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Make Charter revision process more accessible to city residents

An open letter to CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, chairman of the City Charter Revision Commission:

A charter revision is an important governmental function and requires adherence to strict democratic processes. The procedures to be followed must ensure fairness and a full opportunity for the public to be heard and adequate time to become acquainted with and understand the changes proposed.

Given that importance, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s impanelment of a Charter Revision Commission is off to a poor start and not, as currently pursued, in the public’s interest.

One public meeting in each borough with the public permitted three minutes to speak, the commission to make its recommendations in July and the matter to appear on the ballot in November is the antithesis of democracy.

Three minutes will ensure there be no give-and-take dialogue with commission members and, based upon my prior experience, it is unlikely all members will be present when one speaks and rarely engage in a discussion with the speaker. One can submit a written statement and a copy of this will be sent to Goldstein, but that also precludes an open discussion.

In the case of Queens, the single public meeting will be held in Long Island City, the most distant part of Queens from most other communities, and is suggestive of a deliberate attempt to limit public participation. That no more than one public hearing and even at that not in a centrally located place makes one speculate whether political games are being played and the public be damned.

Seven months is not a proper period of time for such an important matter and placing it on this November’s ballot is a rush to judgment. The mayor’s and the City Council’s tampering with term limits makes a charter revision appropriate provided it is done carefully and with adequate time afforded the public to be heard. November 2011 with multiple public hearings would be more appropriate.

Bloomberg’s legacy is tarnished as the result of his cabal with term-limited Council members to overturn twice-public-supported term-limit referendums. The mayor’s as well as the current Charter Revision Commission members’ legacy will be further eroded if there is a failure to have on the ballot term limits in a clear manner that it cannot be overruled by the Council.

That the public may support such change makes one apprehensive as to what Bloomberg’s appointees will do.

An important change long past due should deal with the office of the borough presidents. There was a time when the five borough presidents sat on a Board of Estimate and possessed real power. The Board of Estimate was correctly declared unconstitutional because its power was disproportionate to the number of residents in each borough.

Having done away with the Board of Estimate, the borough presidents were stripped of any power and the ability to have real say in any legislative processes. The office became nothing more than the repository for tired politicians and a patronage mill for dispensing money — small amounts in terms of the city’s overall budget — to favored groups.

The time has come to recognize the borough president’s office is a waste of taxpayer money that could be better spent through the legislative process. The office should be abolished.

Benjamin M. Haber

Flushing

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