Charter 2019 NYC Releases Its Preliminary Staff Report, Recommends the Most Comprehensive Revisions to the City’s Constitution Since 1989

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 4/23/2019
CONTACT: Marissa Solomon, MSolomon@charter2019.nyc

NEW YORK, NY; APRIL 23, 2019 -- Charter 2019 NYC today announced the release of its Preliminary Staff Report recommending next steps for the Commission to revise the City Charter in matters such as increasing police accountability, improving the voting system for New Yorkers, enhancing community engagement in City land use, and making the budget more transparent.

“In 1989, the public endorsed the groundbreaking work of the Charter Revision Commission, which overhauled the City Charter,” said Commission Chair Gail Benjamin. “Thirty years later, Charter 2019 NYC hopes to continue their efforts and propose Charter amendments that reflect modern challenges facing New Yorkers. This is a top-to-bottom review of our city’s constitution. We’re proposing changes ranging from police accountability to how voters elect their public officials.”

New Yorkers talked, and we listened. So far, the Commission has heard over 30 hours of public testimony, held 15 public hearings and meetings, and received over 1,000 proposals since September 2018. The Commission will release its Final Report this July, and the public will vote on Election Day November 5, 2019. 

Public hearings from April 30th-May 14th in each borough will provide New Yorkers with another opportunity to offer their feedback on staff recommendations. 

After careful review, the staff recommends the following issues for further consideration:

RANKED CHOICE VOTING (RCV): New York City elections currently allow for a winner who gets only a small share of the vote. When a runoff is necessary, elections can be costly and produce low voter turnout. One way to fix these issues is with Ranked Choice Voting.

  • RECOMMENDATION: Implement RCV, a voting system in which voters rank the candidates by preference order. The candidate who ranks first on the fewest ballots is removed until, after multiple rounds, one candidate has the majority of votes. 

CIVILIAN COMPLAINT REVIEW BOARD: The Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) investigates complaints by the public against NYC police officers. Critics say much reform is needed to make the NYPD and discipline process more accountable to the public. 

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Appointments: Empower the City Council to appoint CCRB members directly rather than as designees subject to mayoral approval, and give the Public Advocate the ability to appoint or designate one or more members of the CCRB. Currently the Mayor appoints all 13 members of the CCRB, with some members designated or recommended by the Council and the Police Commissioner.

  • Disciplinary Guidelines: Require the Police Commissioner to establish disciplinary guidelines that create clear penalties for misconduct.

  • Police Commissioner Deviation: If the Police Commissioner does not follow disciplinary recommendations, require her to provide a memo to the CCRB and the Deputy Commissioner of Trials (DCT) with a comprehensive explanation. Currently, the Police Commissioner often deviates from the CCRB’s and DCT’s penalty recommendations.

  • False Official Statements: Empower the CCRB to investigate and recommend discipline when there’s evidence that an officer has given a false statement during a CCRB investigation. Currently, the CCRB indicates when there’s evidence that an officer has made a false statement, but does not investigate or prosecute the case, and the NYPD rarely disciplines the officers.

  • Subpoena Power: Delegate subpoena power to high-ranking CCRB staff. Currently, only the board has subpoena power which can result in inefficient investigations and lost evidence.

Staff recommends these additional proposals for further consideration:

Public Advocate: The role of Public Advocate (PA) is to be a watchdog and check on the Mayor, but the office has no real mechanism to do so. Establish a method for the PA to require officials and agencies to answer questions posed by the PA. This may be in the form of subpoena power, or another legal mechanism. In addition, a guaranteed budget may protect the PA from punitive cuts. 

Borough Presidents: Borough Presidents are responsible for coordinating agency services in their respective boroughs. Presently, Borough Presidents do not have the power to require information from agencies. Require agencies to provide Borough Presidents with certain documents and records related to their budget and land use responsibilities and strengthen agency engagement with borough service cabinets.

Budget: The City’s expense budget funds important social services, but it is difficult to know how much the City spends on various programs. Create more specificity in the City’s budget, which may improve transparency and accountability over New Yorkers’ dollars. In addition, require that the Mayor may not unilaterally refuse to spend money on certain Council-approved funds except for a financial and economic reason.

Corporation Counsel: Presently, the Mayor appoints the Corporation Counsel, who is the head of the NYC Law Department. They act as the attorney and counsel for the City as a whole. Require the Council’s advice and consent for the Mayor’s appointment of the Corporation Counsel and establish a set term for the Corporation Counsel to serve. 

Diversity in Procurement: Support the minority and women-owned business enterprise (MWBE) program by legally requiring that its program director be a Deputy Mayor or another senior official who reports directly to the Mayor and that this director is supported by an Office of MWBEs.

Land Use: Improve community engagement in the land use process by 1) providing more time and an earlier opportunity for Community Boards and Borough Presidents to review and comment on applications before the ULURP clock begins and 2) extending the time for CBs to review applications in July and August. 

Planning: Critics say the many reports required by the Charter related to city planning are inconsistent and difficult to follow. Clarify how the various city plans and projections should relate to and impact each other. These plans should address future planning challenges, such as neighborhood rezonings. Also, ensure that the public and other stakeholders are involved in these plans.

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