New York City Charter Commission Testimony

New York City Charter Commission

Testimony of Eric Weltman

April 20, 2010

My name is Eric Weltman, and I’m testifying as a Brooklyn resident and concerned citizen.

I would like to briefly discuss several key principles and specific topics.  However, my most fundamental message is this: Please don’t rush the charter review.  Please don’t forgo a fair and deliberative process in order to place amendments on the ballot this fall.  Our city’s charter is too important – and democracy is too essential – for a hurried process.

Government is both a means and an end.  The ends are, of course, fairly obvious: the provision of essential services, law enforcement, and so forth.  But the means are important, too: Government can and should be a mechanism for engaging and empowering people, for strengthening communities, and for sustaining faith in our system.

There are some principles relating to government that I believe we all share, including: public participation, representation, transparency, efficiency, effectiveness, and responsiveness.

But since power is necessary to fulfill these principles, I believe we need principles for power itself, and I propose at least two: Power should be accountable and it should be distributed – meaning that it should be shared, not concentrated and not removed, checked and balanced.

With that in mind, I would like to touch upon three specific topics:

First, government organization: I believe that we should maintain the position of Public Advocate, as well as maintain and strengthen the authority of the Borough Presidents and the Community Boards.  These bodies serve as important advocates for our communities, as vehicles for both reflecting and responding to neighborhood concerns.

Second, non-partisan elections: This is a terrible idea.  Political parties play a vital role in engaging and informing people, in holding elected officials accountable, and energizing our elections.  Non-partisan elections would weaken our civic capacity while empowering those with the money to buy their own campaign machinery.

Third, land use policy: The charter should contain provisions that promote responsible development and ensure that polluting facilities are fairly sited around the city.  Greens jobs, clean energy, and sustainable development are necessary for both protecting public health and helping prevent climate change.

Thank you for your consideration.

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