always too quick to come up with a catchy title and then try to ram it into the charter and then we’re left very disappointed when nothing happens.”</p> <p>A possible downside to the idea of chief diversity officers, said Nelson, is “when individual positions are allocated with the responsibility, that can take the pressure or the weight off other people” when promoting diversity.</p> <p>Asked about this reservation, Garcia told Gotham Gazette it is the reason the CDO must be in every agency and there must be one CDO who reports directly to the mayor.</p> <p>If skipped over by the charter revision commission, the creation of a citywide chief diversity officer could be legislated by the New York City Council, however the expert panelists at the revision commission’s hearing were dubious of this path as the charter is less malleable to political changes and pressures.</p> <p>It’s notable that of the ways the push for a CDO could succeed, like through legislative action or executive order, changing the city’s Charter is the only way that does not directly include the mayor, though he does have four appointees to the 15-member commission. (The City Council could pass a bill then override a mayoral veto. There is no current bill in the Council to create a CDO.)</p> <p>When the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard testimony on the proposal of creating a CDO at the March 14 hearing, commissioners appeared interested in the topic. After including the CDO concept in its list of issues to explore further, the commission heard from Stringer and others, among a series of expert hearings it held on a variety of topics, and will now put forward its narrowed focus areas on April 22. That list will determine which issues the commission plans to craft actual ballot proposals around for suggested changes to city government for voters to approve or disapprove in November.</p> <p>The MWBE program, created by city law in 2005, attempts to increase the amount of city procurement dollars that go to minority- and women-owned businesses. In fiscal year 2018, the city awarded $19.3 billion in contracts, of which $1 billion, or about 5.5%, went to MWBEs, according to Comptroller Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/making-the-grade/reports/making-the-grade-2018/#_edn2" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Making the Grade 2018</a> report. In 2007, it was just 1.6%.</p> <p>In the same 2018 report, Stringer gave the city as a whole a D+. Of the 32 mayoral agencies graded, only nine received a B or higher, including the Office of the Comptroller. On spending specifically with African-American-owned businesses, five mayoral agencies received a B or higher. &nbsp;</p> <p>To improve, Mayor de Blasio set the goal of awarding $16 billion to MWBEs by 2025 in his OneNYC plan, a goal which has since been increased to $20 billion by 2025.</p> <p>Amid earlier criticism from Stringer, de Blasio created the Office of MWBEs in September of 2016, which is currently responsible for overseeing the MWBE program. The office, currently led by Jonnel Doris, is part of the mayor’s office and is overseen by the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, currently Phil Thompson. The office was created and enhanced under Thompson’s predecessor, Richard Buery.</p> <p>Talk of a chief diversity officer actually came up in the 2013 New York City mayoral race. At a very early forum in the race -- held in June 2012 when Stringer was exploring a mayoral bid before he shifted to the comptroller’s race -- participating candidates including de Blasio criticized the Bloomberg administration approach to diverse hiring and MWBE contracting. According to news reports the candidates all supported the idea of a CDO at City Hall. “De Blasio also endorsed the idea, but said he would go further, making the person who holds that post a deputy mayor,” according to <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-newyork-campaign-mayor/ny-city-democrats-slam-bloomberg-on-diversity-record-idUSBRE85B1M620120612" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a Reuters article</a> from the time. That’s what de Blasio has done, in a way.</p> <p>But the city has failed to hit MWBE procurement benchmarks that were codified by Local Law 1 in 2013. For example, 18% of the value of city construction contracts awarded are supposed to go to women-owned businesses. In 2018, the city awarded just 4.1%, according to the comptroller’s Making the Grade 2018 report.</p> <p>On the matter of diversity in the mayor's office and city government more broadly, little has changed since de Blasio took office, according to the most recent statistics available from the city. While de Blasio has elevated more women and people of color to top city leadership positions, the larger workforce is about what it was in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's final year of 2013.</p> <p><a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/newyorkcitynewyork/PST045217" target="_blank" rel="noopener">According to the U.S. Census Bureau</a>, as of July 2017, New York City as a whole was 52.3% female and 46.7% male, and 32% white, 29% Hispanic, 24% black, 14% Asian, and 1% other races.</p> <p>According to the city's Department of Citywide Administration Services: <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dcas/downloads/pdf/reports/workforce_profile_report_12_30_2013.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in 2013</a> the mayor's office was: 60% female and 40% male, and 54% white, 17% black, 15% Hispanic, and 14% Asian; <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dcas/downloads/pdf/reports/workforce_profile_report_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in 2017</a> the mayor's office was: 58% female and 42% male, and 46% white, 20% black, 15% Hispanic, 16% Asian, and 3% some other race.</p> <p>In 2013 the city government workforce was 58% female and 42% male, and 40% white, 31% black, 19% Hispanic, 8% Asian, and 2% some other race. In 2017 the city government workforce was 59% female and 41% male, and 38% white, 30% black, 20% Hispanic, 9% Asian, and 3% some other race.</p> <p>Nelson, of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality, told Gotham Gazette the vast resources and dollars of New York City could have a real benefit on policies that would help people of color, if implemented well.</p> <p>“What we don’t want to have happen is for these positions just to be spokespeople for the status quo,” she said.</p> <p>

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by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to reflect accurate procurement spending with MWBEs by DDC. The original published version of the article inaccruately described DDC as making minimal progress in MWBE contracting in recent years whereas it has increased such spending significantly.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/mayor-office-city-hall-riders.jpg" alt="mayor office city hall riders" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Many days throughout the year there are people gathered on the steps of City Hall calling on city government to make policy. On March 14, a rally of women and people of color who own businesses, organized by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, focused on a change that could significantly alter the direction of city government and opportunities for those business owners and others in similar positions.</p> <p>Those in attendance were backing Stringer’s push to have the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission put a proposal on the November ballot to require a Chief Diversity Officer in the mayor’s cabinet and one at each city agency.</p> <p>Fittingly, Mayor Bill de Blasio, AirPods in his ears, walked into City Hall at the time of the rally, seemingly paying it little mind. Over the last several years, Stringer has assailed the de Blasio administration’s approach to contracting with MWBEs -- minority- and women-owned business enterprises -- and called on the mayor to add a chief diversity officer (CDO) to his administration. De Blasio has adjusted the city’s MWBE contracting goals multiple times and created an MWBE office in 2016, but he has not created the CDO position. He has also repeatedly dismissed Stringer’s criticisms.</p> <p>A second-term Democrat who created a CDO at the comptroller’s office upon taking the citywide position in 2014, Stringer has now pushed the issue to the fore as the 2019 charter commission considers what changes to the city’s central governing document and structure it will propose to voters this fall -- it is listed first among Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/A-New-Charter-to-Confront-New-Challenges.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">65 charter revision proposals</a>.</p> <p>The City Hall rally, which included Stringer, MWBE owners, faith leaders, Manhattan City Council Member Ben Kallos, and Brooklyn Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte, came just hours before Stringer and others testified before the commission on the subject of adding the CDO positions to the charter.</p> <p>Among other responsibilities, the CDO position would oversee city procurement and contracting with MWBEs, as well as strategies to improve those efforts. The city spends billions of procurement dollars each year to buy things such as office supplies or hire contractors on city construction projects. The CDO would also focus on issues of equity and diversity in city government, with each CDO at individual city agencies handling these tasks with a narrower scope.</p> <p>“I’ve said to the mayor every year that we would really benefit from a chief diversity officer in City Hall,” Stringer told Gotham Gazette just after the rally. “For me, talk is cheap. We’re either going to be in the business of equality and economic justice or we’re not.”</p> <p>The CDO in Stringer’s office, currently Wendy Garcia, is tasked with overseeing all of its procurement dollars, about $14 million spent annually.</p> <p>“Every time I see a law or a regulation or some rule that inhibits minorities or women to have access, my job is to fix it and change it,” Garcia told Gotham Gazette in an interview. According to Stringer’s charter revision proposals, Garcia has helped the Office of the Comptroller almost double its spending with MWBEs to over 24% of its procurement spending in fiscal year 2017.</p> <p>“I think people do not fully appreciate the role of the chief diversity officer,” Stringer said. “Imagine a chief diversity officer in City Hall in this building right now working every day across all agencies to look at ways to up-spend to bring more people into the procurement process. This is a necessary part of government. It’s the future of the city. There’s nothing more important than creating wealth with opportunity.”</p> <p>Each year, Stringer puts out an MWBE report card for city agencies and the mayor’s office, and he includes his office as well. Six of the 32 agencies graded by the Comptroller’s Office already have CDOs: Department of Design and Construction, Department of Finance, Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, Department of Sanitation, Department of Transportation, Fire Department, and Law Department. (None of the agencies with chief diversity officers increased their share of procurement going to MWBEs by over 2.5% from 2017 to 2018 except the Department of Finance which spent only $25 million on procurement in total, about 21% of its procurement dollars.)</p> <p>The Department of Design and Construction (DDC) has one of the biggest procurement budgets in city government, totaling nearly $1.7 billion, about as large as the other agencies with CDOs combined. DDC hired Chief Diversity and Industry Relations Officer Magalie D. Austin in 2014. According to budget testimony delivered last month by DDC Commissioner Lorraine Grillo, "Mayor de Blasio singled out DDC as the top performing agency in the City’s M/WBE program. We’ve awarded more than $1 billion to M/WBE firms since 2015. Between FY15 to FY18, our overall M/WBE utilization rate has increased from just under ten percent to 23 percent."</p> <p>Furthermore, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and New York State also have chief diversity officers. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who took office in 2011, responded to a <a href="https://cdn.esd.ny.gov/mwbe/Data/NERA_NYS_Disparity_Study_Final_NEW.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">2010 disparity study</a> by focusing on the state’s procurement dollars going to MWBEs. In 2014, he upgraded his goal for MWBE utilization from 20% to 30% of the value of state contracts. In fiscal year 2017, the percentage of MWBE utilization in New York State was 28.6%, according to Empire State Development’s Division of Minority and Women's Business Development <a href="https://esd.ny.gov/esd-media-center/reports/division-minority-and-womens-business-development-annual-report-2018" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Annual Report 2018</a>.</p> <p>The state chief diversity officer originally solely oversaw the MWBE procurement process but has recently added workforce diversity and inclusion duties as well. Currently, the role of chief diversity officer is filled by Lourdes Zapata.</p> <p><strong>Other Major Cities Have CDOs</strong><br />Outside of New York City, the position of chief diversity officer can be found in other major city governments around the country, almost all only created in the past five years.</p> <p>There are currently chief diversity officers in Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Columbus, San Antonio, Austin, Nashville, and Buffalo. The duties (and titles) of these CDOs vary – most of the positions are human resources in nature, such as researching workplace diversity, recruiting diverse applicants for city jobs, and raising awareness for diverse hiring practices.</p> <p>If the proposal passed, New York would be the first major city with a chief diversity officer whose main job duty would be to oversee procurement for MWBEs.</p> <p>In Philadelphia, the role of <a href="https://www.phila.gov/departments/office-of-the-chief-diversity-and-inclusion-officer/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer</a> is filled by Nolan Atkinson Jr. When offered the job, “I had one qualification. I wanted the title to be the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer,” he told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview. “I believe inclusion is vital in having a successful tenure in this position.”</p> <p>Atkinson’s office provides diversity training to city employees, publishes quarterly reports, and oversees the Office of Economic Opportunity, which manages procurement to WMBEs.</p> <p>Philadelphia city government awarded over $440 million out of an estimated $1.4 billion contracting budget (30.5%) to M/W/DSBE’s (Philadelphia includes business owners with a disability) in fiscal year 2018, a $128 million increase over fiscal year 2017, according to the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Commerce’s Office of Economic Opportunity Fiscal Year 2018 Annual Report. Philadelphia has set an “aspirational” goal of 35% of contracting dollars to go to diverse businesses. In terms of city employee diversity, the Philadelphia city workforce skews heavily male, at 65% of the workforce, and 58% of “new hires.”</p> <p>Boston’s CDO Danielson Tavares has had more success reflecting the city’s population in the city’s workforce but does not oversee procurement.</p> <p>Danielson Tavares, <a href="https://www.boston.gov/departments/mayors-office/danielson-tavares" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chief Diversity Officer</a> of the City of Boston, told Gotham Gazette, “my initial mandate was as to try to diversify the [city government] workforce to be as reflective of the city population as possible with special attention to underrepresented populations.”</p> <p>According to the first ever <a href="https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/document-file-08-2016/2015.04.14_final_draft-updated_city_of_boston_workforce_profile_report_tcm3-50873.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">workforce report</a> looking at diversity in Boston in 2015, just 42% of city workers were non-white while 54% of the city was non-white. The <a href="https://www.boston.gov/sites/default/files/document-file-12-2017/quarterly_department_diversity_report_december_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">December 2018 report</a> showed that out of the nearly 1,500 new city hires in the year before the report, 55% were non-white.</p> <p>Something both Atkinson and Tavares emphasized: for a CDO position to work, they need the support of the mayor of the city.</p> <p>It doesn’t seem like the proposal has it in New York.</p> <p><strong>The New York City Push, MWBE Spending, &amp; the Charter Revision Commission</strong><br /> In a statement to Gotham Gazette, de Blasio spokesperson Raul Contreras highlighted the work of the Mayor’s Office of Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises but was noncommittal regarding the CDO proposal that’s in front of the charter revision commission.</p> <p>A chief diversity officer in New York would undoubtedly cause changes in the procurement spending infrastructure with the Mayor’s Office of M/WBE’s currently overseeing procurement to M/WBE’s. When asked at a March 21 press conference -- one week after the Stringer-led rally and testimony at the charter revision commission -- about the possibility of a CDO in New York City, de Blasio said, “I think the current approach is a very aggressive, effective way. We’ll always look at ways we can improve it, but I think this model is the way to get it done.”</p> <p>“If you’re chief diversity officer and you don’t report to the head, you’re set up to fail,” said Wendy Garcia. “If you’re reporting directly to the head, you’re part of the system.”</p> <p>“As long as it doesn’t get overly politicized, we see the power and leverage of a position like this necessarily maintained,” said Julie Nelson, Co-Director of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality (GARE).</p> <p>An issue the 2019 Charter Revision Commission brought up in <a href="http://www.charter2019.nyc/hearings/13" target="_blank" rel="noopener">its hearing</a> was the already existing framework in the city overseeing M/WBE investment. Commissioner James Caras asked the panelist of experts who testified on the issue if a CDO was really necessary as the duties of the position, diversity hiring and overseeing the M/WBE program, are already handled by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and the Mayor's Office of M/WBEs, respectively.</p> <p>Commissioner Stephen Fiala argued that the specifics of how a CDO would integrate with the current MWBE officers in city agencies are unknown and would only add to a complicated charter and city bureaucratic structure.</p> <p>“We’re always too quick to come up with a catchy title and then try to ram it into the charter and then we’re left very disappointed when nothing happens.”</p> <p>A possible downside to the idea of chief diversity officers, said Nelson, is “when individual positions are allocated with the responsibility, that can take the pressure or the weight off other people” when promoting diversity.</p> <p>Asked about this reservation, Garcia told Gotham Gazette it is the reason the CDO must be in every agency and there must be one CDO who reports directly to the mayor.</p> <p>If skipped over by the charter revision commission, the creation of a citywide chief diversity officer could be legislated by the New York City Council, however the expert panelists at the revision commission’s hearing were dubious of this path as the charter is less malleable to political changes and pressures.</p> <p>It’s notable that of the ways the push for a CDO could succeed, like through legislative action or executive order, changing the city’s Charter is the only way that does not directly include the mayor, though he does have four appointees to the 15-member commission. (The City Council could pass a bill then override a mayoral veto. There is no current bill in the Council to create a CDO.)</p> <p>When the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard testimony on the proposal of creating a CDO at the March 14 hearing, commissioners appeared interested in the topic. After including the CDO concept in its list of issues to explore further, the commission heard from Stringer and others, among a series of expert hearings it held on a variety of topics, and will now put forward its narrowed focus areas on April 22. That list will determine which issues the commission plans to craft actual ballot proposals around for suggested changes to city government for voters to approve or disapprove in November.</p> <p>The MWBE program, created by city law in 2005, attempts to increase the amount of city procurement dollars that go to minority- and women-owned businesses. In fiscal year 2018, the city awarded $19.3 billion in contracts, of which $1 billion, or about 5.5%, went to MWBEs, according to Comptroller Stringer’s <a href="https://comptroller.nyc.gov/reports/making-the-grade/reports/making-the-grade-2018/#_edn2" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Making the Grade 2018</a> report. In 2007, it was just 1.6%.</p> <p>In the same 2018 report, Stringer gave the city as a whole a D+. Of the 32 mayoral agencies graded, only nine received a B or higher, including the Office of the Comptroller. On spending specifically with African-American-owned businesses, five mayoral agencies received a B or higher. &nbsp;</p> <p>To improve, Mayor de Blasio set the goal of awarding $16 billion to MWBEs by 2025 in his OneNYC plan, a goal which has since been increased to $20 billion by 2025.</p> <p>Amid earlier criticism from Stringer, de Blasio created the Office of MWBEs in September of 2016, which is currently responsible for overseeing the MWBE program. The office, currently led by Jonnel Doris, is part of the mayor’s office and is overseen by the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, currently Phil Thompson. The office was created and enhanced under Thompson’s predecessor, Richard Buery.</p> <p>Talk of a chief diversity officer actually came up in the 2013 New York City mayoral race. At a very early forum in the race -- held in June 2012 when Stringer was exploring a mayoral bid before he shifted to the comptroller’s race -- participating candidates including de Blasio criticized the Bloomberg administration approach to diverse hiring and MWBE contracting. According to news reports the candidates all supported the idea of a CDO at City Hall. “De Blasio also endorsed the idea, but said he would go further, making the person who holds that post a deputy mayor,” according to <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-newyork-campaign-mayor/ny-city-democrats-slam-bloomberg-on-diversity-record-idUSBRE85B1M620120612" target="_blank" rel="noopener">a Reuters article</a> from the time. That’s what de Blasio has done, in a way.</p> <p>But the city has failed to hit MWBE procurement benchmarks that were codified by Local Law 1 in 2013. For example, 18% of the value of city construction contracts awarded are supposed to go to women-owned businesses. In 2018, the city awarded just 4.1%, according to the comptroller’s Making the Grade 2018 report.</p> <p>On the matter of diversity in the mayor's office and city government more broadly, little has changed since de Blasio took office, according to the most recent statistics available from the city. While de Blasio has elevated more women and people of color to top city leadership positions, the larger workforce is about what it was in Mayor Michael Bloomberg's final year of 2013.</p> <p><a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/newyorkcitynewyork/PST045217" target="_blank" rel="noopener">According to the U.S. Census Bureau</a>, as of July 2017, New York City as a whole was 52.3% female and 46.7% male, and 32% white, 29% Hispanic, 24% black, 14% Asian, and 1% other races.</p> <p>According to the city's Department of Citywide Administration Services: <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dcas/downloads/pdf/reports/workforce_profile_report_12_30_2013.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in 2013</a> the mayor's office was: 60% female and 40% male, and 54% white, 17% black, 15% Hispanic, and 14% Asian; <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/dcas/downloads/pdf/reports/workforce_profile_report_2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">in 2017</a> the mayor's office was: 58% female and 42% male, and 46% white, 20% black, 15% Hispanic, 16% Asian, and 3% some other race.</p> <p>In 2013 the city government workforce was 58% female and 42% male, and 40% white, 31% black, 19% Hispanic, 8% Asian, and 2% some other race. In 2017 the city government workforce was 59% female and 41% male, and 38% white, 30% black, 20% Hispanic, 9% Asian, and 3% some other race.</p> <p>Nelson, of the Government Alliance on Race and Equality, told Gotham Gazette the vast resources and dollars of New York City could have a real benefit on policies that would help people of color, if implemented well.</p> <p>“What we don’t want to have happen is for these positions just to be spokespeople for the status quo,” she said.</p> <p>

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by Truman Stephens, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Ben Max contributed to this article.</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to reflect accurate procurement spending with MWBEs by DDC. The original published version of the article inaccruately described DDC as making minimal progress in MWBE contracting in recent years whereas it has increased such spending significantly.</p>
Max & Murphy Podcast: Should the City Develop a Comprehensive Plan? 2019-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8395-max-murphy-podcast-should-the-city-develop-a-comprehensive-plan Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/2conte.jpg" alt="2conte" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>March 27, 2019 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Should the City Develop a Comprehensive Plan?&nbsp;with Elena Conte, Pratt Center Director of Policy<br /></strong></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/2conte.jpg" alt="2conte" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette,&nbsp;and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits</p> <hr /> <p><strong>March 27, 2019 - Max &amp; Murphy Podcast: Should the City Develop a Comprehensive Plan?&nbsp;with Elena Conte, Pratt Center Director of Policy<br /></strong></p> Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Role of Borough Presidents, Other Governance Issues 2019-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-27T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8392-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-role-of-borough-presidents-other-governance-issues Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/charter2019nyc-comm-rev.jpg" alt="charter2019nyc comm rev" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: @Charter2019NYC)</p> <hr /> <p>Over the course of three hours on Monday evening, the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission held the last of seven “expert” forums, during which commissioners heard testimony from former and current city officials, academics, and activists about the role of borough presidents, general city governance issues, the Board of Standards and Appeals, and the Landmark Preservation Commission.</p> <p>The commission was created to update New York’s charter: the city document that determines government structures and procedures, allocating power throughout. The 2019 commission appears set to make the most drastic changes to the city’s charter since a major overhaul by the 1989 commission. Created through City Council legislation, it is composed of 15 commissioners appointed by city leaders – four by the Mayor, four by the Speaker of the City Council, and one by each borough president, the Public Advocate and the Comptroller.</p> <p>After holding a series of public hearings and private deliberations, the commission determined broad focus areas to continue to examine. Then, the commission has held expert forums on election reform, police accountability, city budgeting and contracting, conflicts of interest and appointing chief diversity officers, the power of the public advocate and the role of the law department, and land use and city planning.</p> <p>Over the course of April and May, the commission will adopt a draft slate of proposals and hold hearings across the five boroughs. In June, the slate of proposals will be finalized based on feedback. The commission will submit the final proposals to the city clerk in July. The proposals will be voted on in November, with changes to the city charter either approved or disapproved by New Yorkers who go to the polls.</p> <p>On Monday, the hearing revolved around the power of borough presidents and borough representation throughout various city commissions. <br /> <br /><strong>Role of Borough Presidents</strong><br />The first panel of the evening was composed of two former borough presidents, Ruth Messinger and Virginia Fields, as well as borough advocate and activist Allen Cappelli.</p> <p>They all agreed that the charter should strengthen the role of the borough president, especially in terms of legislative power. They argued that borough presidents should have more input in the city’s discretionary budget, more power in terms of land use and redistricting, more transparency and communication among the mayor’s office, the City Council, and borough presidents, and more authority in appointing commissioners for the various city commissions.</p> <p>On the other hand, later panelists argued against giving the borough presidents the authority to choose people to be on specific commissions.</p> <p>“Borough Presidents know so much more. They do so much more,” said Fields, as she and the other initial panelists argued that the borough presidents had local expertise that the city was not taking advantage of. Fields was adamant that there must be an annual face-to-face meeting among borough presidents, the City Council, and the Mayor to improve coordination among the branches of city government. This would give the borough presidents the opportunity to provide their expertise while helping to determine the city budget and better coordinate land use.</p> <p>Cappelli also emphasized that the power of the borough president is currently based on their relationship with the mayor and that if they had a poor relationship, they would be able to get less done. Messinger argued for strengthened land use staff for borough presidents.</p> <p>Commissioner Sateesh Nori questioned if giving the borough presidents more power was moving in the right direction. “The way people identify with their boroughs as we move away from 1898, they look to be residents of New York City as a whole. What is the role of the borough president if that is what is happening?,” she asked. Panelists argued that people do in fact associate themselves with their home borough.</p> <p>“I don’t think I agree with that premise. I worked in all of the boroughs and they have their own identities,” responded Cappelli. The panel also argued that there is a difference between representing the borough and the way people identify.</p> <p><strong>General Governance</strong><br />The general governance panel became far more of a discussion than planned, covering a variety of topics and several proposals made by the professors who testified, all of whom had past experience in city charter revision work.</p> <p>The conversation involving Ester Fuchs of Columbia University, Eric Lane of Hofstra University, and John Mollenkopf of the CUNY Graduate Center touched on the role of the borough presidents, but also touched on the role of the public advocate, the question of establishing a budgetary “rainy day fund,” fair share requirements, the city’s corporation counsel, community boards, open primary elections, the ability to remove the chief of the Department of Investigation, and prior charter revision efforts.</p> <p>Fuchs, who worked for Mayor Michael Bloomberg and chaired the 2005 charter revision commission, was the most vocal, putting forward five precise proposals.</p> <p>She called for instituting open primary elections, which would allow voters to cast a ballot in any one party primary they choose, regardless of their actual party affiliation. This proposal was discussed in detail. Commissioner Sal Albanese agreed with Fuchs on open primaries, but proceeded to question the role of public advocate. “I could never wrap my arms around the position since 1989,” he said. “If the Public Advocate is really a procedural structure and we don’t give it any more power, why do we keep it?”</p> <p>The panelists concluded that the public advocate serves no real governing purpose, but can help get people of color elected to citywide office (two of the five people to hold the office are people of color, Letitia James and Jumaane Williams, the two most recent public advocates).</p> <p>“It served a purpose in 1989. From a governance point of view, it doesn’t have governance purpose. It emphasizes the wrong things that people should do in order to be mayor,” said Fuchs. She also called for the public advocate to manage a citizen survey of 130,000 randomly selected New Yorkers on a series of services.</p> <p>Fuchs also called for the establishment in the charter of a “rainy day” fund, something that would require state approval, as discussed during a prior charter hearing on budgeting.</p> <p>Fuchs also said community boards are not consistently meeting their purpose of bringing government closer to individuals in communities. She did not argue community boards should be removed, but called for their geographic placement to be coterminous with City Council districts (there are currently 51 Council districts and 59 community board districts).</p> <p>Lastly, Fuchs argued that the removal of the investigations commissioner should require approval by the City Council, which confirms the mayor’s nominee to the post, and not the mayor alone.</p> <p>Mollenkopf is against increasing the power of borough presidents. He argued that the power was well-balanced with the City Council and the mayor, and said the charter revision of 1989 produced powerful mayors then held accountable for their actions. Mollenkopf said the borough presidents and public advocates should maintain their same roles and proposed a survey on how the City Council impacts New Yorkers’ day-to-day lives.</p> <p>Lane, who helped lead the 1989 charter revision effort whereby the position of public advocate was created, said that city leadership has at times slashed the public advocate office budget, thus limiting its role. He also said the fair share standard needs to be examined and be “given more teeth,” and said it is a good way to fight homelessness in the city. He also proposed taking a closer look at the corporation counsel, which is basically the city’s top lawyer.</p> <p><strong>Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA)</strong><br />A panel composed of a current board member, Margery Perlmutter, a former chair of the board, Meenakshi Srinivasan, and the former Division Chief of Administrative Law for the Corporation Counsel, Gabriel Taussig, discussed the composition and role of the Board of Standards and Appeals, which interprets the meaning of the city’s zoning resolution. According to its website, the board reviews applications for variances and special permits, as well as appeals from property owners whose proposals have been denied. It also reviews applications from the Department of Buildings and Fire Department to modify certificates of occupancy.</p> <p>The mayor selects the five board members on the BSA. A proposal submitted to the charter revision commission requests borough presidents to have a say in appointing board members. However, the consensus amongst the panel of experts was that no changes should be made to the charter concerning the BSA.</p> <p>The panelists felt that the task of finding skilled board members -- for example, a highly qualified engineer -- who is willing to work for lower government wages would be a complicated process for borough presidents. The charter already stresses that there may be no more than two people from a single borough on the BSA, so there is already reasonable representation. Srinivasan also defended the BSA’s procedure. “It takes input from community boards,” she said.</p> <p><strong>Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC)</strong><br />The LPC is responsible for identifying architecturally, historically, and culturally significant buildings to give “landmark” or “historic” district status and preserving them. Panelists involved with the LPC made the case for paying landmarks preservation commissioners a stipend and insisted that the mayor continue to appoint the 11 commissioners on the LPC, while other elected officials continue to have no say.</p> <p>Panelist Peg Breen, speaking on behalf of New York Landmarks Conservancy, argued that LPC commissioners spend too much more time going to hearings than when the commission was formed. “Stipends would recognize the important service commission members perform,” she said. However, charter commissioners said stipends might create a conflict of interest for LPC commissioners who have other jobs.</p> <p>The LPC panel argued for the mayor to continue to appoint commissioners to ensure that the public knows who to hold accountable. “The charter already requires commission members from each borough,” said Breen. “Mayoral control maintains clear accountability.”</p> <p>

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by Ashad Hajela, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to indicate that Fuchs worked on the 2005, not 1999, commission.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/charter2019nyc-comm-rev.jpg" alt="charter2019nyc comm rev" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: @Charter2019NYC)</p> <hr /> <p>Over the course of three hours on Monday evening, the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission held the last of seven “expert” forums, during which commissioners heard testimony from former and current city officials, academics, and activists about the role of borough presidents, general city governance issues, the Board of Standards and Appeals, and the Landmark Preservation Commission.</p> <p>The commission was created to update New York’s charter: the city document that determines government structures and procedures, allocating power throughout. The 2019 commission appears set to make the most drastic changes to the city’s charter since a major overhaul by the 1989 commission. Created through City Council legislation, it is composed of 15 commissioners appointed by city leaders – four by the Mayor, four by the Speaker of the City Council, and one by each borough president, the Public Advocate and the Comptroller.</p> <p>After holding a series of public hearings and private deliberations, the commission determined broad focus areas to continue to examine. Then, the commission has held expert forums on election reform, police accountability, city budgeting and contracting, conflicts of interest and appointing chief diversity officers, the power of the public advocate and the role of the law department, and land use and city planning.</p> <p>Over the course of April and May, the commission will adopt a draft slate of proposals and hold hearings across the five boroughs. In June, the slate of proposals will be finalized based on feedback. The commission will submit the final proposals to the city clerk in July. The proposals will be voted on in November, with changes to the city charter either approved or disapproved by New Yorkers who go to the polls.</p> <p>On Monday, the hearing revolved around the power of borough presidents and borough representation throughout various city commissions. <br /> <br /><strong>Role of Borough Presidents</strong><br />The first panel of the evening was composed of two former borough presidents, Ruth Messinger and Virginia Fields, as well as borough advocate and activist Allen Cappelli.</p> <p>They all agreed that the charter should strengthen the role of the borough president, especially in terms of legislative power. They argued that borough presidents should have more input in the city’s discretionary budget, more power in terms of land use and redistricting, more transparency and communication among the mayor’s office, the City Council, and borough presidents, and more authority in appointing commissioners for the various city commissions.</p> <p>On the other hand, later panelists argued against giving the borough presidents the authority to choose people to be on specific commissions.</p> <p>“Borough Presidents know so much more. They do so much more,” said Fields, as she and the other initial panelists argued that the borough presidents had local expertise that the city was not taking advantage of. Fields was adamant that there must be an annual face-to-face meeting among borough presidents, the City Council, and the Mayor to improve coordination among the branches of city government. This would give the borough presidents the opportunity to provide their expertise while helping to determine the city budget and better coordinate land use.</p> <p>Cappelli also emphasized that the power of the borough president is currently based on their relationship with the mayor and that if they had a poor relationship, they would be able to get less done. Messinger argued for strengthened land use staff for borough presidents.</p> <p>Commissioner Sateesh Nori questioned if giving the borough presidents more power was moving in the right direction. “The way people identify with their boroughs as we move away from 1898, they look to be residents of New York City as a whole. What is the role of the borough president if that is what is happening?,” she asked. Panelists argued that people do in fact associate themselves with their home borough.</p> <p>“I don’t think I agree with that premise. I worked in all of the boroughs and they have their own identities,” responded Cappelli. The panel also argued that there is a difference between representing the borough and the way people identify.</p> <p><strong>General Governance</strong><br />The general governance panel became far more of a discussion than planned, covering a variety of topics and several proposals made by the professors who testified, all of whom had past experience in city charter revision work.</p> <p>The conversation involving Ester Fuchs of Columbia University, Eric Lane of Hofstra University, and John Mollenkopf of the CUNY Graduate Center touched on the role of the borough presidents, but also touched on the role of the public advocate, the question of establishing a budgetary “rainy day fund,” fair share requirements, the city’s corporation counsel, community boards, open primary elections, the ability to remove the chief of the Department of Investigation, and prior charter revision efforts.</p> <p>Fuchs, who worked for Mayor Michael Bloomberg and chaired the 2005 charter revision commission, was the most vocal, putting forward five precise proposals.</p> <p>She called for instituting open primary elections, which would allow voters to cast a ballot in any one party primary they choose, regardless of their actual party affiliation. This proposal was discussed in detail. Commissioner Sal Albanese agreed with Fuchs on open primaries, but proceeded to question the role of public advocate. “I could never wrap my arms around the position since 1989,” he said. “If the Public Advocate is really a procedural structure and we don’t give it any more power, why do we keep it?”</p> <p>The panelists concluded that the public advocate serves no real governing purpose, but can help get people of color elected to citywide office (two of the five people to hold the office are people of color, Letitia James and Jumaane Williams, the two most recent public advocates).</p> <p>“It served a purpose in 1989. From a governance point of view, it doesn’t have governance purpose. It emphasizes the wrong things that people should do in order to be mayor,” said Fuchs. She also called for the public advocate to manage a citizen survey of 130,000 randomly selected New Yorkers on a series of services.</p> <p>Fuchs also called for the establishment in the charter of a “rainy day” fund, something that would require state approval, as discussed during a prior charter hearing on budgeting.</p> <p>Fuchs also said community boards are not consistently meeting their purpose of bringing government closer to individuals in communities. She did not argue community boards should be removed, but called for their geographic placement to be coterminous with City Council districts (there are currently 51 Council districts and 59 community board districts).</p> <p>Lastly, Fuchs argued that the removal of the investigations commissioner should require approval by the City Council, which confirms the mayor’s nominee to the post, and not the mayor alone.</p> <p>Mollenkopf is against increasing the power of borough presidents. He argued that the power was well-balanced with the City Council and the mayor, and said the charter revision of 1989 produced powerful mayors then held accountable for their actions. Mollenkopf said the borough presidents and public advocates should maintain their same roles and proposed a survey on how the City Council impacts New Yorkers’ day-to-day lives.</p> <p>Lane, who helped lead the 1989 charter revision effort whereby the position of public advocate was created, said that city leadership has at times slashed the public advocate office budget, thus limiting its role. He also said the fair share standard needs to be examined and be “given more teeth,” and said it is a good way to fight homelessness in the city. He also proposed taking a closer look at the corporation counsel, which is basically the city’s top lawyer.</p> <p><strong>Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA)</strong><br />A panel composed of a current board member, Margery Perlmutter, a former chair of the board, Meenakshi Srinivasan, and the former Division Chief of Administrative Law for the Corporation Counsel, Gabriel Taussig, discussed the composition and role of the Board of Standards and Appeals, which interprets the meaning of the city’s zoning resolution. According to its website, the board reviews applications for variances and special permits, as well as appeals from property owners whose proposals have been denied. It also reviews applications from the Department of Buildings and Fire Department to modify certificates of occupancy.</p> <p>The mayor selects the five board members on the BSA. A proposal submitted to the charter revision commission requests borough presidents to have a say in appointing board members. However, the consensus amongst the panel of experts was that no changes should be made to the charter concerning the BSA.</p> <p>The panelists felt that the task of finding skilled board members -- for example, a highly qualified engineer -- who is willing to work for lower government wages would be a complicated process for borough presidents. The charter already stresses that there may be no more than two people from a single borough on the BSA, so there is already reasonable representation. Srinivasan also defended the BSA’s procedure. “It takes input from community boards,” she said.</p> <p><strong>Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC)</strong><br />The LPC is responsible for identifying architecturally, historically, and culturally significant buildings to give “landmark” or “historic” district status and preserving them. Panelists involved with the LPC made the case for paying landmarks preservation commissioners a stipend and insisted that the mayor continue to appoint the 11 commissioners on the LPC, while other elected officials continue to have no say.</p> <p>Panelist Peg Breen, speaking on behalf of New York Landmarks Conservancy, argued that LPC commissioners spend too much more time going to hearings than when the commission was formed. “Stipends would recognize the important service commission members perform,” she said. However, charter commissioners said stipends might create a conflict of interest for LPC commissioners who have other jobs.</p> <p>The LPC panel argued for the mayor to continue to appoint commissioners to ensure that the public knows who to hold accountable. “The charter already requires commission members from each borough,” said Breen. “Mayoral control maintains clear accountability.”</p> <p>

***
by Ashad Hajela, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to indicate that Fuchs worked on the 2005, not 1999, commission.</p>
Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Land Use and Planning 2019-03-24T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-24T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8385-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-land-use-and-planning Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/42268461490_62c3342a22_z.jpg" alt="press conference" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The sixth 2019 Charter Revision Commission “expert” hearing ended in more confusion than it began with on the decidedly complex topics of land use and city planning.</p> <p>Over the course of more than three hours on Thursday evening, experts struggled to articulate a clear definition of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7674-new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one" target="_blank" rel="noopener">comprehensive planning</a>, leaving the commissioners feeling like they had little to work off moving forward in the process of examining the city charter and recommending changes to the city’s foundational governing structures and laws, even if they support the idea abstractly. Meanwhile, experts on the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) put forth several different ideas about how much ULURP should involve the community, but mostly agreed that it already works well enough.</p> <p>As with several of the other hearings, experts and commissioners agreed on the broad goal of working toward a more equitable, affordable, and livable city, but disagreed on the means to achieve it.</p> <p>The charter revision commission is holding a series of expert hearings as it works toward the first potential significant overhaul of city governing since 1989, with four main focus areas to decide on a series of suggested reforms to put on the ballot before voters this November.</p> <p>The commission has already held hearings on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8322-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-redistricting-and-campaign-finance-reform">election reforms</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability">police accountability</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting">city budgeting and contracting</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8365-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-chief-diversity-officer">conflicts of interest and chief diversity officers</a>, and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8372-charter-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-public-advocate-s-office-law-department-ranked-choice-voting">the public advocate and law department</a>. The commission consists of 15 members appointed by each borough president, the city council speaker, the comptroller, and the mayor, and there is staff to help with research and more.</p> <p>Uniform Land Use Review Process<br />“Would you agree that how land is used in any particular place is always a political act?” Commission Chair Gail Benjamin asked the question of the hour, jumpstarting a ULURP panel with commissioners concerned about displacement and equity, and an expert panel that largely echoed those concerns but conceded few suggested reforms.</p> <p>ULURP refers to the city’s “standards and timelines for certain land use actions” that stretch beyond the purview of the land’s zoning. Currently, ULURP is a monthslong process that moves from the Department of City Planning to community boards to borough presidents to the City Planning Commission to the City Council.</p> <p>Experts were mixed on how to reform ULURP, or whether it even requires change. Marisa Lago, Director of New York City Department of Planning, cautioned against moving away from as-of-right housing development, or new housing that complies with existing zoning laws and does not require special approval, which she said provides much of New York City’s affordable housing. The ULURP process, Lago said, is also indispensable to supporting affordable housing and prioritizes community input.</p> <p>Some experts emphasized the importance of a comprehensive, citywide perspective, rather than a hyperlocal view of city planning.</p> <p>Anita Laremont, the executive director of the Department of City Planning, called for a timely, fully public process that balances community input with governmental power -- and indicated ULURP may give too strong a voice to louder local opposition to development. “While some local voices feel that the ULURP process does not give them a strong enough voice, we hear from affordable housing developers, fair housing advocates, and others who see that local concerns are frequently winning out over the wider needs of families, immigrants and others among the city’s most vulnerable.”</p> <p>Andrew Lynn, who formerly held Laremont’s role and is currently a consultant, similarly warned against prioritizing “a vocal, local minority directly affected by an action whose interests may conflict with those of a larger, quieter citywide constituency that has a stake in the action.”</p> <p>Joe Rose, former chair of the City Planning Commission and director of the Department of City Planning, espoused many of same the viewpoints as the other experts on the panel, but also recommended a process that adds 30 extra days to community boards’ decision time, which is currently 60 days, in particularly complex cases. Community Boards currently have an advisory role in ULURP. Rose further argued that giving the Department of City Planning a stronger enforcement role regarding zoning laws would alleviate unnecessary convolution in the ULURP process.</p> <p>Vishaan Chakrabarti, an architect, urbanism professor of practice at Columbia University, and former planner for the city under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was part of the experts’ consensus against significantly revising ULURP to bring in more considerations. “We are outpacing our growth projections,” he said. “But given our land scarcity, we simply can’t keep up unless we expand the production of both affordable and market-rate housing. The fantasy that less growth will lead to equity is irresponsible rhetoric.”</p> <p>The only expert who spoke unequivocally in favor of ULURP reform was Carmen Vega-Rivera of Community Action for Safe Apartments, who spoke about her “extremely frustrating” experience with the Jerome Avenue rezoning in the South Bronx that was approved a year ago and she says invited private developers into the rezoned neighborhood and could potentially lead to gentrification and displacement.</p> <p>Vega-Rivera called for an overhaul of the CEQR, or environmental review process, which she said failed to adequately assess the threat of displacement in the Jerome Avenue project. She suggested a public CEQR process that is renewed at least every five years and delivers a full explanation to the community of the Planning Department’s methodology. She also recommended revoking total mayoral control over the CEQR process and instead endorsed a special oversight commission of appointed experts. “In other words,” Vega-Rivera said, “no one has more power than the other.”</p> <p>After Commissioner Alison Hirsh, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU, asked experts to answer to Vega-Rivera’s concerns, Laremont assured, “we take very seriously the risk of displacement,” but that the CEQR manual is highly technical and public revision risks making an already complex document more difficult to maneuver.</p> <p>Commissioners were mostly concerned with maintaining equity and community oversight in the ULURP process. Commissioner Sal Albanese, former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, asked experts how the city can achieve a balance of continued growth and a vibrant working-class population, while Commissioner James Vacca, a former City Council member, asked why ULURP fails to engage community boards earlier in the process to avoid isolating local residents and stakeholders.</p> <p>Vega-Rivera said community-based efforts are not occurring. “I happen to be a tenant fighting not to be displaced in my community,” she told the commissioners. “No one has knocked on my door to assess my situation.”</p> <p>The other experts largely agreed with each other that New York City can only achieve equity with a comprehensive view of the city, arguing that a neighborhood-centric approach is myopic. Lago offered homeless shelters as an example: few neighborhoods want to host them, but they remain a critical service that have to exist throughout the city, she explained. At the same time, none of these experts endorsed an actual comprehensive plan for New York City.</p> <p>Commissioner James Caras, the Land Use Director for the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, reupped his colleague’s question about engaging the community earlier. Laremont answered, “I’m a little bit confused because I’m not aware of a single instance when that has not been the case.” Even if the process has been informal, community members and stakeholders are consistently looped into the ULURP process, she said. When Caras asked why a community-centric process should not be codified if it’s already in place, Lago said that “one size doesn’t fit all,” and city planning groups need flexibility.</p> <p>Other concerns from commissioners included the disparate planning entities in the city, which experts argued makes the process more robust; increasing digital access to ULURP applications, which Laremont assured; and adding urban planners to the City Planning Commission, which received mixed reviews.</p> <p><strong>Comprehensive Planning</strong><br />New York City <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7674-new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one" target="_blank" rel="noopener">does not have a comprehensive city plan</a>, unlike many other cities across the globe. Some are calling for the requirement to be added to the charter, whereby at some regular interval, the city would be responsible for developing such a plan for land use, development, and key aspects of city life.</p> <p>The competing definitions of comprehensive planning were debated more than any concrete reform suggestions, flummoxing commissioners after an intense two hours of two comprehensive planning panels. Commissioner Hirsh at one point told the experts that she counted seven different ideas in their written testimony submitted to the commission that could all be considered comprehensive planning.</p> <p>In a <a href="http://charter2019.nyc/pdfs/Land%20Use.pdf">document</a> distributed prior to the hearing, the commission defined a comprehensive plan as “a document that articulates long-term development goals related to transportation, utilities, land use, recreation, housing, and other types of infrastructure and services.” But the first expert, Vicki Been, the former commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, began the panel by admitting, “I’m not sure that we’re all on the same page about what is meant by comprehensive planning.”</p> <p>She called a charter mandate “empty platitudes without much more detail about what is meant by comprehensive planning,” and cautioned that its ratification could make an already lengthy and unpredictable process more onerous.</p> <p>Most of the first comprehensive planning panel shared Been’s concerns, while the second panel was significantly more receptive to the idea, if less uniform on what comprehensive planning means and how to enact it.</p> <p>Other panelists who spoke against comprehensive planning cited its failure in the 1970s charter revision process, when by the time it was codified, it was almost immediately outdated, according to several experts. Urban planner Sandy Hornick called the idea “inherently top-down,” rather than community-based. Patrice Carroll of the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development, where comprehensive planning is in place, said that Seattle’s plan allows for flexibility within a broader framework that precludes an overly top-down approach.</p> <p>Commissioner Hirsh asked how the current system accounts for equity, again probing at the hearing’s lack of clear definitions. Been explained that citywide tension stems from a lack of a clear interpretation of fairness, and Hornick offered the example of waste stations to illustrate the argument that comprehensive planning will not remedy the problem that residents will fight against undesirable assets in their neighborhoods.</p> <p>Commissioner Vacca strongly pushed against this notion, saying, “We’re not talking fairness or saturation, we’re talking inequality.” He cited the significant five-year gap in life expectancy between Manhattan and the Bronx due to issues like air quality. “These studies are not subjective, this is the reality. We already have this information at our fingertips and we don’t use it when we plan,” he said. “We plan in a vacuum.”</p> <p>This sentiment was echoed most prominently by City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, including Williamsburg, which has become essentially synonymous with gentrification and displacement. “Planning has left us an unaffordable, economically segregated, racially segregated city in a climate crisis,” he said, testifying before the commission in favor of comprehensive planning. “There has to be a better way.”</p> <p>Elena Conte, Director of Policy at Pratt Center for Community Development, argued the comprehensive planning trusts communities to articulate their own needs, and Tom Angotti, a professor of urban planning at Hunter College, accused other experts of depicting comprehensive planning as a catch-all “boogeyman.”</p> <p>Commissioner Albanese expressed concern that comprehensive planning would stifle growth, but Angotti said that cities that use the system are growing, like Seattle and Amsterdam. Commission Chair Benjamin inquired about legislating comprehensive planning, rather than mandating it through the charter. Reynoso said that he did not trust his own body, the City Council, to handle the issue properly.</p> <p>Nearly all commissioners agreed that they approved of a form of city planning that is community-based, equitable, and meets the challenges facing the city––from displacement to climate change––but seemed wary about the future of a comprehensive planning mandate without more concrete proposals.</p> <p>[READ:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7674-new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York City Doesn’t Have a Comprehensive Plan; Does It Need One?</a>]</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2018/podcast18/42268461490_62c3342a22_z.jpg" alt="press conference" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>(photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>The sixth 2019 Charter Revision Commission “expert” hearing ended in more confusion than it began with on the decidedly complex topics of land use and city planning.</p> <p>Over the course of more than three hours on Thursday evening, experts struggled to articulate a clear definition of <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7674-new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one" target="_blank" rel="noopener">comprehensive planning</a>, leaving the commissioners feeling like they had little to work off moving forward in the process of examining the city charter and recommending changes to the city’s foundational governing structures and laws, even if they support the idea abstractly. Meanwhile, experts on the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP) put forth several different ideas about how much ULURP should involve the community, but mostly agreed that it already works well enough.</p> <p>As with several of the other hearings, experts and commissioners agreed on the broad goal of working toward a more equitable, affordable, and livable city, but disagreed on the means to achieve it.</p> <p>The charter revision commission is holding a series of expert hearings as it works toward the first potential significant overhaul of city governing since 1989, with four main focus areas to decide on a series of suggested reforms to put on the ballot before voters this November.</p> <p>The commission has already held hearings on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8322-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-redistricting-and-campaign-finance-reform">election reforms</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability">police accountability</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting">city budgeting and contracting</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8365-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-chief-diversity-officer">conflicts of interest and chief diversity officers</a>, and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8372-charter-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-public-advocate-s-office-law-department-ranked-choice-voting">the public advocate and law department</a>. The commission consists of 15 members appointed by each borough president, the city council speaker, the comptroller, and the mayor, and there is staff to help with research and more.</p> <p>Uniform Land Use Review Process<br />“Would you agree that how land is used in any particular place is always a political act?” Commission Chair Gail Benjamin asked the question of the hour, jumpstarting a ULURP panel with commissioners concerned about displacement and equity, and an expert panel that largely echoed those concerns but conceded few suggested reforms.</p> <p>ULURP refers to the city’s “standards and timelines for certain land use actions” that stretch beyond the purview of the land’s zoning. Currently, ULURP is a monthslong process that moves from the Department of City Planning to community boards to borough presidents to the City Planning Commission to the City Council.</p> <p>Experts were mixed on how to reform ULURP, or whether it even requires change. Marisa Lago, Director of New York City Department of Planning, cautioned against moving away from as-of-right housing development, or new housing that complies with existing zoning laws and does not require special approval, which she said provides much of New York City’s affordable housing. The ULURP process, Lago said, is also indispensable to supporting affordable housing and prioritizes community input.</p> <p>Some experts emphasized the importance of a comprehensive, citywide perspective, rather than a hyperlocal view of city planning.</p> <p>Anita Laremont, the executive director of the Department of City Planning, called for a timely, fully public process that balances community input with governmental power -- and indicated ULURP may give too strong a voice to louder local opposition to development. “While some local voices feel that the ULURP process does not give them a strong enough voice, we hear from affordable housing developers, fair housing advocates, and others who see that local concerns are frequently winning out over the wider needs of families, immigrants and others among the city’s most vulnerable.”</p> <p>Andrew Lynn, who formerly held Laremont’s role and is currently a consultant, similarly warned against prioritizing “a vocal, local minority directly affected by an action whose interests may conflict with those of a larger, quieter citywide constituency that has a stake in the action.”</p> <p>Joe Rose, former chair of the City Planning Commission and director of the Department of City Planning, espoused many of same the viewpoints as the other experts on the panel, but also recommended a process that adds 30 extra days to community boards’ decision time, which is currently 60 days, in particularly complex cases. Community Boards currently have an advisory role in ULURP. Rose further argued that giving the Department of City Planning a stronger enforcement role regarding zoning laws would alleviate unnecessary convolution in the ULURP process.</p> <p>Vishaan Chakrabarti, an architect, urbanism professor of practice at Columbia University, and former planner for the city under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was part of the experts’ consensus against significantly revising ULURP to bring in more considerations. “We are outpacing our growth projections,” he said. “But given our land scarcity, we simply can’t keep up unless we expand the production of both affordable and market-rate housing. The fantasy that less growth will lead to equity is irresponsible rhetoric.”</p> <p>The only expert who spoke unequivocally in favor of ULURP reform was Carmen Vega-Rivera of Community Action for Safe Apartments, who spoke about her “extremely frustrating” experience with the Jerome Avenue rezoning in the South Bronx that was approved a year ago and she says invited private developers into the rezoned neighborhood and could potentially lead to gentrification and displacement.</p> <p>Vega-Rivera called for an overhaul of the CEQR, or environmental review process, which she said failed to adequately assess the threat of displacement in the Jerome Avenue project. She suggested a public CEQR process that is renewed at least every five years and delivers a full explanation to the community of the Planning Department’s methodology. She also recommended revoking total mayoral control over the CEQR process and instead endorsed a special oversight commission of appointed experts. “In other words,” Vega-Rivera said, “no one has more power than the other.”</p> <p>After Commissioner Alison Hirsh, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU, asked experts to answer to Vega-Rivera’s concerns, Laremont assured, “we take very seriously the risk of displacement,” but that the CEQR manual is highly technical and public revision risks making an already complex document more difficult to maneuver.</p> <p>Commissioners were mostly concerned with maintaining equity and community oversight in the ULURP process. Commissioner Sal Albanese, former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, asked experts how the city can achieve a balance of continued growth and a vibrant working-class population, while Commissioner James Vacca, a former City Council member, asked why ULURP fails to engage community boards earlier in the process to avoid isolating local residents and stakeholders.</p> <p>Vega-Rivera said community-based efforts are not occurring. “I happen to be a tenant fighting not to be displaced in my community,” she told the commissioners. “No one has knocked on my door to assess my situation.”</p> <p>The other experts largely agreed with each other that New York City can only achieve equity with a comprehensive view of the city, arguing that a neighborhood-centric approach is myopic. Lago offered homeless shelters as an example: few neighborhoods want to host them, but they remain a critical service that have to exist throughout the city, she explained. At the same time, none of these experts endorsed an actual comprehensive plan for New York City.</p> <p>Commissioner James Caras, the Land Use Director for the Manhattan Borough President’s Office, reupped his colleague’s question about engaging the community earlier. Laremont answered, “I’m a little bit confused because I’m not aware of a single instance when that has not been the case.” Even if the process has been informal, community members and stakeholders are consistently looped into the ULURP process, she said. When Caras asked why a community-centric process should not be codified if it’s already in place, Lago said that “one size doesn’t fit all,” and city planning groups need flexibility.</p> <p>Other concerns from commissioners included the disparate planning entities in the city, which experts argued makes the process more robust; increasing digital access to ULURP applications, which Laremont assured; and adding urban planners to the City Planning Commission, which received mixed reviews.</p> <p><strong>Comprehensive Planning</strong><br />New York City <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7674-new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one" target="_blank" rel="noopener">does not have a comprehensive city plan</a>, unlike many other cities across the globe. Some are calling for the requirement to be added to the charter, whereby at some regular interval, the city would be responsible for developing such a plan for land use, development, and key aspects of city life.</p> <p>The competing definitions of comprehensive planning were debated more than any concrete reform suggestions, flummoxing commissioners after an intense two hours of two comprehensive planning panels. Commissioner Hirsh at one point told the experts that she counted seven different ideas in their written testimony submitted to the commission that could all be considered comprehensive planning.</p> <p>In a <a href="http://charter2019.nyc/pdfs/Land%20Use.pdf">document</a> distributed prior to the hearing, the commission defined a comprehensive plan as “a document that articulates long-term development goals related to transportation, utilities, land use, recreation, housing, and other types of infrastructure and services.” But the first expert, Vicki Been, the former commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, began the panel by admitting, “I’m not sure that we’re all on the same page about what is meant by comprehensive planning.”</p> <p>She called a charter mandate “empty platitudes without much more detail about what is meant by comprehensive planning,” and cautioned that its ratification could make an already lengthy and unpredictable process more onerous.</p> <p>Most of the first comprehensive planning panel shared Been’s concerns, while the second panel was significantly more receptive to the idea, if less uniform on what comprehensive planning means and how to enact it.</p> <p>Other panelists who spoke against comprehensive planning cited its failure in the 1970s charter revision process, when by the time it was codified, it was almost immediately outdated, according to several experts. Urban planner Sandy Hornick called the idea “inherently top-down,” rather than community-based. Patrice Carroll of the Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development, where comprehensive planning is in place, said that Seattle’s plan allows for flexibility within a broader framework that precludes an overly top-down approach.</p> <p>Commissioner Hirsh asked how the current system accounts for equity, again probing at the hearing’s lack of clear definitions. Been explained that citywide tension stems from a lack of a clear interpretation of fairness, and Hornick offered the example of waste stations to illustrate the argument that comprehensive planning will not remedy the problem that residents will fight against undesirable assets in their neighborhoods.</p> <p>Commissioner Vacca strongly pushed against this notion, saying, “We’re not talking fairness or saturation, we’re talking inequality.” He cited the significant five-year gap in life expectancy between Manhattan and the Bronx due to issues like air quality. “These studies are not subjective, this is the reality. We already have this information at our fingertips and we don’t use it when we plan,” he said. “We plan in a vacuum.”</p> <p>This sentiment was echoed most prominently by City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens, including Williamsburg, which has become essentially synonymous with gentrification and displacement. “Planning has left us an unaffordable, economically segregated, racially segregated city in a climate crisis,” he said, testifying before the commission in favor of comprehensive planning. “There has to be a better way.”</p> <p>Elena Conte, Director of Policy at Pratt Center for Community Development, argued the comprehensive planning trusts communities to articulate their own needs, and Tom Angotti, a professor of urban planning at Hunter College, accused other experts of depicting comprehensive planning as a catch-all “boogeyman.”</p> <p>Commissioner Albanese expressed concern that comprehensive planning would stifle growth, but Angotti said that cities that use the system are growing, like Seattle and Amsterdam. Commission Chair Benjamin inquired about legislating comprehensive planning, rather than mandating it through the charter. Reynoso said that he did not trust his own body, the City Council, to handle the issue properly.</p> <p>Nearly all commissioners agreed that they approved of a form of city planning that is community-based, equitable, and meets the challenges facing the city––from displacement to climate change––but seemed wary about the future of a comprehensive planning mandate without more concrete proposals.</p> <p>[READ:&nbsp;<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7674-new-york-city-doesn-t-have-a-comprehensive-plan-does-it-need-one" target="_blank" rel="noopener">New York City Doesn’t Have a Comprehensive Plan; Does It Need One?</a>]</p> <p> </p> Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Public Advocate's Office, Law Department, Ranked-Choice Voting 2019-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8372-charter-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-public-advocate-s-office-law-department-ranked-choice-voting Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/charter2019nyc-pub-adv.jpg" alt="charter2019nyc pub adv" width="600" height="338" /></p> <p>(photo: @Charter2019NYC)</p> <hr /> <p>Three former New York City Public Advocates argued for strengthening the powers of the office. Former and current Law Department officials defended the agency’s independence. Experts on city government argued for and against expanding the powers of non-mayoral elected officials. And a Board of Elections official detailed the logistics of implementing ranked-choice voting in New York City.</p> <p>Those were the broad themes of a Monday night hearing held at the City Council chambers by the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, which is tasked with examining the powers and functions of city government with the aim of improving them. The commission, whose members are appointed by a variety of the city’s elected officials, will put forth proposals to change the city’s constitution that will go before voters this November.</p> <p>Monday’s was one in a series of “expert hearings” being held by the commission as it considers specifics within its previously outlined focus areas. Before Monday, expert hearings had been held on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability" target="_blank" rel="noopener">police accountability</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8322-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-redistricting-and-campaign-finance-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">election reforms</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">city budgeting and contracting</a>, and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8365-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-chief-diversity-officer" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conflicts of interest and a proposal to create a chief diversity officer</a> across city government.</p> <p><strong>Strengthening the Public Advocate</strong><br />Among the ideas the commission is considering is giving more authority to the public advocate -- or to eliminate the office entirely if not -- and three of the four former officeholders were at the hearing to defend the role of the city’s ombudsperson. They included Mark Green, Betsy Gotbaum and Letitia James, who held the position before being elected attorney general last year. James was also one of the original sponsors, along with Borough President Gale Brewer, of the legislation that created the charter commission.</p> <p>The only former public advocate not in attendance was Mayor Bill de Blasio. City Council Member Jumaane Williams is currently public advocate-elect after winning the February special election. He’ll take office soon. The public advocate is the city’s watchdog and ombudsperson, one of just three citywide elected officials and first in line to the mayor if the city’s chief executive is unable to finish his or her term.</p> <p>James, Gotbaum, and Green all defended the responsibilities of the office they once held, and called for giving the public advocate greater authority. James pushed for subpoena power for the office and for the statutory ability to bring lawsuits against city agencies on behalf of New Yorkers, an issue she pursued after using litigation to mixed effect against the de Blasio administration. She called on the commission to “finally fulfill the promise of a fully empowered people’s watchdog.”</p> <p>All three also argued for an independent budget for the public advocate, where it would receive a certain percentage of the city’s overall budget or financing based on some other statistical model, removing its reliance on the mayor’s whims. The office receives about $3.6 million in funding for the current fiscal year. Though de Blasio, a former public advocate himself, has increased the office’s budget and is proposed another small increase for next fiscal year, previous mayors have not been so generous. “It was this constant dance and constant fight,” said Gotbaum, now the executive director of government reform organization Citizens Union, of her fight for greater funding under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “That’s just unnecessary.”</p> <p>Green was the only one to suggest a number: at least $6 million to carry out the office’s duties. “It is wrong and foolish that if an office does its job, it loses its job because of a mayor who is politically or personally antagonistic,” he said.</p> <p>He also urged the commission to finally put to rest the idea that the public advocate should be eliminated, a suggestion that was even put into legislation by a few City Council members earlier this year.</p> <p>Though the commission seemed open to the former public advocates’ ideas, Commissioner Sal Albanese, a former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, repeatedly asked them to justify the office’s existence, citing anecdotal evidence that people believe it is a wasteful use of taxpayer money. He insisted that City Council members can perform the same duties and that the public advocate was a “vestigial” institution in the city’s political system.</p> <p>Naturally, the three former public advocates pushed back. James cited the thousands of complaints she fielded and resolved for New Yorkers, and the bills she introduced that were passed into law -- more than all public advocates before her combined, as she is fond of noting. Green cited the office’s push for the creation of the city’s 311 helpline, among other successes, saying it was “spurious and silly” to consider scrapping the office altogether.</p> <p>James and Gotbaum also advocated for giving the public advocate the power to appoint members to other watchdog agencies such as the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the Conflicts of Interest Board, and the Human Rights Commission. “Putting more public officials on those committees would at least get a better balance of interests on those committees so that the mayor isn’t so, so powerful,” Gotbaum said.</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College who has worked with previous charter commissions, did later agree with Albanese that the public advocate’s office has been ill-defined since it was created by a 1989 charter revision commission that drastically changed the structure of city government -- the last major overhaul to the city’s governing document and structure. “It derives from the ambiguity of the position,” Muzzio said during his testimony. “It was never decided what the purpose of the body was...All the reforms are random decorations on the christmas tree. They’re not integrated into a purpose that is coherent, logical, and adequately funded.”</p> <p><strong>Conflicts at the Law Department</strong><br /> In its <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/NYC-Council-Report-to-the-2019-Charter-Revision-Commission.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recommendations</a> to the charter commission, the City Council raised questions about the corporation counsel, the city’s top lawyer and a mayoral appointee, and the Law Department, specifically wondering who the agency represents if there are internecine disagreements in city government. The Council has in the last year sued the city to block a development project on the East River waterfront and even filed a lawsuit against the corporation counsel, arguing for the ability to file amicus briefs in court.</p> <p>At the hearing, former corporation counsel Victor Kovner and Karen Griffin, senior counsel at the Law Department, defended how the department functions and attempted to clarify how legal decisions are made. Both urged caution and insisted that any attempts to interfere in the powers of the corporation counsel, including imposing term limits as some have suggested, would undermine the office’s independence.</p> <p>“It would undermine the independence of that office at great cost to the city,” Kovner said.</p> <p>“Ultimately, the charter gives the corp counsel the authority to make final decisions about what’s in the best interest of city,” Griffin said.</p> <p>Though Griffin did not take a position on whether the City Council should be given “advise and consent” authority in the selection of the corporation counsel, as the Council has called for, Kovner rejected the proposal, again citing the office’s independent reputation. “I think it’s a great mistake...Leave it. It’s working well,” he said.</p> <p>Griffin also explained that when conflicts arise in the Law Department’s representation of a city official against another, the agency would “independently decide which position is legally correct.” And, in cases involving the mayor facing off against the City Council, the department sides with the mayor as the appointing authority, which could change if advise and consent is approved as a policy. Otherwise, in those circumstances, the Council has called on the charter commission to consider mandating that the Law Department provide funding for outside counsel for all other non-mayoral elected officials.</p> <p>Muzzio later suggested that the city do away with the corporation counsel and create the position of city attorney, similar to Los Angeles and San Francisco.</p> <p><strong>Balance of Power</strong><br />The commissioners questioned the third panel of experts -- Muzzio and Stanley Brezenoff, a veteran of decades of city government service who recently retired after holding several positions under de Blasio -- on improving the balance of power in city government, which heavily favors the mayor.</p> <p>“Is there anything that either of you envision that a body like this could do to provide for a meaningful voice…to the borough executives without disrupting [the] strong mayoral formula?” asked Commissioner Stephen Fiala.</p> <p>Muzzio suggested that the power of borough presidents could be enhanced through independent budgeting and by giving them a greater voice in the city’s land use approval process.</p> <p>“We don’t have a government, fortunately, that is simply a top government and a bottom government. We have an intermediate government that can recognize the needs and desires of boroughs and at the same time work within a citywide paradigm,” he said. “This is a supplemental power, it’s not revolutionary. It’s not going to change the basic strong mayor structure of city government.”</p> <p>He similarly argued that the City Council’s authority could be strengthened in various ways without undermining the mayor.</p> <p>But Brezenoff warned of diluting the power of the mayor or the Office of Management and Budget, which sets funding levels for the borough presidents. “This surgical approach to governmental structure is hard stuff,” he said. Brezenoff also did not seem to agree with the idea that the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) should have set timelines under the charter. “This is a very difficult balancing act. I would just urge care,” he said. (ULURP will be one focus of Thursday’s expert hearing.)</p> <p><strong>Ranked Choice Voting and Special Elections</strong><br />Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, was the final panellist to testify before the commission on Monday. Ryan primarily urged the commission to consider a change in the charter’s provisions on special elections, pointing to the recent one held for public advocate in February.</p> <p>Currently, the charter requires that the mayor declare a special election, after a vacancy, to be held within 45 days. That short timeline, he said, precludes the BOE from being able to send out ballots in time, particularly military ballots, and also prevents candidates or voters from successfully challenging ballot petition decisions in court. It will also mean that once Council Member Jumaane Williams, now the public advocate-elect, resigns his Council seat, another special election will have to be held within just six weeks, instead of waiting for the already-scheduled election days this year, which are for a June primary and November general election.</p> <p>Ryan said the commission should consider bringing the “glaring inconsistency” in the city’s special elections in line with timelines set for state special elections -- elections take place between 70 and 80 days after the governor’s proclamation. That would also be particularly necessary once the city begins to implement early voting for elections under a new state law, he said. “The more predictability that people have in the conduct of elections, the better off we’re all gonna be,” he said.</p> <p>Asked about ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, Ryan said the BOE did not have an official position. A charter commission convened by the mayor last year declined to formally take up the issue, citing a lack of sufficient time to explore its pros and cons.</p> <p>At the hearing. Ryan did lay out the prerequisites for implementing ranked-choice voting from his perspective. He said the BOE’s vendor of election systems would be able to implement it with its current mechanisms, though with duplicative counting required by the agency, and that a more automatic process would require more time to upgrade software. “Until we know what the rules are and what the expectation is, the algorithm can’t be determined,” he said of the ranked-choice formula that voting machines would have to use. [<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8062-with-nod-from-de-blasio-and-push-from-johnson-momentum-for-ranked-choice-voting-in-new-york-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Read more about ranked-choice voting</a>]</p> <p>He did point out that the state BOE would have to approve any changes passed by the city, though he doubted it would face any opposition since it would be limited to New York City alone. “I can’t imagine a scenario where the state would say no,” he said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/charter2019nyc-pub-adv.jpg" alt="charter2019nyc pub adv" width="600" height="338" /></p> <p>(photo: @Charter2019NYC)</p> <hr /> <p>Three former New York City Public Advocates argued for strengthening the powers of the office. Former and current Law Department officials defended the agency’s independence. Experts on city government argued for and against expanding the powers of non-mayoral elected officials. And a Board of Elections official detailed the logistics of implementing ranked-choice voting in New York City.</p> <p>Those were the broad themes of a Monday night hearing held at the City Council chambers by the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, which is tasked with examining the powers and functions of city government with the aim of improving them. The commission, whose members are appointed by a variety of the city’s elected officials, will put forth proposals to change the city’s constitution that will go before voters this November.</p> <p>Monday’s was one in a series of “expert hearings” being held by the commission as it considers specifics within its previously outlined focus areas. Before Monday, expert hearings had been held on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability" target="_blank" rel="noopener">police accountability</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8322-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-redistricting-and-campaign-finance-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">election reforms</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">city budgeting and contracting</a>, and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8365-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-chief-diversity-officer" target="_blank" rel="noopener">conflicts of interest and a proposal to create a chief diversity officer</a> across city government.</p> <p><strong>Strengthening the Public Advocate</strong><br />Among the ideas the commission is considering is giving more authority to the public advocate -- or to eliminate the office entirely if not -- and three of the four former officeholders were at the hearing to defend the role of the city’s ombudsperson. They included Mark Green, Betsy Gotbaum and Letitia James, who held the position before being elected attorney general last year. James was also one of the original sponsors, along with Borough President Gale Brewer, of the legislation that created the charter commission.</p> <p>The only former public advocate not in attendance was Mayor Bill de Blasio. City Council Member Jumaane Williams is currently public advocate-elect after winning the February special election. He’ll take office soon. The public advocate is the city’s watchdog and ombudsperson, one of just three citywide elected officials and first in line to the mayor if the city’s chief executive is unable to finish his or her term.</p> <p>James, Gotbaum, and Green all defended the responsibilities of the office they once held, and called for giving the public advocate greater authority. James pushed for subpoena power for the office and for the statutory ability to bring lawsuits against city agencies on behalf of New Yorkers, an issue she pursued after using litigation to mixed effect against the de Blasio administration. She called on the commission to “finally fulfill the promise of a fully empowered people’s watchdog.”</p> <p>All three also argued for an independent budget for the public advocate, where it would receive a certain percentage of the city’s overall budget or financing based on some other statistical model, removing its reliance on the mayor’s whims. The office receives about $3.6 million in funding for the current fiscal year. Though de Blasio, a former public advocate himself, has increased the office’s budget and is proposed another small increase for next fiscal year, previous mayors have not been so generous. “It was this constant dance and constant fight,” said Gotbaum, now the executive director of government reform organization Citizens Union, of her fight for greater funding under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “That’s just unnecessary.”</p> <p>Green was the only one to suggest a number: at least $6 million to carry out the office’s duties. “It is wrong and foolish that if an office does its job, it loses its job because of a mayor who is politically or personally antagonistic,” he said.</p> <p>He also urged the commission to finally put to rest the idea that the public advocate should be eliminated, a suggestion that was even put into legislation by a few City Council members earlier this year.</p> <p>Though the commission seemed open to the former public advocates’ ideas, Commissioner Sal Albanese, a former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, repeatedly asked them to justify the office’s existence, citing anecdotal evidence that people believe it is a wasteful use of taxpayer money. He insisted that City Council members can perform the same duties and that the public advocate was a “vestigial” institution in the city’s political system.</p> <p>Naturally, the three former public advocates pushed back. James cited the thousands of complaints she fielded and resolved for New Yorkers, and the bills she introduced that were passed into law -- more than all public advocates before her combined, as she is fond of noting. Green cited the office’s push for the creation of the city’s 311 helpline, among other successes, saying it was “spurious and silly” to consider scrapping the office altogether.</p> <p>James and Gotbaum also advocated for giving the public advocate the power to appoint members to other watchdog agencies such as the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the Conflicts of Interest Board, and the Human Rights Commission. “Putting more public officials on those committees would at least get a better balance of interests on those committees so that the mayor isn’t so, so powerful,” Gotbaum said.</p> <p>Doug Muzzio, a professor at Baruch College who has worked with previous charter commissions, did later agree with Albanese that the public advocate’s office has been ill-defined since it was created by a 1989 charter revision commission that drastically changed the structure of city government -- the last major overhaul to the city’s governing document and structure. “It derives from the ambiguity of the position,” Muzzio said during his testimony. “It was never decided what the purpose of the body was...All the reforms are random decorations on the christmas tree. They’re not integrated into a purpose that is coherent, logical, and adequately funded.”</p> <p><strong>Conflicts at the Law Department</strong><br /> In its <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/NYC-Council-Report-to-the-2019-Charter-Revision-Commission.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener">recommendations</a> to the charter commission, the City Council raised questions about the corporation counsel, the city’s top lawyer and a mayoral appointee, and the Law Department, specifically wondering who the agency represents if there are internecine disagreements in city government. The Council has in the last year sued the city to block a development project on the East River waterfront and even filed a lawsuit against the corporation counsel, arguing for the ability to file amicus briefs in court.</p> <p>At the hearing, former corporation counsel Victor Kovner and Karen Griffin, senior counsel at the Law Department, defended how the department functions and attempted to clarify how legal decisions are made. Both urged caution and insisted that any attempts to interfere in the powers of the corporation counsel, including imposing term limits as some have suggested, would undermine the office’s independence.</p> <p>“It would undermine the independence of that office at great cost to the city,” Kovner said.</p> <p>“Ultimately, the charter gives the corp counsel the authority to make final decisions about what’s in the best interest of city,” Griffin said.</p> <p>Though Griffin did not take a position on whether the City Council should be given “advise and consent” authority in the selection of the corporation counsel, as the Council has called for, Kovner rejected the proposal, again citing the office’s independent reputation. “I think it’s a great mistake...Leave it. It’s working well,” he said.</p> <p>Griffin also explained that when conflicts arise in the Law Department’s representation of a city official against another, the agency would “independently decide which position is legally correct.” And, in cases involving the mayor facing off against the City Council, the department sides with the mayor as the appointing authority, which could change if advise and consent is approved as a policy. Otherwise, in those circumstances, the Council has called on the charter commission to consider mandating that the Law Department provide funding for outside counsel for all other non-mayoral elected officials.</p> <p>Muzzio later suggested that the city do away with the corporation counsel and create the position of city attorney, similar to Los Angeles and San Francisco.</p> <p><strong>Balance of Power</strong><br />The commissioners questioned the third panel of experts -- Muzzio and Stanley Brezenoff, a veteran of decades of city government service who recently retired after holding several positions under de Blasio -- on improving the balance of power in city government, which heavily favors the mayor.</p> <p>“Is there anything that either of you envision that a body like this could do to provide for a meaningful voice…to the borough executives without disrupting [the] strong mayoral formula?” asked Commissioner Stephen Fiala.</p> <p>Muzzio suggested that the power of borough presidents could be enhanced through independent budgeting and by giving them a greater voice in the city’s land use approval process.</p> <p>“We don’t have a government, fortunately, that is simply a top government and a bottom government. We have an intermediate government that can recognize the needs and desires of boroughs and at the same time work within a citywide paradigm,” he said. “This is a supplemental power, it’s not revolutionary. It’s not going to change the basic strong mayor structure of city government.”</p> <p>He similarly argued that the City Council’s authority could be strengthened in various ways without undermining the mayor.</p> <p>But Brezenoff warned of diluting the power of the mayor or the Office of Management and Budget, which sets funding levels for the borough presidents. “This surgical approach to governmental structure is hard stuff,” he said. Brezenoff also did not seem to agree with the idea that the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) should have set timelines under the charter. “This is a very difficult balancing act. I would just urge care,” he said. (ULURP will be one focus of Thursday’s expert hearing.)</p> <p><strong>Ranked Choice Voting and Special Elections</strong><br />Michael Ryan, executive director of the New York City Board of Elections, was the final panellist to testify before the commission on Monday. Ryan primarily urged the commission to consider a change in the charter’s provisions on special elections, pointing to the recent one held for public advocate in February.</p> <p>Currently, the charter requires that the mayor declare a special election, after a vacancy, to be held within 45 days. That short timeline, he said, precludes the BOE from being able to send out ballots in time, particularly military ballots, and also prevents candidates or voters from successfully challenging ballot petition decisions in court. It will also mean that once Council Member Jumaane Williams, now the public advocate-elect, resigns his Council seat, another special election will have to be held within just six weeks, instead of waiting for the already-scheduled election days this year, which are for a June primary and November general election.</p> <p>Ryan said the commission should consider bringing the “glaring inconsistency” in the city’s special elections in line with timelines set for state special elections -- elections take place between 70 and 80 days after the governor’s proclamation. That would also be particularly necessary once the city begins to implement early voting for elections under a new state law, he said. “The more predictability that people have in the conduct of elections, the better off we’re all gonna be,” he said.</p> <p>Asked about ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, Ryan said the BOE did not have an official position. A charter commission convened by the mayor last year declined to formally take up the issue, citing a lack of sufficient time to explore its pros and cons.</p> <p>At the hearing. Ryan did lay out the prerequisites for implementing ranked-choice voting from his perspective. He said the BOE’s vendor of election systems would be able to implement it with its current mechanisms, though with duplicative counting required by the agency, and that a more automatic process would require more time to upgrade software. “Until we know what the rules are and what the expectation is, the algorithm can’t be determined,” he said of the ranked-choice formula that voting machines would have to use. [<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8062-with-nod-from-de-blasio-and-push-from-johnson-momentum-for-ranked-choice-voting-in-new-york-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Read more about ranked-choice voting</a>]</p> <p>He did point out that the state BOE would have to approve any changes passed by the city, though he doubted it would face any opposition since it would be limited to New York City alone. “I can’t imagine a scenario where the state would say no,” he said.</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Charter Revision Commission Needs a Hippocratic Oath 2019-03-17T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-17T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8359-charter-revision-commission-needs-a-hippocratic-oath Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/citycouncil-vdrr-cm.jpg" alt="citycouncil vdrr cm" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>(photo:&nbsp;William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The entire New York City Charter, the city's foundational governing document, is on the operating table, and it is essential that the surgeons act with extreme caution.</p> <p>On March 7 I testified before the Charter Revision Commission created at the initiative of City Council Speaker Johnson, former Public Advocate James, and Manhattan Borough President Brewer. Charter revision can be a very wonky, technical topic, but the Charter is our city’s constitution and any changes made to it can have a significant, lasting impact. The last comprehensive charter revision was in 1989 and it has served us well.</p> <p>I urged the members to follow two guiding principles in their deliberations:</p> <p><strong>First, do no harm.</strong> The current structure of city government has for the most part served the city quite well for the last 30 years. With respect to finance and budgeting in particular, as a result of the fiscal crisis in the ‘70s and the enactment of the Financial Emergency Act in state law, New York City has the most transparent, professional, and sound fiscal management and budgeting process of any state or city in the country. Let’s not fix what isn’t broken.</p> <p><strong>Second, limit charter revision to structural changes that can only be made through the charter.</strong> It is meant to define core powers, structures, and processes. Most changes to current rules and procedures can and should be made through City Council law-making.</p> <p>Every complaint about the way city government functions (and there are surely many valid complaints) cannot and should not be addressed through the charter. It is already cluttered with hundreds of outdated provisions and others that belong in local law. Do not add to that clutter.</p> <p>Here are the most worrisome proposals that should be rejected by the Commission:</p> <p><strong>Independent Budgeting.</strong> This would enable the Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough Presidents, and several other offices to self-determine their budgets, in some cases according to a formula that is based on a percentage of another agency’s budget or the entirety of the city budget.</p> <p>While it is arguable that a few totally independent entities should have set budgets so they can do their work without concern about retaliation by an unhappy Mayor or Council (as is now the case for the Independent Budget Office, and only the IBO) it should not be extended to so many agencies, and especially not to the offices of elected officials. Their independence derives from and is protected by their direct election, not the size of their budgets. Spending priorities are to be determined in the budget negotiation process between the Mayor and the Council and removing budgeting for so many entities from this process would, in effect, take a range of positions and functions of city government as well as a significant amount of resources out of the control of those democratically-elected to oversee them.</p> <p><strong>Revenue Estimating.</strong> A proposal by the City Council would create a process whereby the Mayor would submit an estimate of the amount of revenue expected in the following fiscal year, the Council would accept or reject this estimate and if rejected, a revenue estimate would be set by the IBO. This would be a similar process to the one followed by New York State in which the Comptroller sets the revenue estimate if the Legislature and the Governor cannot agree upon one. The revenue estimate is important because it sets a limit on the amount that can be spent in the annual budget. But this new ‘consensus estimate’ is unnecessary in New York City.</p> <p>The City Office of Management and Budget is generally cautious in its revenue estimates, as it should be in order to mitigate downside risk. This has not unduly constrained spending; the city budget has grown an average of more than 5% a year over the last 18 years. Moreover, there are several other revenue forecasts published during budget season including that of the IBO, the Office of the State Special Deputy Comptroller, and the City Comptroller. All of these estimates are already compared and contrasted as part of the Mayor’s negotiation of the city budget with the Council.</p> <p>A more formal procedure for the Council to adopt or reject the OMB revenue estimate would only further politicize the process with each entity compelled to manipulate its forecast to anticipate the reaction of the others. Indeed, you can see how political the revenue estimating process can become by looking at what has just happened in the state process: the Governor announced a very dramatic revenue decline, requiring significant budget discipline; the Assembly and Senate each projected almost $1 billion more in revenue than the Governor, and the Comptroller eventually resolved the conflict with an estimate very close to the Governor’s. There is no reason for New York City to create a similar drawn out form of budget dance.</p> <p><strong>Pre-Audit Contract Screening.</strong> There is widespread dissatisfaction with the city’s procurement process. It is opaque, takes too long, and leaves too much discretion to individual employees. The solution to these problems lies in much better management and oversight, not with adding another layer of review by the Comptroller. It is up to the executive branch to decide the terms and contents of contracts and there should be far more public reporting and disclosure about them, but it is only going to cause even more delay to give the Comptroller the right to review these decisions in advance.</p> <p>A number of other proposals that would improve transparency and better link spending to performance goals, such as more specific Units of Appropriation in the Budget, use of Budget Function Analysis in more agencies, and better publicly-available tracking of capital projects, would be worthwhile but could be required through local law and do not belong in the City Charter.</p> <p>Proposals that are appropriate for the charter and that should be adopted by the Commission are:</p> <p><strong>Better Capital Budgeting.</strong> The Charter should be amended to assure that the capital budgeting process is more transparent, comprehensive and effective. In particular, the AIMS report should be expanded to include all city and city-controlled public authority capital assets (i.e., those of the Health and Hospitals Corporation) with at least a five year life and a minimum replacement cost low enough to cover most assets, including computer equipment and moveable assets. This more comprehensive report should be cross-referenced to the Ten Year Capital Strategy and the Capital Commitment Plan so it is possible to assess whether enough is being invested to keep all city infrastructure in a state of good repair.</p> <p><strong>Rainy Day Fund.</strong> There should be a way for the city to set aside funds to be used in the event of an economic downturn or a crisis that reduces revenue so that spending would not have to be drastically cut or taxes increased to maintain a balanced budget. The Financial Emergency Control Act doesn’t allow for such a fund, so while it is appropriate to include one in the Charter, it would also require state law to implement it. Such a fund should, in my view, be in addition to the Retiree Health Benefit Trust, which already exists but is regarded by some as a de facto Rainy Day Fund. Both of these funds should have specific criteria for mandatory deposits and limitations on withdrawals so that money is steadily deposited in good times and can only be withdrawn under set conditions.</p> <p>Revision of the City Charter should be done with care. It should not be used to settle scores or re-allocate authority in ways that could have unintended adverse consequences despite the best of intentions.</p> <p><strong>Here is an idea for the Commission:</strong> limit your proposed amendments to no more than one page for each of the four topic areas you have delineated. If you can keep it that short you have less chance of doing damage and are more likely to make only adjustments that will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of our government.</p> <p>***<br />Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.</p> <p>

***
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</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/citycouncil-vdrr-cm.jpg" alt="citycouncil vdrr cm" width="600" height="398" /></p> <p>(photo:&nbsp;William Alatriste/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The entire New York City Charter, the city's foundational governing document, is on the operating table, and it is essential that the surgeons act with extreme caution.</p> <p>On March 7 I testified before the Charter Revision Commission created at the initiative of City Council Speaker Johnson, former Public Advocate James, and Manhattan Borough President Brewer. Charter revision can be a very wonky, technical topic, but the Charter is our city’s constitution and any changes made to it can have a significant, lasting impact. The last comprehensive charter revision was in 1989 and it has served us well.</p> <p>I urged the members to follow two guiding principles in their deliberations:</p> <p><strong>First, do no harm.</strong> The current structure of city government has for the most part served the city quite well for the last 30 years. With respect to finance and budgeting in particular, as a result of the fiscal crisis in the ‘70s and the enactment of the Financial Emergency Act in state law, New York City has the most transparent, professional, and sound fiscal management and budgeting process of any state or city in the country. Let’s not fix what isn’t broken.</p> <p><strong>Second, limit charter revision to structural changes that can only be made through the charter.</strong> It is meant to define core powers, structures, and processes. Most changes to current rules and procedures can and should be made through City Council law-making.</p> <p>Every complaint about the way city government functions (and there are surely many valid complaints) cannot and should not be addressed through the charter. It is already cluttered with hundreds of outdated provisions and others that belong in local law. Do not add to that clutter.</p> <p>Here are the most worrisome proposals that should be rejected by the Commission:</p> <p><strong>Independent Budgeting.</strong> This would enable the Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough Presidents, and several other offices to self-determine their budgets, in some cases according to a formula that is based on a percentage of another agency’s budget or the entirety of the city budget.</p> <p>While it is arguable that a few totally independent entities should have set budgets so they can do their work without concern about retaliation by an unhappy Mayor or Council (as is now the case for the Independent Budget Office, and only the IBO) it should not be extended to so many agencies, and especially not to the offices of elected officials. Their independence derives from and is protected by their direct election, not the size of their budgets. Spending priorities are to be determined in the budget negotiation process between the Mayor and the Council and removing budgeting for so many entities from this process would, in effect, take a range of positions and functions of city government as well as a significant amount of resources out of the control of those democratically-elected to oversee them.</p> <p><strong>Revenue Estimating.</strong> A proposal by the City Council would create a process whereby the Mayor would submit an estimate of the amount of revenue expected in the following fiscal year, the Council would accept or reject this estimate and if rejected, a revenue estimate would be set by the IBO. This would be a similar process to the one followed by New York State in which the Comptroller sets the revenue estimate if the Legislature and the Governor cannot agree upon one. The revenue estimate is important because it sets a limit on the amount that can be spent in the annual budget. But this new ‘consensus estimate’ is unnecessary in New York City.</p> <p>The City Office of Management and Budget is generally cautious in its revenue estimates, as it should be in order to mitigate downside risk. This has not unduly constrained spending; the city budget has grown an average of more than 5% a year over the last 18 years. Moreover, there are several other revenue forecasts published during budget season including that of the IBO, the Office of the State Special Deputy Comptroller, and the City Comptroller. All of these estimates are already compared and contrasted as part of the Mayor’s negotiation of the city budget with the Council.</p> <p>A more formal procedure for the Council to adopt or reject the OMB revenue estimate would only further politicize the process with each entity compelled to manipulate its forecast to anticipate the reaction of the others. Indeed, you can see how political the revenue estimating process can become by looking at what has just happened in the state process: the Governor announced a very dramatic revenue decline, requiring significant budget discipline; the Assembly and Senate each projected almost $1 billion more in revenue than the Governor, and the Comptroller eventually resolved the conflict with an estimate very close to the Governor’s. There is no reason for New York City to create a similar drawn out form of budget dance.</p> <p><strong>Pre-Audit Contract Screening.</strong> There is widespread dissatisfaction with the city’s procurement process. It is opaque, takes too long, and leaves too much discretion to individual employees. The solution to these problems lies in much better management and oversight, not with adding another layer of review by the Comptroller. It is up to the executive branch to decide the terms and contents of contracts and there should be far more public reporting and disclosure about them, but it is only going to cause even more delay to give the Comptroller the right to review these decisions in advance.</p> <p>A number of other proposals that would improve transparency and better link spending to performance goals, such as more specific Units of Appropriation in the Budget, use of Budget Function Analysis in more agencies, and better publicly-available tracking of capital projects, would be worthwhile but could be required through local law and do not belong in the City Charter.</p> <p>Proposals that are appropriate for the charter and that should be adopted by the Commission are:</p> <p><strong>Better Capital Budgeting.</strong> The Charter should be amended to assure that the capital budgeting process is more transparent, comprehensive and effective. In particular, the AIMS report should be expanded to include all city and city-controlled public authority capital assets (i.e., those of the Health and Hospitals Corporation) with at least a five year life and a minimum replacement cost low enough to cover most assets, including computer equipment and moveable assets. This more comprehensive report should be cross-referenced to the Ten Year Capital Strategy and the Capital Commitment Plan so it is possible to assess whether enough is being invested to keep all city infrastructure in a state of good repair.</p> <p><strong>Rainy Day Fund.</strong> There should be a way for the city to set aside funds to be used in the event of an economic downturn or a crisis that reduces revenue so that spending would not have to be drastically cut or taxes increased to maintain a balanced budget. The Financial Emergency Control Act doesn’t allow for such a fund, so while it is appropriate to include one in the Charter, it would also require state law to implement it. Such a fund should, in my view, be in addition to the Retiree Health Benefit Trust, which already exists but is regarded by some as a de facto Rainy Day Fund. Both of these funds should have specific criteria for mandatory deposits and limitations on withdrawals so that money is steadily deposited in good times and can only be withdrawn under set conditions.</p> <p>Revision of the City Charter should be done with care. It should not be used to settle scores or re-allocate authority in ways that could have unintended adverse consequences despite the best of intentions.</p> <p><strong>Here is an idea for the Commission:</strong> limit your proposed amendments to no more than one page for each of the four topic areas you have delineated. If you can keep it that short you have less chance of doing damage and are more likely to make only adjustments that will enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of our government.</p> <p>***<br />Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.</p> <p>

***
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</p>
Charter Revision Commission Hears Expert Testimony on Conflicts of Interest and Chief Diversity Officer 2019-03-17T04:00:00+00:00 2019-03-17T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8365-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-conflicts-of-interest-and-chief-diversity-officer Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/gg-cc-h.jpg" alt="gg cc h" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>On Thursday evening, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard from experts in city government and activist circles to discuss possible charter amendments that could enhance precautionary measures against conflicts of interest in city government, and the potential mandated addition of a chief diversity officer in the mayor’s office, at mayoral agencies, and elsewhere. The push for adding chief diversity officers is being led by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who created such a position in his office and has made the effort one of his top priorities among many suggested charter changes.</p> <p>After having held a series of open public hearings around the city, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission announced its focus areas and is holding a series of “expert” hearings as it considers major potential overhauls to the city charter for the first time in 30 years. The commission will submit revisions to the city’s foundational laws before voters this November, though the proposals will undergo several rounds of public input before reaching the ballot.</p> <p>The commission has already heard from experts on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8322-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-redistricting-and-campaign-finance-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">election reform</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability" target="_blank" rel="noopener">police accountability</a>, and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">city budgeting and contracting</a>. The commissioners on the charter revision commission were appointed by a variety of elected leaders, including the mayor, who had the most appointments but not a majority, the comptroller, the public advocate, the City Council speaker, and each of the borough presidents.</p> <p>The charter currently aims to stamp out corruption in part through the Conflict of Interest Board (COIB), which consists of five mayoral appointees approved by City Council and a staff that executes trainings and investigations, among other tasks.</p> <p>The COIB currently has four primary goals: educating public servants about the city’s rules on conflicts of interest as delineated in <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/coib/the-law/chapter-68-of-the-new-york-city-charter.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chapter 68</a> of the charter, offering advice regarding public servants’ interpretation of Chapter 68 and the Lobbyist Gift Law, prosecuting politicians who break these rules, and enforcing the Annual Disclosure Law that requires yearly financial disclosures from all city politicians. The COIB oversees the mandate of a one-year freeze on politicians’ ability to lobby their former agency once they leave office.</p> <p>Current COIB Chair Richard Briffault was the only expert on conflicts of interest and corruption to speak before the commission. He did not propose any amendments to the charter, but fielded questions from the commissioners and explained why he believes the COIB is working well in its current form.</p> <p>“Our small size facilitates deliberation and action. The combination of mayoral appointment and Council confirmation...assures that any issues about any nomination can be publicly aired,” he explained.</p> <p>Charter Commissioner Sal Albanese -- a former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, including in the 2017 Democratic primary against Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was appointed to the commission by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams -- asked if serving under mayoral appointment poses an inherent conflict of interest, implying that the current COIB structure incentivizes protection of the mayor. Briffault said he understood the concern, but explained that diversifying appointment power could enhance the notion that a COIB member should serve the politician who appointed them. A standard of mayoral appointees, Briffault argued, promotes a sense of cohesion within the body.</p> <p>Briffault also cautioned against changing the COIB to operate more like the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the highly-controversial state body that many argue is ineffective, and which draws appointments from the governor and legislative leaders.</p> <p>Commission Chair Gail Benjamin, appointed by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, echoed Albanese’s concerns, asking Briffault if the COIB would benefit by drawing members from a wider variety of employment sectors. Briffault conceded that attorneys currently comprise the majority of the COIB, if not its entirety. “The plus side [to that change] is guaranteeing that different perspectives are there,” he said. “But a lot of what we do is interpret and enforce the law.”</p> <p>Albanese further inquired about the COIB’s opinion regarding the one-year lobbying ban on public servants leaving office, suggesting that a five-year or even lifetime ban would better root out corruption. Briffault declined to take a position on the matter. “We’re not policy-makers,” he said. But he did affirm the current yearlong measure, positing that a longer ban might “discourage high-quality people from going into government.”</p> <p>While Albanese expressed concern about lobbying power and methods of circumventing the Lobbying Gift Law, Briffault maintained that certain actions like campaign donation bundling cannot be regulated as lobbying.</p> <p>Commissioner Stephen Fiala asked if Briffault sought to increase the COIB’s relatively small annual budget of $2.5 million. Briffault remained ambivalent, though he said that either consistently re-adjusting the budget for inflation or tying the budget to a percentage of that of City Council would benefit the COIB. In recent years COIB has pushed for more funding during City Council budget hearings, with representatives explaining that it is challenging to perform all of the trainings and other tasks it has given its staffing levels and high turnover based on lower-than-ideal pay.</p> <p>The commission also heard from experts regarding the installation of a chief diversity officer within the mayor’s office and deputy officers in each city agency to oversee the Women and Minority-Owned Business Enterprise program (MWBE). While all experts and commissioners agreed on the program’s importance, contention arose over whether the chief diversity officer program should be codified into the city charter when an MWBE system has already been legislated into effect with Local Law 12.</p> <p>Reverend Jacques Andre DeGraff and Wendy Garcia, chief diversity officer for the office of city Comptroller Scott Stringer, both argued in favor of codification, while director of the Mayor’s Office of MWBEs and Dawn Pinnock, executive deputy commissioner of people operations and risk management at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, argued that Local Law 12 should stand on its own. Andrea Bowen, an transgender and gender-nonconforming rights activist, did not take a clear stance on the issue, but pushed the commission to consider ways to codify increased hiring of trans folks around the city.</p> <p>The commission was supposed to hear concerns about the sprawling public pension system, but experts from Comptroller Stringer’s office, who oversee the city pension system, were unable to attend, frustrating Albanese who requested time at the start of the session to rail against the absence of Stringer and his staff. “He’s missing in action and so is his staff,” Albanese said. “It’s a politically tough issue, but that’s what you get paid for as an elected official.”</p> <p>The next charter commission hearing will take place on Monday, March 18, on other issues of governance, including the role of the public advocate.</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2019/gg-cc-h.jpg" alt="gg cc h" width="600" height="401" /></p> <p>(photo: Sofie Hecht/Gotham Gazette)</p> <hr /> <p>On Thursday evening, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission heard from experts in city government and activist circles to discuss possible charter amendments that could enhance precautionary measures against conflicts of interest in city government, and the potential mandated addition of a chief diversity officer in the mayor’s office, at mayoral agencies, and elsewhere. The push for adding chief diversity officers is being led by city Comptroller Scott Stringer, who created such a position in his office and has made the effort one of his top priorities among many suggested charter changes.</p> <p>After having held a series of open public hearings around the city, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission announced its focus areas and is holding a series of “expert” hearings as it considers major potential overhauls to the city charter for the first time in 30 years. The commission will submit revisions to the city’s foundational laws before voters this November, though the proposals will undergo several rounds of public input before reaching the ballot.</p> <p>The commission has already heard from experts on <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8322-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-voting-redistricting-and-campaign-finance-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener">election reform</a>, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8344-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-police-accountability" target="_blank" rel="noopener">police accountability</a>, and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8352-charter-revision-commission-hears-expert-testimony-on-city-budgeting-and-contracting" target="_blank" rel="noopener">city budgeting and contracting</a>. The commissioners on the charter revision commission were appointed by a variety of elected leaders, including the mayor, who had the most appointments but not a majority, the comptroller, the public advocate, the City Council speaker, and each of the borough presidents.</p> <p>The charter currently aims to stamp out corruption in part through the Conflict of Interest Board (COIB), which consists of five mayoral appointees approved by City Council and a staff that executes trainings and investigations, among other tasks.</p> <p>The COIB currently has four primary goals: educating public servants about the city’s rules on conflicts of interest as delineated in <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/site/coib/the-law/chapter-68-of-the-new-york-city-charter.page" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Chapter 68</a> of the charter, offering advice regarding public servants’ interpretation of Chapter 68 and the Lobbyist Gift Law, prosecuting politicians who break these rules, and enforcing the Annual Disclosure Law that requires yearly financial disclosures from all city politicians. The COIB oversees the mandate of a one-year freeze on politicians’ ability to lobby their former agency once they leave office.</p> <p>Current COIB Chair Richard Briffault was the only expert on conflicts of interest and corruption to speak before the commission. He did not propose any amendments to the charter, but fielded questions from the commissioners and explained why he believes the COIB is working well in its current form.</p> <p>“Our small size facilitates deliberation and action. The combination of mayoral appointment and Council confirmation...assures that any issues about any nomination can be publicly aired,” he explained.</p> <p>Charter Commissioner Sal Albanese -- a former City Council member and three-time mayoral candidate, including in the 2017 Democratic primary against Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was appointed to the commission by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams -- asked if serving under mayoral appointment poses an inherent conflict of interest, implying that the current COIB structure incentivizes protection of the mayor. Briffault said he understood the concern, but explained that diversifying appointment power could enhance the notion that a COIB member should serve the politician who appointed them. A standard of mayoral appointees, Briffault argued, promotes a sense of cohesion within the body.</p> <p>Briffault also cautioned against changing the COIB to operate more like the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, the highly-controversial state body that many argue is ineffective, and which draws appointments from the governor and legislative leaders.</p> <p>Commission Chair Gail Benjamin, appointed by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, echoed Albanese’s concerns, asking Briffault if the COIB would benefit by drawing members from a wider variety of employment sectors. Briffault conceded that attorneys currently comprise the majority of the COIB, if not its entirety. “The plus side [to that change] is guaranteeing that different perspectives are there,” he said. “But a lot of what we do is interpret and enforce the law.”</p> <p>Albanese further inquired about the COIB’s opinion regarding the one-year lobbying ban on public servants leaving office, suggesting that a five-year or even lifetime ban would better root out corruption. Briffault declined to take a position on the matter. “We’re not policy-makers,” he said. But he did affirm the current yearlong measure, positing that a longer ban might “discourage high-quality people from going into government.”</p> <p>While Albanese expressed concern about lobbying power and methods of circumventing the Lobbying Gift Law, Briffault maintained that certain actions like campaign donation bundling cannot be regulated as lobbying.</p> <p>Commissioner Stephen Fiala asked if Briffault sought to increase the COIB’s relatively small annual budget of $2.5 million. Briffault remained ambivalent, though he said that either consistently re-adjusting the budget for inflation or tying the budget to a percentage of that of City Council would benefit the COIB. In recent years COIB has pushed for more funding during City Council budget hearings, with representatives explaining that it is challenging to perform all of the trainings and other tasks it has given its staffing levels and high turnover based on lower-than-ideal pay.</p> <p>The commission also heard from experts regarding the installation of a chief diversity officer within the mayor’s office and deputy officers in each city agency to oversee the Women and Minority-Owned Business Enterprise program (MWBE). While all experts and commissioners agreed on the program’s importance, contention arose over whether the chief diversity officer program should be codified into the city charter when an MWBE system has already been legislated into effect with Local Law 12.</p> <p>Reverend Jacques Andre DeGraff and Wendy Garcia, chief diversity officer for the office of city Comptroller Scott Stringer, both argued in favor of codification, while director of the Mayor’s Office of MWBEs and Dawn Pinnock, executive deputy commissioner of people operations and risk management at the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, argued that Local Law 12 should stand on its own. Andrea Bowen, an transgender and gender-nonconforming rights activist, did not take a clear stance on the issue, but pushed the commission to consider ways to codify increased hiring of trans folks around the city.</p> <p>The commission was supposed to hear concerns about the sprawling public pension system, but experts from Comptroller Stringer’s office, who oversee the city pension system, were unable to attend, frustrating Albanese who requested time at the start of the session to rail against the absence of Stringer and his staff. “He’s missing in action and so is his staff,” Albanese said. “It’s a politically tough issue, but that’s what you get paid for as an elected official.”</p> <p>The next charter commission hearing will take place on Monday, March 18, on other issues of governance, including the role of the public advocate.</p> <p> </p>