Thursday, March 04, 2010

Off the Charts

The mayor, after a two year delay, has finally named his charter commission-and the expectation is for the group to come up with some initiatives for this fall's election. Those named, however, don't inspire confidence in anything earth shattering coming down the pike. As the NY Times reports: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on Wednesday rolled out a roster of longtime loyalists, educators, political operatives and community leaders to serve on a 15-member charter review commission that is expected to alter the city’s term limits law."

The commission reflects the uninspired and unimaginative nature of the Bloomberg reign-with a term limits redux the only dramatic initiative expected to be put forward by these assemblage of usual suspects. In an interview, Mr. Goldstein said Mr. Bloomberg had asked him to perform a “real thorough up-and-down” look at city governance. He said that he envisioned that the commission’s work would probably last until 2011, but that a few recommendations would be made early enough that they could be placed on the November ballot. “Certainly term limits will be something we will consider,” he said, “but beyond that, I don’t want to speculate.”

No, there will be little speculative thinking by this bunch-as Daily Politics hints at: "Bloomberg has set aside $800,000 in next year's budget to pay for the commission's operations. Goldstein hopes to hire an executive director in the next few days after consulting with Mayor Bloomberg, which is perhaps a hint that the top staff member could come from within the mayor's administration. (Paging Frank Barry?)"

But chairmen Goldstein insists that he won't be exclusively pushing Bloomberg's agenda, so maybe we all can be prevented from falling asleep: "Goldstein insists, however, that the commission will not simply push the mayor's agenda: "The mayor wants a real, comprehensive review. ... This is an independent commission, with no mandate to get one thing done or another thing done."

So, what could the commission tackle? In our view-and we believe the speaker has a similar idea (but with a different twist, of course)-the current land use law should be amended and the exclusive control over changes needs to be shifted away from the City Planning Commission: "For other, more complex issues that good-government types have considered -- like tinkering with the city budget and land-use processes -- Goldstein wants to keep the commission working into 2011, to come up with more proposals."

If the current land use law is changed, it removing the hiring of land use consultants from the exclusive purview of a project developer; allow the city council to propose amendments by a super majority; and devise methods for a two-track land use review that separates environmental from economic development questions and provides for a mechanism to develop community benefits agreements. An over all reforming of ULURP should be a prime objective.

But in order for these kinds of changes to be forthcoming there has to be a grass roots movement to advocate for them-something that the public advocate is, well, advocating: "Public Advocate Bill de Blasio today announced a series of efforts to mobilize New Yorkers to ensure their voices are heard by the Charter Commission, which is charged with reviewing and proposing changes to our city government. Beginning immediately, the Public Advocate will be distributing sign-on letters to elected officials and community leaders, asking Community Boards to pass resolutions, and collecting petitions from New Yorkers in major subway stations. The letters, petitions, and resolutions will call on the Charter Commission to meaningfully engage New Yorkers in discussions about how to make municipal government more responsive to their needs."

It is only by the direct engagement of an aroused public that we will be able to avoid a snooze fest-or, even worse, some hair brained Bloomberg idea that would centralize power to a greater extent than the city charter does now. If that happens, the fall election will see another defeat for the mayor's jaundiced views on what constitutes good government.