De Blasio’s racial justice commission to vote on potential vote proposals for city charter changes

Deputy Mayor Phil Thompson (Photo: Ed Reed / Mayor’s Office of Photography)

The racial justice commission convened by Mayor Bill de Blasio to revise the city’s charter in search of greater racial equity is nearing the end of its work and is considering several proposals that could end up on the ballot of the general election of 2022. The committee will vote on these proposals on December 3 – whatever it adopts will be binding and will appear in the ballot next year – and publish its final report on December 13.

The ideas are broad changes to city government and its mission, and include adding a preamble to the city charter, creating a new racial equity office and imposing a city-wide equity plan, establishing a new measure of the true cost of living in the city, strengthening oversight in existing institutions and creating a new racial equity commission and a watchdog to ensure that the objectives of the other proposals are respected.

The 11-member commission, created by the mayor in March, has held dozens of town halls and contribution sessions to hear from New Yorkers on structural racial inequalities in all fields, from city services, to education and from housing to the criminal justice system, to government representation. and responsibility. At its last public meeting, on November 22, the commission outlined its next steps and discussed the various proposals that could lead to its final report.

“We know that this set of proposals will not do all it can to dismantle racism and bring greater fairness,” Jennifer Jones Austin, chair of the commission, said at Monday’s meeting. “But we think we’ve done enough work and we’re laying the groundwork to start dismantling inequalities and basically putting in place a system that creates opportunities and brings better power sharing and access for everyone.”

At least one commissioner feared, however, that the deadline for voting on the proposals was too short. “In some ways, if we go to December 13, we’re going to end up with an up or down vote, as opposed to a timeline to facilitate ideas that might come up that might lead to a better product, and even a better one. coalition around an agreement on what this product could become, ”said Darrick Hamilton, founding director of the Institute on Race and Political Economy at The New School.

The proposed preamble to the Charter is an ambitious statement of the city’s values ​​and would express a “vision for a racially fair city,” according to the commission’s documents. It would include a recognition that the city was built on the displacement of the indigenous Lenape people and would recognize the historic wrongs that continue to cause damage to this day. This would express the intention to “rebuild, revise and reinvent” the structures, institutions and laws of the city in order to advance equity. The preamble would generally guide the interpretation of the Charter, although it does not form the basis of a private right of action by an individual.

A second proposal would create a new racial equity office that would coordinate with all city agencies to create individual equity plans that would be included in a two-year city-wide equity plan created by the mayor. . The new office would also oversee a standing interagency racial inclusion and equity working group and help agencies address racial equity gaps.

The office would be responsible for creating a city-wide access design program to improve access to city services and programs, and would disseminate rules on occupational segregation, salary segregation, and hiring and employment. fair promotion. It would also be responsible for collecting and publishing data on equity indicators.

The mandated city-wide equity plan would be based on the newly created preamble, outlining specific goals, indicators and actions to track disparities in outcomes. It would include several required elements, including plans to fight pay equity and wage segregation, the implementation of the new “true cost of living”, efforts to use alternatives to punitive enforcement, accessibility and linguistic access, an equitable distribution of resources, among others. The plan is expected to be approved by the new Racial Equity Commission, a community-run body, and the city’s budget is also expected to align with the new plan.

Some members of the commission expressed concern that a requirement that the new city-wide equity plan must be approved before the city’s budget can be passed interferes with the the city’s already complicated budget process. “City council is really their job to represent the constituents and vote on the budget,” said Phil Thompson, deputy mayor for strategic policy initiatives.

Henry Garrido, vice chairman of the committee and executive director of the DC 37 municipal union, noted that the state’s Financial Control Board also approves the city’s budget each year, as it has since the fiscal crisis. from the 1970s. “I wonder if something that interferes with another part of the process can delay this in a way that can affect the financial control board approving or disapproving part of the budget,” he said.

“Equity planning is a new thing,” Thompson also added, agreeing with Commissioner Hamilton that the commission needs more time to analyze its proposals. Their concerns hint at the rushed nature of the commission that de Blasio created, giving him a massive mandate to act on short notice before he leaves office at the end of the year. “I think we are literally years away from understanding what equity planning would mean, because equity planning in the Department of Transportation will be very different from an equity plan for [Office of Management and Budget]. “

Putting in place equity plans for dozens of municipal agencies, he said, would be a “huge task and a learning process that will take some time.” No city, to my knowledge, has ever undertaken something like this on a global basis, so … there isn’t much to do in terms of past experience.

The agencies’ individual racial equity plans would be based on a series of criteria, including ending discriminatory occupational segregation and wage segregation; end inequalities in access to services and decision-making; limit the use of criminal history and background checks; the use of alternatives to punitive enforcement; and prioritize the distribution of resources to communities with the greatest needs and disparities while avoiding overloading neighborhoods.

The “true cost of living” proposal would institute a new metric to calculate the spending needs of New Yorkers and would be included in the city-wide equity plan, poverty rate reports, Mayor’s management report and the report on social indicators. The new measure, which is larger than the federal poverty measure, would help the city more accurately determine the real needs of New Yorkers for municipal services and support programs to determine budget and spending decisions.

The commission recognized early on that its proposals would be meaningless without bite. Therefore, he proposed the new Racial Equity Commission, headed by an independent chair and with full-time staff, with commissioner appointments distributed among elected officials. The majority of commissioners would be people not appointed by the mayor, similar to the structure of the Civilian Complaints Commission.

The Racial Equity Commission would give community members “with equity expertise and lived experience” the opportunity to set goals for the city and assess progress toward racial equity. It would approve the city-wide racial equity plan, propose equity outcome indicators, and monitor agency compliance, among other roles.

Finally, an independent racial equity watchdog would provide final oversight of the city’s performance in achieving racial equity. The office would create a “politically neutral” application for fairness plans, assess the exacerbation of results, audit agencies and be able to use secret testers, receive whistleblowers and public complaints about the non-compliance and to conduct investigations based on complaints.

The Racial Justice Commission is also seeking to strengthen specific agencies for greater accountability. He proposed giving the Board of Correction the ability to bring an administrative action against the Department of Correction in a judicial body such as the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.

Another proposal would expand the jurisdiction of the CCRB to allow proactive investigations of police misconduct, a measure the city council is already attempting through legislation. The Human Rights Commission would be expanded with a guaranteed minimum budget or staffing level linked to the size of the city’s workforce. The Equal Employment Practices Commission would be integrated into Racial Equity Watchdog to give it stronger enforcement powers.

The commission would also give all entities overseeing a single agency the power to require the agency to publish data and records. All entities overseeing the implementation of a single law would be able to require any municipal body to publish data on compliance with that law.

All of these proposed measures will be considered in the coming weeks by the Racial Justice Commission and all, some or none may be listed by the commission on the ballot for the 2022 general election.

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