Comptroller Stringer Proposes Sweeping Charter Reforms to Confront NYC’s Modern Day Challenges
September 27, 2018
Proposals tackle affordability crisis, land use, government transparency, wealth creation in communities of color, and procurement reforms
Calls for Chief Diversity Officer in City Hall and at each City agency to create more opportunity for minority and women owned businesses
(New York, NY) — New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer today released a comprehensive new set of proposals, “A New Charter to Confront New Challenges,” that outlines sixty-five recommended changes to the New York City Charter as the 2019 Charter Revision Commission holds its initial public hearings. Among those proposals, Comptroller Stringer is calling for a Chief Diversity Officer in every City agency, giving greater urban planning expertise to community boards, strengthening building code enforcement, and establishing procurement timeframes. The Charter, which is the City’s governing document, is undergoing its first full-scale review in nearly 30 years since the last major revision in 1989. Over three decades, the Charter has become increasingly ill equipped to support City-led solutions to modern day challenges – which this proposal aims to correct. Organized in three sections, “Creating a Fairer, More Equitable New York,” “Building a 21st Century Government,” and “Demanding Accountability & Transparency,” the report details community-focused reforms designed to a make the City more transparent, effective, and accountable.
“Since the last major charter revision nearly thirty years ago, New York City has grown by 1.2 million people and the world has changed around it, yet its charter is not prepared to meet the needs of today’s challenges. The Charter Review Commission is an opportunity for us to build a better government that takes aim at our affordability crisis and builds a fairer City by giving a voice to New Yorkers,” said Comptroller Stringer. “That’s why we’ve put together a comprehensive set of reforms designed to build a stronger City that works for everyone, and to help New Yorkers have better engagement, transparency, and accountability from their government.”
Creating a Fairer, More Equitable New York
One of the primary recommendations in Comptroller Stringer’s proposal is the creation of the Chief Diversity Officer position inside the Mayor’s cabinet and within each City agency, a role tasked with overseeing minority and women business enterprise (M/WBE) programs, tracking and measuring diverse talent, and encouraging M/WBEs to bid on City contracts.
New York City agencies spend almost $20 billion a year on goods and services, yet the Comptroller’s office has found that less than 5% of those contracts are awarded to M/BWE firms, thwarting the City’s ability to fully invest in its businesses, build wealth in local communities, and foster competitive procurements that ensure taxpayer dollars are spent most efficiently.
“We’ve seen firsthand in the Comptroller’s Office that a Chief Diversity Officer helps break down walls and transform how agencies invest in city businesses with an eye toward equity. Without this position, we perpetuate a system that fails to build wealth in communities that have historically been left behind. It’s long past time for the City to build on its thriving economy with a Chief Diversity Officer in City Hall and at each agency,” said Comptroller Stringer.
As New York City continues to confront an affordability crisis driven by a lack of affordable housing and a local government that too often fails to listen to the voices of residents feeling that crisis most acutely, reforms to local land use policy are urgently needed.
In order to better empower communities, encourage sound planning, and strengthen the overall Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) process, Comptroller Stringer recommends the amended City Charter include the following:
- Require Community Boards to hire a full-time qualified urban planner with a degree in urban planning, architecture, real estate development, public policy or similar discipline and include the necessary budget appropriations to fund this position;
- Create a new office of long-term planning that can help growing communities foresee infrastructure challenges down the road; and
- To provide the public with greater opportunity to weigh in on the metrics used in Environmental Impact Statements, the City Charter should be updated to create a public process for reviewing the City Environmental Quality Review framework.
Building a 21st Century Government
Despite the existence of a comprehensive building code and housing regulations designed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of New York City residents, too many New Yorkers are forced to live in buildings that are dilapidated, unsanitary, or unsafe. In its current structure, the Department of Buildings (DOB) is an agency in conflict with itself in that it both approves permits for construction and enforces construction codes. Similarly, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) has to both finance and develop housing while enforcing housing standards.
To resolve this conflict, the Comptroller’s office proposes creating a new Office of Inspection, which will be responsible for all building and housing inspection and remediation. Such responsibilities should be removed from the DOB and HPD so that they can focus more on their other respective responsibilities.
Demanding Accountability & Transparency
The City’s budget and the accompanying financial plans are tools for maintaining sustainable spending and revenues, and ensuring accountability over the use of the public’s money. Yet annual budget presentations lack critical information, limiting public participation and the Council’s ability to carry out its Charter role in the budget process.
To provide more transparency in the budget process for elected officials and the public, the Comptroller’s office finds an updated City Charter must be overhauled in order to improve transparency, accountability, and control in the City budget.
In particular, the City’s capital budget, through which the City builds new schools, paves its streets, and ensures a clean and reliable water supply, needs a substantial overhaul so that the public can understand the cost and status of the capital projects that are vital to the City’s future.
Suggested reforms include:
- Structuring the capital budget to allow the public to identify and understand the cost of individual capital projects;
- Providing better and more comprehensive information about the condition of capital assets; and
- Reporting on the changes in the cost and status of capital projects.
New York City relies on a network of non-profit services providers to help meet the needs of vulnerable residents, but thousands of these non-profits go unpaid for months and are forced to deliver services without a registered contract.
In order to ensure every City agency operates with efficiency and transparency, the City Charter should be amended to give each agency with an oversight role in the procurement process a timeframe to complete its task, similar to the explicit 30-day timeframe for contract registration required for the Comptroller’s Office.
Beyond these recommendations, the report covers topics such as cybersecurity, adopting instant runoff voting, strengthening services for children citywide, and strengthening the campaign finance system, among others.
Read all of Comptroller Stringer’s sixty-five recommendations here.