New York City Charter Revision Commission finalizes its ballot proposals

New York City Hall
New York City Hall
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New York City Hall.

New York City Charter Revision Commission finalizes its ballot proposals

Voters will vote in November on 19 proposals, grouped into five questions.
July 24, 2019

The New York City Charter Revision Commission has officially adopted the ballot language for proposed changes to the charter after a brief interruption by protesters at the beginning of the meeting. Although there are 19 total proposals, they have been grouped into five questions that voters will decide on Nov. 5.

The commission grouped the proposals into the same five broad categories they have in the past: elections; Civilian Complaint Review Board; ethics and government; city budget; and land use. Because each question contains several unique proposals, voters will make an all-or-nothing decision for each set.

As part of the elections question, the proposal would establish ranked-choice voting in all municipal primaries and special elections, a change from the current plurality system. Voters would rank up to five candidates by preference, with a winner decided either through an outright majority or by gaining a majority through redistributed second and third choice votes. The question also would change the timelines for special elections and redistricting.

The second question, regarding the Civilian Complaint Review Board, or CCRB, would bring about five changes: expanding the board from 13 to 15 members – while making changes to how those members are appointed – guaranteeing a budget, enabling the board to more quickly subpoena evidence, requiring the police commissioner to explain any deviation from recommended discipline, and empowering the board to investigate and recommend discipline for police offiers who lie while being investigated.

The protesters that briefly interrupted the meeting demanded that the Charter Revision Commission put an “Elected Civilian Review Board” on the ballot to replace the CCRB. They called the proposed changes “useless” and said that “the CCRB gives no justice.” The protesters claimed that an elected board would be empowered to take action against New York Police Department Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the officer involved in the death of Eric Garner, in ways the CCRB has been unable to. Some protesters are members of a campaign and have testified at past commission hearings. Pantaleo has faced no criminal penalties for his alleged role in Garner’s death and awaits the outcome of his NYPD disciplinary trial that the CCRB prosecuted.

The third question, on ethics and government, would bring about another five changes to the charter. It would ban elected and appointed city officials from taking lobbying before the body they worked for up to two years after leaving government; allow the public advocate and city comptroller to appoint two members of the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board; set a contribution limit for members of that board to give to candidates; require City Council approval for the mayor’s appointment of corporation counsel; and require that the director of the minority- and women-owned business program report to the mayor.

The fourth question encompasses four fairly nuanced changes to the city budget, including timing of modifications and when the mayor gives a revenue estimate. Perhaps more notably, this question would give the public advocate and each borough president a guaranteed budget. It would also permit the city to establish an official “rainy day” fund for potential economic downturns, although its actual creation would require state legislation.

The last question relates to land use. It would create a pre-Unified Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, period when the Department of City Planning would need to submit a plan prior to an application’s certification for community review, and give the community more time to review a proposal after the process has begun.

One proposal in relation to the city budget regarding units of appropriation was removed before the meeting. According to a spokeswoman for the commission, the commissioners decided that the issue did not rise to the level of a charter revision commission’s and believe the City Council and mayor can address it themselves.

Now that the commission has voted to adopt the final staff report and specific ballot language, it has until Aug. 5 to send the questions to the City Clerk in order for them to appear on the Nov. 5 ballot. The commission will also release a post-action report and will engage in a robust education campaign between now and the election to educate voters about each proposal.

Rebecca C. Lewis
is a staff reporter at City & State.
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