Proposal 2: Civic Engagement Commission
This proposal would amend the City Charter to:
Create a Civic Engagement Commission that would implement, no later than the City Fiscal Year beginning July 1, 2020, a Citywide participatory budgeting program established by the Mayor to promote participation by City residents in making recommendations for projects in their communities;
Require the Commission to partner with community based organizations and civic leaders, as well as other City agencies, to support and encourage civic engagement efforts;
Require the Commission to establish a program to provide language interpreters at City poll sites, to be implemented for the general election in 2020;
Permit the Mayor to assign relevant powers and duties of certain other City agencies to the Commission;
Provide that the Civic Engagement Commission would have 15 members, with 8 members appointed by the Mayor, 2 members by the City Council Speaker and 1 member by each Borough President; and
Provide for one of the Mayor’s appointees to be Commission Chair and for the Chair to employ and direct Commission staff.
Shall this proposal be adopted?
Reasons to Vote "Yes"
- Civic engagement should be an integral part of being a New Yorker. Lack of centralized information about government and other opportunities for engagement can present a barrier to civic participation, especially among underserved and underrepresented groups such as people of color, youth, immigrants, people living with disabilities, and lower income communities. We need engagement at the neighborhood level that includes non-governmental entities such as community- and faith-based organizations and is in multiple languages, culturally relevant, and accessible to people with disabilities (e.g. increasing availability of materials in Braille, audio, or large print as well as having ASL interpreters at poll sites).
- The Commission will provide community boards with access to planning expertise, language assistance, and technology resources that will help them better fulfill their mission.
- The presence on the proposed Civic Engagement Commission of both mayoral and non-mayoral appointees ensures that the Commission’s efforts will remain free from political interference. The appointees will be subject to prohibitions related to their involvement in politics, which will ensure the Commission remains independent.
- Participatory budgeting has been successful in those City Council districts that have opted in, and it should be expanded and centralized. It is difficult and resource-intensive for City Council offices to oversee the process on their own, and it is unfair for participatory budgeting to be available only in some parts of the city and not in others.
- Participatory budgeting empowers voters, promotes education and responsibility, and makes political participation more inclusive and representative of the city’s demographics. It gives a voice to groups such as young students, non-citizens, and felons, who might otherwise be excluded from government processes because they are not able to vote. It also gets youth in the habit of making their voices heard by voting.
- Nearly one-quarter of all New Yorkers have limited English proficiency. Some neighborhoods consistently do not have the minimum required number of interpreters available at poll sites. In the past, ballots have been mistranslated or not provided in certain required languages. Additionally, translators have been denied entry to polling places. The proposal expands language assistance without interfering with or replicating the BOE’s existing legal mandates.
Reasons to Vote “No”
- It would create a new, redundant bureaucratic office.
- The Civic Engagement Commission should be independent and nonpartisan to avoid undue political influence from elected officials.
- The government should not be deciding what civic engagement means or instructing people on how to engage in civic life.
- Giving an unelected Commission control over staff or consultants who are assisting with the land use process (which is community boards’ most important, sophisticated, and sensitive work) would weaken the boards’ accountability and responsiveness to their members and the communities they represent.
Statements Supporting Proposal
Statements Opposing Proposal
Salli Barash, Attorney
Reduce taxes and put the money back in the hands of the taxpayers who earned it. Private savings and investment will allow people to fund those community activities they deem necessary instead of allowing professional advocacy groups to force taxpayers to fund their pet projects.
Margaret Brewer, Bookkeeper
Regarding civic engagement, I do agree with limiting the private donations, matching with public and availing sooner. I do not agree with the appointment of the 15 member commission. Having the mayor and the bp choose the "Ultimate" decision makers is alarming. Matters as such still need to be reviewed closer by "The People" to prevent often life altering, expensive, irretrievable moves by a selected few. Situations like this has served as "Bad Practice" in the past for less affluent communities.
I am voting against Civic Engagement Proposal
Citizens Union of the City of New York
Citizens Union recommends a “no” vote on proposal 2. While we support many of the goals outlined for the proposed Civic Engagement Commission, including broader language access at polling sites throughout New York City and increased civic engagement programming citywide, we believe the Commission was insufficiently thought through and lacks independence. The Commission is designed to give the Mayor a majority of seats and in doing so does not provide the requisite independence from control by any single public official. A commission with leverage over a myriad of important issues such as assisting voters at polling sites and providing technical assistance to community boards should be completely independent from the Mayor, or any political office. We believe that civic engagement would best be promoted at this point through establishing individual or pilot initiatives through the legislative process.
Sue Ellen Dodell, Attorney
There is a real need for more civic engagement in New York City, but this proposal is not the way to get it. Having a new commission dominated by mayoral appointees inevitably would inject partisanship into the proposed commission’s important tasks. Also, having mayoral-controlled commission staff or the outside consultants hired by them provide technical assistance to community boards on land use and other matters undoubtedly will lead to conflicts of interest. Further, under current law, the Mayor, the Board of Elections, and the Voter Assistance Advisory Committee perform or could perform many of the tasks proposed for the commission, including providing interpreters at poll sites and working with advocacy groups and nonprofit service providers, making several of the new commission’s proposed duties redundant and wasteful of public funds. The proposal also does nothing to address the existing problems with the Board of Elections. It would be better to provide more funding to a truly independent body, like the existing Voter Assistance Advisory Committee or the Independent Budget Office, so that they could take on more civic engagement tasks.
Richard N. Gottfried, NY State Assembly Member
“Civic engagement” is a good concept, but this proposal would undermine our ability to protect our neighborhoods from excessive development and bad proposals from City Hall. It a creates a commission controlled by the mayor, and lets the mayor move powers from any other agency to the commission.
City councilmembers are using “participatory budgeting” to get community input on what projects to fund. This would take that away and centralize it in the mayor’s commission.
It would undermine our neighborhood’s Community Board. They now get staff funding from our Borough President, Gale Brewer. Instead, the proposal would have the staff paid for by the mayor’s commission – cutting their independence.
Audrey J. Isaacs, attorney
the Public Advocate, the Borough Presidents, the Community Boards and City Council Members can encourage civic engagement. At a time when this City is attempting to stretch its budget to cover desperate needs to house the homeless, fix NYCHA buildings, provide affordable housing, and fund our educational system, our City's budget cannot afford a Civic Engagement Commission.
Lowell Kern, Treasurer VOTE NO ON 2 AND 3
The proposed Civic Engagement Commission undermines a good concept by creating mayoral control of local Community Boards, which often need to stand up to City Hall to protect neighborhoods.
Community Boards are appointed by each Borough President and our City Councilmembers and the Borough President provides resources to Community Boards, including training, land use assistance and funding for staff.
Proposal 2 would have Community Boards turn to a new Civic Engagement Commission for these resources. But the Commission would be controlled by the mayor, because he would appoint a majority of its members. So all assistance to Community Boards would be under the control of a mayoral appointee.
If a Community Board is locked in negotiations with a real estate developer about a big development project and seeks help from this mayoral appointee, is that appointee going to work with the local community or push the mayor’s development agenda? The answer is obvious.
Proposal 2 allows the mayor to transfer powers of other city agencies, including community boards, to this Commission, making it the mayor’s do-everything agency and undermining our community boards even more.
VOTE NO ON 2
Jones Addoh, MD, Physician Business Owner
Amanda Babine, Director of Programs New York Transgender Advocacy Group
Providing an inclusive process in the participation of civic engagement will ensure we as a city are truly investing in an equitable approach to serving our communities. Prioritizing a more comprehensive process in selecting community leaders will ensure the vision and mission of the Participatory Budgeting Project is being met. This more diverse perspective will lead to truly understanding what local communities need and use the money in a way that will serve the most in need.
Michael Blake, New York Assembly
I fully support the creation of the Civic Engagement commission. The recent political events of the last two years have created confusion and frustration while simultaneously creating a greater need for a better understanding of the political process. There is certainly a necessity for increased engagement and further accessibility for our Immigrant communities to be fully involved in our political process.
Collective for Community, Culture and Environment
The Collective for Community, Culture and Environment supports the establishment of the Civic Engagement Commission. Based on our experiences assisting low- and moderate-income residents and communities in shaping decisions about their environment, we feel that the proposed powers and responsibilities of the Civic Engagement Commission could, if based in an open, transparent and accountable process, provide significant help and resources to these and all NYCity communities. They would also have the potential of furthering both community and citywide goals. Measures, such as establishing a citywide participatory budgeting process, improving engagement opportunities for those with limited English, and providing community boards with additional resources and access to urban planning professionals, are clearly needed. These are important initial steps towards assuring that NYC achieves a just and equitable future
Dyaami D'Orazio, Catalyst Organizer
Participatory budgeting and partnerships with local organizations for positive community impact makes a lot of sense!!
Generation Citizen endorses all three ballot proposals because all proposals will help further our mission of ensuring that more New Yorkers of all ages and from all backgrounds engage in their local government and, by doing so, collectively strengthen our democracy. GC released a Charter Revision Commission lesson package to educate youth about the process.
Generation Citizen urges a yes vote on ballot proposal #2. GC works to ensure that every student in the United States receives an effective Action Civics education, which provides them with the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in our twenty-first century democracy as active citizens for the long-term. GC believes that civic engagement is a spectrum of activities that go beyond the ballot and voting on Election Day. New Yorkers are hungry for civic engagement opportunities and this proposal would ensure that there is a dedicated office within City government to cultivate and connect New Yorkers to those opportunities. We endorse this proposal because it would engage more New Yorkers in civic life and elevate their perspective in government decision-making, a core value for our work.
Every one of the supporting points about this proposal are vital to even the playing field for citizens in every neighborhood. I completely believe in participatory budgets - I am currently a budget delegate and I also believe having interpreters onsite would bring more comfort to our english as 2nd language citizens and more out to vote come election day.
Broader citizen participation makes our democracy more responsive to the wishes of the people. It also allows a more diverse collection of voices to be heard...that means the voices of ALL races, ethnicities, genders/sexual orientations, income levels, etc.
Our democracy is weakened when only a select few are seated at the civic table. Increased participation can chip away at the political cynicism and animosity that sometimes divide us.
Also, the best guarantor of ethical behavior among our public officials is an actively engaged citizenry.
Without citizen engagement, we have a democracy in name only. Democracy as a spectator sport loses its meaning.
We want a city that is more accountable to its residents, where there is a greater appreciation of the wonderful cultural mosaic that is New York, where no one's needs are forgotten or ignored.
To realize the greater promise of our city, we need to bring as many people as possible into the ongoing conversation that we call democracy. Establishing a Civic Engagement Commission could be one small step towards that goal.
Josh Lerner, Co-Executive Director, Participatory Budgeting Project
The Participatory Budgeting Project supports the creation of a Civic Engagement Commission because we believe that government needs to do more to engage people in our democracy. By investing in civic engagement, New York City can empower millions of residents to get more involved, step up as leaders, and help government make better decisions. This charter revision can help turn New York City into a global leader in democracy.
The Commission would create a citywide participatory budgeting (PB) program, giving New Yorkers a greater say in how our how tax dollars are spent. PB is a proven way to make political participation more inclusive, recognized around the world as a model for good government. In New York City Council’s PB program, 100,000 people have decided how to spend $40 million per year, to improve public schools, parks, streets, libraries, and housing. The charter revision would build on this success, allowing more people to make bigger decisions about the city.
Brad Lander, New York City Council Member
New Yorkers are hungry to take civic responsibilities beyond voting and jury duty. That’s why I introduced legislation to create an Office of Civic Engagement and proposed that the Charter Revision Commission put it on the ballot. And now, here it is!
The Civic Engagement Commission would support community organizations in their civic engagement work, engage New Yorkers in civic service years, support parks & library & plaza stewardship groups, expand language access at polling sites ... and expand participatory budgeting citywide.
Participatory budgeting has grown from 4 districts when we launched eight years ago to 31 today. Now, we have the chance to follow Paris & Madrid to expand participatory budgeting citywide, to tap the democratic creativity & energy of New Yorkers in every neighborhood.
At a time of record-low civic trust, a Civic Engagement Commission and citywide PB will help New Yorkers breathe new life into our local democracy. I hope New Yorkers will vote yes on this proposal.
MinKwon Center for Community Action
The MinKwon Center for Community Action supports the ballot measure to create a Civic Engagement Commission that will help increase the low levels of civic engagement and voter participation in New York.
Michael Mulgrew, President United Federation of Teachers
New York City residents know what their communities and neighborhoods need but are too often locked out of the budget process and unable to make their voices heard. This proposal would create a way for grassroots ideas and information to be turned into action.
New Kings Democrats
New Kings Democrats supports the proposal to create a Civic Engagement Commission. Civic life in New York City falls woefully short of what is needed in a thriving democracy. City residents often feel alienated from political parties and elected officials, or are simply not aware of their existence. If done well, a Civic Engagement Commission would put real resources into remedying this. By turning more eyes to the political process, that process will become more accountable and inclusive.
Too often New Yorkers feel distant from their government. Many, in particular new arrivals and young adults, are unaware of the processes of government itself. Immigrants often face language obstacles as well as a political culture that is quite different from the one that are used to.
Younger adults face their own challenges, often ones that stem from the “newness” of participation in civic life.
Establishing a Civic Engagement Commission to allow for a better understanding of how decisions are made and to bring government closer to the people is laudable and needed.
In addition to that, the Commission would provide vital language assistance to those who need it and develop tools for greater public involvement in participatory budgeting.
For the future, the City should guarantee funding for the Civic Engagement Commission, along the lines of the NYC Independent Budget Commission.
NYPIRG urges your support for Question Two.
Laila I. Patino
I am "For"
I strongly believe that in order for our communities to be better the residents have to not only know what is going on in their communities but they need to have more opportunities to be apart of the decision making in their own communities for positive change.
Regional Plan Association
RPA supports Question 2 to establish a Civic Engagement Commission. Communities across the City are looking to have more influence on decisions that impact them, particularly land use decisions and a well-resourced Civic Engagement Commission can play a crucial role in developing transparency, trust, and accountability. The powers and duties described, including city-wide participatory budgeting, technical support for civic engagement, better translation services, and expanding awareness of City services are a good foundation for this commission. We also recommend that the commission should lead a comprehensive urban planning framework for the city that can be used to inform community-based plans. The Commission should also provide planning support to community groups and boards; develop and implement community-based plans (both 197A plans and other plans); approve consultants conducting environmental reviews; review land-use proposals in the context of community and citywide goals; and ensure data across the city is consistent and readily available to the public. We do believe that one member of the commission should be appointed by the Public Advocate.
Xamayla Rose, Managing Director of Policy and Advocacy Christopher Rose Community Empowerment Campaign
Christopher Rose Community Empowerment Campaign (CRCEC) supports the City Charter Review Commission proposal to establish a Civic Engagement Commission to enhance civic engagement particularly among people who have been historically underrepresented, marginalized and or still face barriers to language access--CRCEC provides nonpartisan voter education for youth and community.
NYC Campaign Finance Board reported that in 2017 more than 51% of NYC’s new registered voters are 18-29 years old however, only a staggering 13% voted. Overall Brooklyn’s 2017 voter turnout was 25%. We believe a Commission with strategic CBO partnerships can increase civic engagement for all. We support efforts to increase language access at our polls and improved online access to resources for limited-english proficient constituents as detailed in the Mayors 2016 directive and as a function of the Commission. In East Flatbush, CRCEC experienced barriers to obtain voter education resources for Haitians with limited-english proficiency. The BOE does not distribute Haitian Creole-English forms and NYCCFB URL (https://www.nyccfb.info/nyc-votes/order/) doesn't work. NYC can do better.
William Samuels, businessman
The Charter Amendments, by further empowering small donations, make NYC a national leader in getting big money out of politics.
But that by itself does not eliminate the many barriers to citizens being able to engage their government and to have confidence that their voices can be heard.
The Charter will now formally recognize for the first time that broad citizen participation is the key to people having trust in their government and that there must be continuous action by the NYC government to eliminate all barriers to such civic engagement.
The groundbreaking Civic Engagement Commission will be tasked with developing a myriad of actions from a new Citywide participatory budgeting program to expanding language access for voters to make NYC a National leader in broad citizen participation in their government.
For more civic engagement, see https://tax.tidalforce.org/ a tool to show your taxes against others. Please add more than just participatory budgeting It is only $200 million of the ~$100 BILLION NYC budget.
George A. Zeppenfeldt-Cestero, Non-Profit Healthcare Executive
A new Civic Engagement Commission is needed in NYC not only in order to enhance civic participation, promote civic trust, insure outreach to diverse communities and strengthen democracy in NYC but also to remove the politicalization which is increasing on community boards and thereby is minimizing the voice and input of the communities which they were intended to represent. Passage of the CEC, would also insure that a community board chair is not unduly influenced by a Councilmember's personal agenda and mandate board chairs to consult with the other board elected officials such as co-chairs, and secretaries.
I would be available to serve on the CEC if approved.