By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
With regard to commissioners, the new charter does not change the basic mechanism for appointing commissioners or general managers. There is a change in the way in which commissioners are removed, and that is that the mayor can unilaterally remove commissioners. However, this is more a change in language than in practice. What we learned through study is, mayors have always had the authority to remove commissioners. The mayors who have wanted resignations of commissioners have always gotten them. We heard stories about mayors asking commissioners for undated resignation letters.
JACKIE GOLDBERG: Our current system is not perfect, by any means. But I've lived in other cities, and I will tell you that this is the cleanest big city in America, and it is the cleanest big city in America not because we're better people than live in other big cities, but because there are structural prohibitions against power being too concentrated. That's the problem with the new charter. It changes the balance of power.
People have tried to characterize this as me having a problem with Riordan. But Riordan is not the issue. He's a lame-duck mayor, and I'm going to be out of here, too. I worry because I care about this city.
KIEFFER: What is the specific change that you think we made that now turns this city council into a puppy dog to this mayor? I don't understand that.
GOLDBERG: I think that when you give to a mayor almost absolute control of the budget . . .
KIEFFER: That's not a change. In fact, we increased your . . .
GOLDBERG: Yes, but it's a combination of things. With the budget in the mayor's hands along with absolute authority to fire a commissioner, and with now needing a two-thirds vote to protect a general manager, you have concentrated too much power into the hands of one individual. You've now created a system in which a single person can do great mischief. And it would be very hard to stop him. It'd be very hard to stop a mayor. I don't think Riordan is corrupt, so I'm not worried about him. But a corrupt individual could easily tell a general manager who, among various contractors on a sole-source contract, should get the thing -- or else.
GALANTER: One thing I'd like to point out is that no one has ever, in my 12 years in office, called my office and said they had some problem with the charter. When people call their elected officials, it's not the system of government they're complaining about.
KIEFFER: They may not know what's in the document, but in the end, a document does make the difference in things like the balance of power or we wouldn't be arguing about it here. Now you and Jackie are both saying we shouldn't have taken on the document as a whole, that it should have been done piecemeal. But then we'd be left with an even more bloated document, and people in the year 2435 will be talking about a foot-thick document and people will be saying, "We can't review it as a whole, because no one will ever understand it."
GALANTER: I said to you from the beginning that I hoped your commission would go through the charter, find all the things that you felt were obsolete or incorrectly stated or simply inappropriate, and recommend one ballot proposition that those be removed from this charter. Then additions could be voted on separately.
KIEFFER: And I'm telling you that we -- the people you appointed, not a lot of dumb people -- decided that couldn't be done.
GALANTER: That's my point. We simply disagree.
KIEFFER: With all due respect, I think that you did not have the benefit of what we had to go through. If we had done what you're suggesting, you would have seen 4,000 pages of "strike out this and insert that."
WEEKLY:I'd like to get back to something Councilwoman Galanter said. How would this charter make it more difficult for the average citizen to get a problem resolved?
GALANTER: Well, in several ways. But let's start with planning decisions. Under the existing charter, if someone doesn't like what the Planning Commission does, he can appeal to the City Council. Under the new charter, there will be separate planning commissions in different parts of the city. But the appeal process is not spelled out in the charter and depends upon the council to develop an ordinance. We have no way of knowing what will be in that ordinance.
WEEKLY:What about the neighborhood councils that would be established under the new charter? Wouldn't that enhance the ability of the average citizen to be heard by the city government?
GALANTER:Today it is the case that everybody in my district feels eminently qualified to advise me. And I feel obligated to listen to them. Not necessarily agree with them, but at least listen to them, and accord them the status of advisers because they're constituents.
Under the new proposal, we will pay an additional however-many-millions it costs for a new bureaucracy. We will create a whole formal structure to mediate between the elected officials and the community, in the form of a citywide commission, like all the other citywide commissions, which will then supervise a department to oversee the councils with a general manager and a staff and offices and all those things we pay for.