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
One is the early-warning system, which says that neighborhood councils have to be given notice of the agendas of City Council committees, City Council meetings and commission meetings, and that they have to be given them as early as is practical, so that they have the opportunity to participate in those issues that affect the neighborhood. There's no such system as it exists now.
Second, the charter says that neighborhood councils may present to the mayor and the council an annual set of priorities for the city budget with regard to their neighborhoods. Another area the charter addresses is that it charges neighborhood councils with monitoring the delivery of city services in their areas, so it's a specific group in the community that can monitor how the parks are being run or how the police are serving the community.
Finally, the charter assures funding for the system of neighborhood councils, something that doesn't exist now.
GALANTER:The early-warning system is a wonderful idea and concept. If you happen to be familiar with reading documents, like agendas, they can be very informative indeed. It is also, however, expensive. The charter does not appropriate money to pay for this, or for other neighborhood-council expenses. Presumably, somebody's going to decide what their funding needs are, and that's what the charter will require.
CHEMERINSKY: Sure. The council still controls the amount of money that goes . . .
GALANTER: The mayor.
GOLDBERG: It's the mayor's budget.
CHEMERINSKY: Let's say the mayor and the council. The mayor proposes the budget, but the council has to approve the budget. There is no guaranteed level of funding for neighborhood councils. The charter simply says that funds shall be appropriated. I don't have the sense that you do that notices to neighborhood councils will be this huge cost burden.
WEEKLY: I think skeptical voters wonder whether council members opposed to the charter are only concerned that their own power would be diluted.
GOLDBERG: Well, I understand that, but I think that's just the party line of the pro-charter side. Because the reality is that, with term limits, I'm gone in two years. Ruth's gone in four. The mayor's gone in two. This isn't about this mayor or this council.
GALANTER: But it is generically a problem of who people call when they want service. Today, that's the council. Last year in my office, we got over 700 calls for street services and over 500 calls for tree trimming. They don't call the Mayor's Office. And we think it's our obligation to do something when people call up and say there's a problem about the trees or the potholes. Under the proposed charter, we'll basically have to say, "Call the Mayor's Office" or "Call the department," because the department head will be working for the mayor. Now, to some extent, the department works for the mayor now, but because of the intricate system of checks and balances, it is also the case that when somebody calls my office, I can help them.
WEEKLY: But let's look at this another way. If I have some issue with passports or the INS or something, I can call my congressman, Henry Waxman. Now, those departments aren't statutorily answerable to Waxman, but the legislator usually has some ability to get things done. Why wouldn't that be the case with the city?
GALANTER: The first reason is that there will be less money to do it with, because under the new charter they'll have to spend more money administering, just administering. The second problem is that at almost any point in history, some council members are in higher favor with the mayor than others. And for reasons that may have nothing to do with my constituent's complaint, there may be a whole lot of people in line ahead of my constituent, and I will have, I think, less ability -- partly because there are fewer resources and partly because of who you have to curry favor with -- to get things done for my constituent. It's just adding another level of who's got to be beholden to whom.
GOLDBERG:Let me add one other piece to that. Unlike Waxman, who has considerable power over the budget, we already have the least power of any legislative body in America over the budget. Under our system, we have 10 days to evaluate and pass changes to the budget. If we don't change it in 10 days, it becomes law as it was written by the mayor. That's why you've seen, over the past 20 years, probably less than $30 million changed in a budget of billions.
WEEKLY: Now back to this skeptical reader, though, the one who thinks you really only care about the dilution of City Council power. Do you support making the City Council larger?
GOLDBERG: Absolutely. I think it's too small. Much too small.
GALANTER: I think it's legitimate to ask if the council's only interested in its power. But I think the same question should be asked of the mayor.
WEEKLY: What didn't make it into the charter that the mayor wanted?
KIEFFER: One example is that the mayor wanted to appoint the city attorney and not have an elected city attorney. The mayor wanted to be able to fire department heads without any review by the City Council. We took what we believed to be a compromise position, which is that the mayor may fire department heads, but that with 10 votes, the City Council can overturn a mayoral decision. We think that strikes a balance between giving the mayor enough authority to demand accountability from department heads, but also providing for a safety valve in case he fires someone for insufficient cause.