Besides state and congressional offices, NYC voters will see three questions on their ballots on Tuesday — all proposed revisions to the New York City Charter. The Charter Revision Commission should have gone further and dealt with some more significant issues, but the questions the commission established, which will be on the back of the ballot, are meant to expand city residents’ political and civic involvement.
Proposal No. 1: campaign finance
The first question would lower how much money candidates for city elected offices can accept from single contributors. For those candidates participating in the city’s public financing of campaigns, the maximum would fall from $5,100 for top city offices including mayor and public advocate to $2,000. The public match, meanwhile, would increase from $6 of public funds for every $1 in matchable contributions to an 8-to-1 ratio. And the matching funds would be available earlier in the campaign season. Together, those changes could make campaign public financing more enticing, encourage smaller donations, and, perhaps, limit the potential for corruption.
No. 2: civic engagement commission
Does NYC really need another commission? On most issues the answer might be no, but when it comes to a proposed civic engagement commission, it’s a yes. The commission would aim to create a citywide participatory budgeting process, a mechanism for residents to determine where some council district funds go. Right now, too many City Council members refuse to do participatory budgeting. This proposal would open it to all. The commission also would provide experts to help community boards address complex land-use issues. Which brings us to . . .
Proposal No. 3: community boards
The third and most controversial question would establish term limits for community boards — 59 groups across the city that act as key advisors to borough and city officials, particularly on land use and zoning. Community board members are unpaid and appointed every two years by City Council members and borough presidents. Currently, members can be reappointed indefinitely, so some people sit on the boards for decades, at times becoming lifetime re-appointees. That leaves little room for new voices, diversity or representation in changing neighborhoods, unless the borough president or City Council member makes a switch, which doesn’t happen often enough. Hence, the need for term limits. The proposal suggests four consecutive two-year terms. They would be staggered so not every member would leave at the same time. Those against the idea point to the need for institutional memory and longevity. But term-limited board members could stay involved in ex-officio capacities and even be reappointed after a term out of office. And outside experts could assist with decision-making. Term limits would allow community boards to look like and better represent their communities.
Don’t forget to flip your ballot. amNewYork endorses a yes vote on all three ballot questions.