Three weeks from today (Monday), Mayor Bill Finch will present his proposed budget to the City Council that will likely include a tax increase. The next night April 3rd in City Council Chambers he will launch the first in a series of public meetings defending the budget and allowing citizen input. This is the first time in more than four years as mayor that Finch will avail himself to a series of public hearings on the budget. He has good reason. Education and a commission examining charter revision will gobble up most of the mayor’s time between now and November when voters will decide proposed charter changes.
These hearings are an opportunity for the mayor to presumably link any tax increase to a renewed investment in education. Yes, taxes are increasing but we are investing the new revenue in our children’s future with a highly credentialed new superintendent of schools (Paul Vallas) with a long history of turning around troubled districts.
It’s also a way for the mayor to begin selling to voters approval of an appointed board to oversee schools.
How can you hold me accountable for education if I don’t have the power to appoint members? the mayor will reason. Well mayor, cynics will argue party hacks have chosen most of the elected Democrats through the years to sit on the board and the party hacks chose you. That’s the whole point, the mayor will respond, let’s take the politics out of it. They will not be subjected to the political process and as a result we will have a larger talent pool from which to appoint board members.
That’s when Republicans should be screaming okay we support you on opening up a larger talent pool so how about allowing voters to decide minority party representation on the City Council? The charter commission the mayor has empaneled could ask the all-Democratic City Council to place the question about minority party representation on the ballot. All charter questions must be submitted to the council for ballot approval. If the council’s going to do that there must be something in it for them, no? Maybe a charter question about compensation for council members? Phil Smith, OIB’s resident charter expert who served as point man years ago for a couple of charter revisions, says the charter already gives the council the power to set all salaries. City Attorney Mark Anastasi has taken a different position through the years, that council compensation must be approved by voters. Council members currently receive a $9,000 annual stipend in lieu of compensation.
Would Republican political leadership pledging support of an appointed BOE at the polls be enough for council members to approve the minority-party question?
Either way, the biggest challenge for the mayor will be persuading voters to entrust him to select the right candidates to sit on the ed board. This charter question, whatever form it takes, will require the mayor to reach out to a much larger pool of voters that don’t participate in local elections. The last general election turnout for mayor was about 18 percent. The last general election for president was nearly 60 percent.
Selling charter questions to voters will become a full-blown citywide campaign with money raised from the business community that supports an appointed ed board.