BY JUSTIN CHAN
The City Charter Revision Commission convened at Queens Borough Hall for a public meeting recently and focused on whether the public advocate and borough presidents should be guaranteed independent budgets.
The commission also discussed issues regarding the structure of the City Council and how to appropriately respond to the matter of nonpartisan elections.
Borough president Helen Marshall testified at the meeting on Wednesday, July 28 and strongly urged the city to protect and expand the powers of borough presidents.
“[There is an] absolute need to give the independently-elected borough presidents guaranteed, base-line budgets,” said Marshall. “Currently, we do not have adequate resources to meet our charter-mandated duties, which include the oversight of some city services. This year, the borough presidents suffered bigger budget cuts, in terms of percentage, than any other city agency.”
Marshall also expressed her support for three four-year terms for all city officials and her opposition to nonpartisan elections.
In response, Mark Page, director of the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, remained firm about the city’s position on the impending issue of independent budgets.
“I think the basic principle of government is to allocate resources among competing needs,” said Page, noting that the main goal is “getting the best value out of public dollars.” The director also stressed that budgetary allocation must be a “two-way negotiated process” in which the city must utilize its funds in response to changing needs rather than distribute them in fixed amounts.
“The borough presidents have a defined responsibility,” Page continued. “They don’t have an entitlement to a level of funding.”
Following Page’s testimony, commissioner Anthony Perez Cassino discussed several issues pertaining to the City Council’s expenditures. In addition to advocating for a full-time council, the commissioner recommended slashing pay raises for committee chairmanships and addressing the “unfair” distribution of member items.
“We’ve talked a lot here about a representative democracy, and I think most of us agree with that. But there are areas that are really about self-dealing. They don’t go to a representative democracy,” said Cassino.
The commission also discussed commissioner Carlo Scissura’s proposal to “refocus” the role of the borough presidents and public advocate in certain sections of the charter. Due to time constraints, the issue of nonpartisan elections was briefly addressed.
The meeting concluded with public testimony given by representatives of local and community organizations. Members of the Queens Civic Congress strongly expressed their disapproval of nonpartisan elections and voiced their support for community boards and borough presidents.
“Community boards are neighborhoods’ first – and often only – voice at City Hall. The community boards track service delivery; articulate local funding needs and are a key element in defining local development needs and aspirations,” said Patricia Dolan, president of the organization. “The Queens Civic Congress recommends that the Borough Presidents have resources to provide planning assistance to community boards.”