Voter Guide, November 5, 2019

MANHATTAN LIBERTARIAN PARTY GUIDE FOR THE FIVE PROPOSED NYC CHARTER AMENDMENTS

The Proposals

Ballot Question #1 – Elections

OFFICIAL SUMMARY:

This proposal would amend the City Charter to:

Give voters the choice of ranking up to five candidates in primary and special elections for Mayor, Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough President, and City Council beginning in January 2021. If voters still want to choose just one candidate, they can. A candidate who receives a majority of first-choice votes would win. If there is no majority winner, the last place candidate would be eliminated and any voter who had that candidate as their top choice would have their vote transferred to their next choice. This process would repeat until only two candidates remain, and the candidate with the most votes then would be the winner. This proposal would eliminate the separate run-off primary elections for Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller;

Extend the time period between the occurrence of a vacancy in an elected City office and when a special election must be held to fill that vacancy. Special elections would generally be held 80 days after the vacancy occurs, instead of 45 days (for Public Advocate, Comptroller, Borough Presidents, and Council Members) or 60 days (for Mayor); and

Adjust the timeline of the process for drawing City Council district boundaries so that it is completed before City Council candidates start gathering petition signatures to appear on the ballot for the next primary elections. This process occurs every ten years.

MLP POSITION: NONE

As a general matter, Ranked Choice Voting is a good idea.  It enhances the competitiveness of new challengers, encourages less confrontational campaigning, and eliminates for voters the logic that we as Libertarians have always dreaded — that by not voting for a leading candidate, they are “throwing their vote away.”

However, despite our own insistence before the Charter Review Commission, this proposal does not extend to general elections — it will only apply to city primary and special elections (special elections are non-partisan).  This was done because Common Cause, a leading proponent of reform, switched positions and determined that it would be too confusing and difficult to accommodate ranked choice voting in addition to the fusion system, where candidates run on multiple third-party lines.

Potential downsides of ranked choice voting not extending to general elections include: (1) the spirit of reform may stall and never address general elections in a future proposal; (2) our candidates would have to expend scarce energy and resources to educate voters that the general election will operate traditionally, unlike the primary election; or (3) we lose entrepreneurial candidates more attracted to waging ranked-choice insurgent campaigns in Democratic or Republican primaries.

While our members unanimously prefer ranked-choice voting, our active members differ on whether this partial amendment should or should not be supported.  Therefore, we cannot endorse a yes or no vote.

Ballot Question # 2 – Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB)

OFFICIAL SUMMARY:

This proposal would amend the City Charter to:

Increase the size of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) from 13 to 15 members by adding one member appointed by the Public Advocate and adding one member jointly appointed by the Mayor and Speaker of the Council who would serve as chair, and to provide that the Council directly appoint its CCRB members rather than designate them for the Mayor’s consideration and appointment;

Require that the CCRB’s annual personnel budget be high enough to fund a CCRB employee headcount equal to 0.65% of the Police Department’s uniformed officer headcount, unless the Mayor makes a written determination that fiscal necessity requires a lower budget amount;

Require that the Police Commissioner provide the CCRB with a written explanation when the Police Commissioner intends to depart or has departed from discipline recommended by the CCRB or by the Police Department Deputy (or Assistant Deputy) Commissioner for Trials;

Allow the CCRB to investigate the truthfulness of any material statement that is made within the course of the CCRB’s investigation or resolution of a complaint by a police officer who is the subject of that complaint, and recommend discipline against the police officer where appropriate; and

Allow the CCRB members, by a majority vote, to delegate the board’s power to issue and seek enforcement of subpoenas to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of records for its investigations to the CCRB Executive Director.

MLP POSITION: YES

The NYPD operates with little to no accountability.  The CCRB is a bureaucratic attempt to provide accountability, but it has thus far been entirely ineffective because it has little investigatory or disciplinary power, the NYPD leadership has veto power over any action, and the NYPD generally views the body as its own to legitimize the disciplinary conduct the NYPD actively chooses to pursue.

This proposal is a very limited but beneficial step toward making the CCRB an entity independent from the NYPD.  Unfortunately, the NYPD retains nearly all its powers over discipline, which remains the main obstacle to CCRB becoming an effective check.  With a guaranteed budget, the CCRB could threaten to become ineffective and expensive, but, barring substantial changes in qualified immunity doctrine or a sea-change in the NYPD’s position at City Hall, we are forced to take this risk.

Ballot Question #3 – Ethics and Government

OFFICIAL SUMMARY:

This proposal would amend the City Charter to:

Prohibit City elected officials and senior appointed officials from appearing before the agency (or, in certain cases, the branch of government) they served in for two years after they leave City service, instead of the current one year. This change would be applicable to persons who leave elected office or City employment after January 1, 2022;

Change the membership of the Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB) by replacing two of the members currently appointed by the Mayor with one member appointed by the Comptroller and one member appointed by the Public Advocate;

Prohibit members of the COIB from participating in campaigns for local elected office, and reduce the maximum amount of money that members can contribute in each election cycle to the amounts that candidates can receive from those doing business with the City ($400 or less, depending on the office);

Require that the citywide director of the Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) program report directly to the Mayor and require further that such director be supported by a mayoral office of M/WBEs; and

Require that the City’s Corporation Counsel, currently appointed by the Mayor, also be approved by the City Council.

Shall this proposal be adopted?

MLP POSITION: NO

The Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise program is constitutionally justified only as a remedial program for past discrimination.  It is inappropriate to inscribe such a temporary program into a permanent charter and office under the Mayor.  These are also legislative moves that are inappropriate for the City Charter and deprive City Counsel of any role.

The M/WBE program itself is deeply flawed, engaging in racial preferences, encouraging fraud and abuse, and adding inefficiencies and waste to the City budget. The program was only established in 2005 and other cities structure similar programs differently.  Chartering the program creates a permanent obstacle to reforming the City’s extremely wasteful and inefficient procurement system or replacing or eliminating the M/WBE program.

Ballot Question #4 – City Budget

OFFICIAL SUMMARY:

This proposal would amend the City Charter to:

Allow the City to use a revenue stabilization fund, or “rainy day fund,” to save money for use in future years, such as to address unexpected financial hardships. Changes to State law will also be needed for this rainy day fund to be usable;

Set minimum budgets for the Public Advocate and Borough Presidents. The budget for each office would be at least as high as its Fiscal Year 2020 budget adjusted annually by the lesser of the inflation rate or the percentage change in the City’s total expense budget (excluding certain components), unless the Mayor determines that a lower budget is fiscally necessary;

Require the Mayor to submit a non-property tax revenue estimate to the City Council by April 26 (instead of June 5). The Mayor may submit an updated estimate after that date, but must explain why the updated estimate was fiscally necessary if the update is submitted after May 25; and

Require that, when the Mayor makes changes to the City’s financial plan that would require a budget modification to implement, the proposed budget modification shall be submitted to the Council within 30 days.

Shall this proposal be adopted?

MLP POSITION: NO

The availability of the “rainy day fund” will: (1) disincentivize tax cuts when the city government is collecting more tax revenues than it needs; (2) ease pressure to cut wasteful spending as a response to fiscal burdens; and (3) threaten to establish a slush fund to shore up irresponsible spending programs.

The Public Advocate and Borough Presidents should not be guaranteed budgets.  They are extraneous positions created by the 1989 Charter Revision Commission with limited powers and have yet to justify their continued existence.  The public is entitled to properly assess the offices’ roles and curtail their budgets as desired (not as fiscally necessary).

Ballot Question #5 – Land Use

OFFICIAL SUMMARY:

This proposal would amend the City Charter to:

For projects subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), require the Department of City Planning (DCP) to transmit a detailed project summary to the affected Borough President, Borough Board, and Community Board at least 30 days before the application is certified for public review, and to post that summary on its website; and

Provide Community Boards with additional time to review ULURP applications certified for public review by DCP between June 1 and July 15, from the current 60-day review period to 90 days for applications certified in June, and to 75 days for applications certified between July 1 and July 15.

Shall this proposal be adopted?

MLP POSITION: NO

We oppose any further delays and obstacles to development such as these proposed Charter amendments.

Property owners have a fundamental right to use and develop their property that should not be arbitrarily suppressed because of community opposition and the veto of a single elected councilmember, as often occurs under the current ULURP process.

Partly because of our current restrictive zoning and our nearly impossible processes to navigate it, NYC has built relatively few new buildings over the past two decades despite a huge increase in demand to live and work in NYC. We cannot allow this crisis to continue, much less make it worse, as these proposed amendments would.