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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - (Updated August 10, 2010)

Contact:
Eric Friedman
(212) 382-6754
Kathryn Inman
212-382-6656

New York City Bar Association Urges Charter Commission to Propose Longer Terms for City Council Members Than for Mayor to Balance Authority

Advises More Study and Voter Education on Term Limits and Consolidation of Tribunals

Update: on August 10, 2010, The City Bar issued a further statement regarding consolidation of City tribunals which may be read here.

New York, July 28, 2010 – In a statement  responding to the July 9, 2010 Preliminary Staff Report and Recommendations of the 2010 Charter Revision Commission, the New York City Bar Association urges the Commission to propose at least three four-year terms for City Council members. The City Bar also believes that this issue, as well as the issue of whether to consolidate various New York City tribunals into one agency, should not be rushed onto the November ballot, because more study and voter education are needed on them.

The City Bar’s statement follows its recommendations to the Commission earlier this month.

Longer terms for City Council members are necessary, the City Bar believes, to act as a check and balance on Mayoral authority. “The Mayor is by far the most visible and powerful member of New York City government,” the statement reads. “It is precisely for that reason that the City Council members need sufficient time in office to be an effective check and balance on Mayoral authority. Legislators need time to develop the substantive and political expertise to counterbalance the Mayor’s significant authority and presence. Nor is the City well served by legislators that, due to term limits, are constantly focused on their next political office, and hence more interested in politics than policy.”

The statement expresses concern that the public has not been made sufficiently aware that it is possible to implement different term limits for different offices, or what the benefit of that would be. “Without this knowledge, it will be impossible for the public to make an informed choice on election day,” reads the statement. “Indeed, the dominance of the focus on the Mayor in any public consideration of the term limits question may even counsel in favor of the Commission’s writing two separate questions on term limits—one for the Mayor and one for the Council—should it choose to include both. We urge the Commission to change course and study more thoroughly the special considerations attendant to legislative term limits before making any proposals that would affect them.”

The City Bar believes more time is also needed for examination, discussion and voter education on a proposal in the Commission’s Preliminary Report that would allow for the consolidation of the various New York City tribunals into one agency. Specifically, the proposal envisions an amendment authorizing the Mayor to transfer the adjudicatory functions of various tribunals under the umbrella of a single tribunal/agency, such as the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH).

“[M]eaningful changes to the City’s administrative justice process require a careful consideration of the diverse interests and policies of the City’s agencies,” the statement reads. “Thousands of administrative hearings are conducted annually by New York City and its agencies in a variety of specialized tribunals. These tribunals employ vastly different processes. The Association believes it may be difficult for the Commission to obtain, analyze and reflect on the information required to effectuate a consolidation of the City’s tribunals within the time frame for the 2010 ballot. In particular, we recommend studying the consolidation of ECB with OATH to understand best practices and processes.”

The City Bar’s statement commends the Commission for acknowledging that many proposals require more study, and advises that the Commission not rush its work to place proposals on the 2010 ballot. “Allowing for extra time will vastly strengthen the end product, at the same time increasing public confidence in the Commission’s integrity and its interest in hearing the public’s opinion,” reads the statement.

About the Association

The New York City Bar Association (www.nycbar.org) was founded in 1870, and since then has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the profession, promoting reform of the law, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.