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World Council may defy mayor with an alternate review of the city charter

NEW YORK — For all the New Yorkers champing at the bit for a good old City Charter revisiting, their pleasure may soon be doubled: Two charter revision commissions — one sponsored by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the other by an increasingly independent-minded city council — are under consideration.

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Council may defy mayor with an alternate review of the city charter play

Council may defy mayor with an alternate review of the city charter

(New York Times)
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De Blasio announced in his State of the City address last month that he planned to name a charter review commission to look at ways to improve campaign finance laws and take other steps to make elections more democratic, and encourage participation among voters.

The proposal was met with skepticism from some city lawmakers, who noted that the council can simply legislate changes to the city’s campaign finance system, while saying there was a need for a much broader examination of the charter to improve the workings of government.

Now the council’s speaker, Corey Johnson, is supporting a bill that would create a commission to take on that more extensive charter review, parallel to the commission proposed by the mayor.

“This is really about looking at the broad structure and checks and balances in our City Charter,” Johnson said Friday. He said that he hoped that the mayor could be persuaded to join forces with the council so that there could be a single charter review.

The bill calls for the council and the mayor to each appoint four members of the commission, with one additional member each being appointed by the borough presidents, the public advocate and the comptroller. In contrast, the mayor has said that he alone will appoint the commission he plans to create.

“This isn’t personal against the mayor,” said Johnson, who was elected speaker in January, after vowing to chart a path for the council more independent of the mayor. “We would love to do it together with him.”

De Blasio’s chief spokesman, Eric F. Phillips, said that the mayor’s commission would be named soon.

The council expects to hold a committee hearing about the bill next week.

The mayor has said that his commission will propose charter changes that can go before voters in November. The council-created commission would aim to have its proposed changes on the ballot the following year.

Jerry Goldfeder, an election lawyer who has studied the charter review process, said it could be beneficial having two panels focusing on different issues.

“They could be complementary rather than dueling,” he said. “If we have two groups looking at the charter in ways that could improve the ways we govern ourselves, all the better.”

The council bill was originally sponsored last year by the public advocate, Letitia James, and the Manhattan borough president, Gale Brewer, with the goal of initiating a charter revision some 30 years after a landmark series of charter changes that were passed by voters in 1989.

The issues that could be addressed include questions of the balance of power between the mayor and the city council — such as whether commissioners or board members appointed by the mayor should be approved by the council.

Council members and others have also pushed for more transparency in budgeting, including rules that would require mayoral agencies to provide more information about how they plan to spend money during the budget approval process.

Other proposed changes could alter the city’s land use approval process and address the way facilities like homeless shelters are placed around the city, so that they would not be overly concentrated in certain neighborhoods, an issue known as Fair Share.

Johnson said the review he envisions would be wide open.

“The mayor’s talked about what he wants his commission to look at before it’s been constituted, and we want a commission to go in with an open mind and look at the broad structure of city government,” Johnson said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

WILLIAM NEUMAN © 2018 The New York Times

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