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Mayor Eric Adams' charter revision panel seeks new limits on NYC Council power

Michael Gartland and Chris Sommerfeldt, New York Daily News on

Published in News & Features

NEW YORK — The commission assigned by Mayor Eric Adams to propose changes to New York City’s Charter recommended Monday that there be a significant shift in how the city assesses the fiscal impact of new legislation and urged more public input when it comes to bills that affect safety.

The proposed changes, if adopted, could allow the mayor to intervene earlier in legislative matters traditionally reserved for the City Council — a signal the Adams-controlled Charter Revision Commission believes the lawmaking body can’t be trusted with its current level of autonomy.

In its first report, the commission, which was created in May, also recommended that a new city agency be formed to promote the hiring of women- and minority-owned businesses.

Diane Savino, an Adams adviser and executive director of the Charter Revision Commission, signaled Monday that the body intends to formalize its recommendations in the coming months and have them ready to be put on the ballot for November’s general election as referendum questions.

“We know the ideas presented here will spark great discussion from our commissioners, elected officials, community groups and working-class New Yorkers as we all work together to put forward questions to voters so they can flip their ballots and make the ultimate decisions this November,” she said in a written statement.

The commission’s recommendations come several months after the Council overrode mayoral vetoes on two criminal justice bills opposed by Adams.

In recent weeks, the commission has held hearings and listened to testimony to help formulate its plan. It plans to continue doing so. A hearing on Staten Island was slated for Monday evening, and several more are scheduled to extend through July.

Despite the ostensibly public input, some of the commission’s proposals are bound to face pushback from members of the City Council — which has been increasingly hostile toward the mayor — as well as progressives and moderate Democrats who view him as ineffective.

After the report’s introduction, the first topic it tackles is “fiscal responsibility,” a heading squarely directed at the Council.

The commission contends that the price tag of proposed legislation often doesn’t become clear until after a bill becomes a law and that the Council’s initial estimates are sometimes inaccurate.

Currently under the charter, fiscal impact statements must accompany new laws, but the commission argues that these statements often arrive too late in the process.

“The Council typically publishes fiscal impact statements only when proposed legislation is on the cusp of adoption as a law,” the report states. “This means that much of the public debate around a law – including the Council’s public hearing on the proposed bill – occurs in the absence of the fiscal impact statement.”

The commission’s recommending that fiscal impacts be assessed more accurately and earlier in the legislative process and that “additional parties” — which could potentially involve the mayor’s administration — be involved in assessing that impact early on.

The report also report recommends that the commission should consider advancing a proposal that would require the Council to solicit additional public feedback on “public safety-related” bills before they can be voted on.

Currently, all bills, regardless of the legislative focus, undergo hearings where administration officials and other stakeholders, including members of the general public, can offer testimony. The bills are then typically voted on in committees before they come before the full Council for a final vote.

But the commission’s report suggests legislation related to public safety undergo an additional layer of review, which could come in the form of mandating such bills be subjected to a “limited period of additional public review prior to a vote.”

“Such a change would afford more time for consideration and deliberation in matters of public safety, and additional opportunities for formal public input,” the report states.

 

It doesn’t, however, say how broadly “public safety” should be defined in this context, but argues that considering additional scrutiny is warranted because the Council “frequently passes legislation” that “may indirectly promote or inadvertently impair public safety.”

The commission went on to write it heard testimony from members of the public who “expressed frustration” about “opportunities for public comment” on the “How Many Stops Act,” a bill enacted by the Council in January that requires NYPD officers to start documenting more interactions with the public.

The mayor, a Democrat, vetoed the How Many Stops Act, claiming it’d bury cops in paperwork and hamper public safety.

The Council overrode his veto, though, forcing the bill into law over his objection on the auspices that it’ll improve police transparency and accountability.

The mayor’s Charter Revision Commission has specifically been tasked with presenting referendum questions by Aug. 5 so they can make it onto November’s ballot. The quick timeline has prompted some Democratic critics of the mayor to accuse him of using the commission as a vehicle to block a separate effort by Council Speaker Adrienne Adams to get a question onto November’s ballot related to expanding oversight of top mayoral hires.

The speaker, a Queens Democrat, assailed the commission’s preliminary report as “wholly unserious.”

“The Commission has shown a lack of understanding of the legislative process, the charter, and the law, or is intentionally failing to provide the public with total clarity,” she said in a Monday night statement.

“This is a poorly constructed attempt to attack the City Council and its oversight of the executive branch, seeking to undermine representative democracy at a time when the Council is fighting to protect New Yorkers from the mayor’s excessive budget cuts,” she added, repeating calls for the commission to slow down the process and submit its proposals for the 2025 general election.

City Comptroller Brad Lander, a progressive Democrat who’s rumored to be considering a 2025 primary challenge against the mayor, slammed Monday’s preliminary report from the commission and suggested the panel should focus on a set of reforms he recently outlined related to fiscal management.

“The mayor’s hastily appointed Charter Revision Commission swung and missed today,” Lander said. “Earlier this month, my office outlined five common-sense proposals to improve our city’s financial management practices.

“No ‘further research’ is needed to adopt a solid plan for the City’s Rainy Day Fund, or to start paying our vendors on time — proposals long-studied and supported by many good-government groups,” he added.

While the recommendations around fiscal impact and public safety were given top priority, the commission also touched on the possibility of giving the Sanitation Department more responsibility and how to better encourage the success of women- and minority-owned businesses.

Those recommendations appeared less fully developed, though.

The commission’s staff recommended the body further consider how to improve services to minority- and women-owned businesses and the possibility of forming a new agency dedicated to that, but didn’t provide many more specifics on its plans moving forward.

The report is similarly vague when it comes to the Department of Sanitation, noting, “New Yorkers have expressed a desire for cleaner streets” and that “updating the Charter to clarify and expand DSNY responsibilities could help promote these important objectives.”

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©2024 New York Daily News. Visit nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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