CU on Charter Commission: Not Enough Time for Major Changes; Prevent Future Charter Gamesmanship

CU on Charter Commission: Not Enough Time for Major Changes; Prevent Future Charter Gamesmanship

By Citizens Union

Today, we will testify before the 2024 New York City Charter Commission’s Government and Election Reform Hearing. 

Throughout its 125-year history, Citizens Union has supported periodic comprehensive reviews of the New York City Charter absent a political agenda via the appointment of an independent Charter Revision Commission to ensure that city government is operating effectively, efficiently, and in the public’s best interest. 

We believe the two-months’ timeframe under which the 2024 Charter Revision Commission operates is insufficient to complete that task at hand: a comprehensive review of the City Charter through a thorough, open, iterative, and extensive public process that engages the public meaningfully. 

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Our testimony makes several recommendations:

  1. The Commission’s proposals should not be put on the 2024 ballot. Commissioners should continue working for several more months, not under the pressure of a November 2024 ballot question deadline, and submit proposals to the November 2025 ballot.
  2. If moving forward with a 2024 ballot, proposals should be narrow in scope. The Commission should follow the example of the 2002 Commission, which in the face of criticism about its short summer timeline, decided to put a narrow proposal on the November 2022 ballot.
  3. Propose a change to the Charter that establishes minimum timeframes for future Charter Revision Commissions and local laws sent to a referendum. To prevent the sort of gamesmanship that we see now, processes that result in major charter revisions through a referendum should have minimum timeframes set in law. We recommend requiring at least 180 days between a charter revision commission’s first meeting and the filing of ballot proposals with the City Clerk and 30 days between a charter revision commission’s final report and the date of filing ballot proposals with the City Clerk. For local laws that go to a referendum, we recommend requiring two votes by the City Council, with 30 days between each vote, including public hearings.
  4. Recommend, in the Commission’s final report, that the constitution be changed to allow New York City’s elections to occur in even number years. Although moving New York City’s elections to even years cannot be done through a charter amendment, we urge the Commission to include support for this reform in the final report to encourage state lawmakers to start the constitutional process needed to move New York City’s elections to even-years.
  5. Maintain Ranked Choice Voting and the Public Campaign Finance System. We reaffirm our support for the use of Ranked Choice Voting in the municipal primaries, the city’s public campaign finance program, and the independence of the Campaign Finance Board, and urges the Commission to maintain the systems as is.
  6. For future Charter Revision Commissions, consider a top-two election system – but not in the rushed timeline of this 2024 Commission.  Although we support opening the city’s primary system, making it open to all eligible voters regardless of party status, we believe this Commission should not take up substantial changes to city government.

You can read our full testimony here, and see CU’s previous position’s on Charter Revision Commissions here.

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