On Nov. 6, be sure to turn your ballot over and vote on three proposals which would reform the city’s public matching funds program, create a new civic engagement agency, and apply term limits and appointment reforms to community boards.
Proposal 1 would increase the matching ratio for the city’s public matching funds program, which currently matches the first $175 of every eligible campaign contribution at a 6-to-1 ratio for participating candidates, to 8-to-1 for the first $250 raised by a citywide candidate, and for the first $175 raised for all other seats.
The proposal also would significantly reduce contribution limits for participants and increase the cap on public funds disbursements, while providing public funds earlier in the election cycle.
Reduced contribution limits reduce the influence of big donors, and the increased public funds cap means that a higher percentage of a campaign’s funds are from public money, which further curtails private donors’ control. The additional cost to taxpayers would amount to only about $1 to $2 per city resident per year.
I’m voting for this proposal even though labor unions and other outside groups sometimes flout the campaign finance rules by coordinating with city campaigns, which reduces the effectiveness of the city’s constraints. We all must remain vigilant as to outside influences on candidates and elected officials.
Proposal 2 would create a new mayoral-dominated 15-member Civic Engagement Commission. The new commission would administer a citywide participatory budgeting program starting in 2020 (the program currently is administered by city council members in dozens of districts); would provide interpreters to poll sites; work on civic engagement with advocacy groups and nonprofit service providers, with a particular eye on outreach to limited English-language speakers; and provide annual reports on progress.
The commission would also be tasked with providing technical assistance to community boards, particularly urban planning expertise and language access.
Although there is a desperate need for more civic engagement — and having a commission under mayoral control may ensure accountability, attention and a budget sufficient to perform its tasks — I am not voting for this proposal because the functions of the commission are better performed by a truly independent commission, like the existing Voter Assistance Advisory Committee, or the Independent Budget Office.
Further, this proposal does nothing to address the existing problems with the elections boar, and instead imposes another layer of bureaucracy, which will have limited ability to accomplish its goals.
Proposal 3 would establish term limits for community board members. Members appointed or reappointed on or after April 1 would be allowed to serve four consecutive two-year terms, except for those appointed or reappointed for a term commencing on April 1, 2010, who could serve five consecutive terms in order to prevent a heavy turnover of board members in 2027 and 2028.
Board members could re-apply after a two-year hiatus.
The process of appointing board members would change to make it consistent across the five boroughs. Borough presidents would be required to seek out persons of diverse backgrounds for appointment, make applications available on their websites, and issue an annual report disclosing information about membership and the recruitment and selection process.
The Riverdale Press opined on Oct. 11 (re: “Term limits are great, but not for community boards”) that “term limits are great, but not for community boards,” concerned about the loss of experience and institutional knowledge if board members are term limited, that there will not be enough people to step up to fill the “unprecedented brain drain, and that the proposal would further empower real estate developers and lobbyists.
I disagree and urge a vote for the proposal because it will promote ideological and demographic diversity, enabling community boards to reflect the changing neighborhoods they serve. Also, requiring borough presidents to post information on board appointments online and to issue an annual report promotes transparency.
Further, board members can receive technical advice from the Independent Budget Office and the proposed Civic Engagement Commission, and any potential loss of institutional knowledge and expertise may be offset by these additional professional resources.
And why can’t experienced board members who are term-limited continue to serve in a nonvoting capacity?
While the proposal won’t make boards more independent by removing the control that the borough presidents and local council members maintain over them — and although I admire the long service of community board members like Rosemary Ginty, Charles Moerdler and Marty Wolpoff — it is important to get new members on boards.
Adoption of this proposal is the only practical way to accomplish the important goals of transparency and diversity.
No matter what your views are about campaign finance, civic engagement and community boards, the most important thing you can do on Election Day is to vote!