Commission Outlines Proposed Changes to New York City Charter

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Four Charter Revision Commission panelists, pictured above

Some important issues pertaining to campaign finance and redistricting in New York City were the subject of a recent meeting of the New York City Charter Revision Commission called by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Four members of the New York City Charter Revision Commission met with media representatives, including News India Times,  at the Aug. 16 event which was hosted by the City University of New York’s Center of Community and Ethnic Media. It focused the likely proposed changes to the New York City Charter that will appear on ballots in November.

The panelists emphatically suggested that local media had an important role in the process—they would oversee outreach and information transmission to sections of the public who might not be informed about the new changes.

“We need media to help us get the message out,” each member affirmed.

The New York City Charter is functionally the Constitution of New York City, and any and all resolutional questions are binding changes.

Angela Fernandes, executive director of Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Affairs, and affiliated with the New York City Complaint Board, Marco Carrión of the NYC Community Affairs Unit, and former legislative director for the New York City Labor Council, Una Clarke, a former representative on the NYC City Council, and founder of Clarke and Associates (a political consultancy and education management firm), and Matt DeWalt, the executive director and counsel of the Commission as well as the assistant dean of the New York Law School, were the panel members in attendance.

The resolution mostly dealt with campaign finance, whose mandates included, according to a Commission report released to reporters in the room, a “decrease [of] contribution limits for candidates who choose to participate in the public financing program, a new formula for determining [public matching] funds to a ratio of 8  to 1 in public funds matched on the first $250 of eligible contributions for citywide offices, and to a ratio of 8 to 1 in public funds matched on the first $175 of eligible contributions for Borough President and the City Council offices.”

The legislative language would also make public funds available to qualifying candidates earlier in the election, according to DeWalt.

After being asked whether any of the public financing would go towards local and ethnic media coverage of  local elections, the Commission denied that their preliminary hearings had included any such discussion of provisions to such news outlets.

The revision would also set out a Civic Engagement Commission responsible for launching a citywide participatory budgeting program, providing technical assistance services, coordinate existing efforts through more City agencies, and support partnering with community-based organizations and institutions in the public and private sectors. Language access services would likely also be provided in large minority enclaves.

Finally, community boards (a large area of civic involvement), would now have term limits, and preclude community board members who had previously served for four consecutive terms from re-appointment before one full term out of office. The community boards reform would also prescribe “uniform categories of basic information [to be] included in all community board applications” and require all five Borough presidents to publish an annual report disclosing the number of open community board positions, information about current members, recruitment methods, and the evaluation criteria followed in the selection process.

The Commission did not answer how sufficient or “adequate” disclosure would be measured by community board members.

A redistricting process and ranked voting schemes to ensure participation and diversity from third parties and their supporters were ultimately deferred to the next legislative session of the City Council, and by extension, its panel.

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