Yoon: Create commission to overhaul structure of city government

Sam Yoon, speaking to a group of bloggers tonight, says he would start a formal process to changing the city's current strong-mayor system.

Yoon says city government under the control of a "strong" mayor is not working and that after 100 years of the system, it's time for a more democratically run city.

A charter commission would take 12 to 18 months to recommend changes to the city charter - essentially, its constitution.

Charter reform "is something I'm really excited about," he says. "We haven't had a real debate about our charter since 1909. ... I think it's worth absolutely working on. Does [the current system] really fit way our city is in the 21st century. No other city works like this."

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    Create civilian review board for police

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    Yoon would create a board, with subpoena powers, to investigate possible wrongdoing by Boston Police. The board would then make recommendations to the police commissioner on any actions.

    Yoon said "there are stories upon stories [about problems], a lot of them coming out of the African-American community, cases of abuse or unsolved crimes."

    The purpose of the board would not be to condemn police but as part of a process that would work to restore community trust in the department that has, he said, eroded over the years. He pointed to a guy he saw driving around Roxbury the other day in an SUV with a sign about how his son was killed and Boston Police won't talk to him.

    In addition, Yoon also called for "a top to bottom review" of how the department is run and would work toward "a police department that looks like the face of Boston" in terms of diversity.

    "It's a little premature" to say whether he would ask current Commissioner Ed Davis to stay on. He said he has a good relationship with Davis and that Davis has been a vocal advocate of the community policing he also supports.

    Sam's Plans

    Good stuff. Thanks Adam.

    i have some questions. Was this on a conference call or in person? Did Sam reach out to particular bloggers or is it open to all bloggers?

    [size=9]www.[color=#FF0000]C[/color][color=#FF9933]O[/color][color=#CC00CC]L[/color][color=#339900]O[/color][color=#3300CC]R[/color] OF CHANGE.org Sign the petition![/size]

    Meeting

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    Was at Flash's on Stuart Street. No idea whom they asked, but besides me, there was Mike Ball of Marry in Massachusetts, Adam Pieniazek of his eponymous site and Rick and Kerry from Bostonist.

    For the record, I had two club sodas and two quesadilla slices, for which the Yoon folks picked up the tab.

    Hi anon, I was there too and

    Hi anon, I was there too and it seemed this was aimed as a small test. It went well on both sides and they ended the talk hinting at future, larger blogger gatherings.

    Politics aside, think it's a great idea to reach out to Boston bloggers. There's a ton of us out there who are offering ideas and opinions and it's nice to see a government representative who reads our blogs (Yoon mentioned a few lesser known blogs & bloggers during the talk -- wonder what his RSS feed looks like) and is willing to meet to discuss those ideas.

    Big assumption on the Councilor's part

    " ... they ended the talk hinting at future, larger blogger gatherings."

    He's either very confident or he's not looking at the calendar - the preliminary's in two weeks!

    Bring back some elected school-committee members

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    Yoon said part of his municipal overhaul would be to seek a School Committee with some elected members.

    "All of the [current] School Committee members individually are great, but they're not moving us to transformational change," and they're afraid to truly challenge the mayor like elected members would, unlike elected members, who could tell the mayor "I don't work for you and I'm going to challenge you on the issue."

    He said he would still want to appoint some committee members to ensure all sorts of views and technical skills were represented.

    And he said he would give individual schools and principals greater say in local school governance. As a former math teacher himself, he said truly good education comes from the efforts of the principals, teachers and parents in individual schools, not downtown.

    He said BPS absolutely wasted several months trying to push a five-zone assignment system that could have been better spent on other issues. The energy expended on the now shelved plan was "a waste, a complete waste."

    Payments in lieu of taxes by non-profits

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    Yoon said there were two issues with the current PILOT program under which local non-profit concerns (and Massport) make payments to the city.

    One is that nobody outside the mayor's office or the BRA (which Yoon would eliminate) knows how current payments get set - for example, why Harvard and Massport pay millions each year but Northeastern pays under $100,000. "That has to change," either by coming up with a set formula for determining payment amounts or by opening up the whole process to public scrutiny.

    The other is the question of whether, in the aggregate, they are paying enough. Yoon said City Hall secrecy again means nobody knows for sure, but his sense is that they should be paying more - even if you throw in "in kind" contributions, such as scholarships and public access to non-profit facilities.

    Colleges and hospitals

    Everyone loves the idea of billing the colleges and (less so) hospitals but know one's mentioned that, if we bill not-for-profit landowners, we'll be hitting up every organization from the Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Science, Aquarium, to WGBH-TV for money.

    Expect to see Big Bird and Elmo at City Hall the minute any change (or tightening) is proposed.

    And what would he do with it?

    By on

    I've been arguing for several years that new taxes (like increased PILOT, meals, hotels, parking, event tickets etc) in Boston are a good thing with one giant HOWEVER.

    HOWEVER, that money should be an offset to property taxes (preferably residential taxes which are regressive as opposed to commercial which are based on income and therefore progressive). I recently testified in favor of the meals/hotel tax ONLY if it were used for one of two purposes - as an offset to existing taxes or as an offset to our future retirement commitments (I believe the BMRB puts this unfunded obligation at about $3 billion).

    If I heard correctly, during the testimony on the meals/hotel tax, Councilor Feeney cited a BMRB study that showed that Boston's reliance on property taxes was almost triple the next closest US city. Like any financial entity we need to diversify our revenue streams and asking the not-for-profits to pony up a reasonable sum for public safety, administration, schools etc. is perfectly fair - or they are welcome to field their own police and fire department, maintain their own road frontage, cease incremental construction etc.

    Prop 2 1/2 puts a great check on overzealous government spending and leaves the total burden on the residents where it belongs - in the hands of the payers - not the spenders - via an override if necessary. My concern with Yoon (and possibly Flaherty who is a big proponent of increased PILOT) is that he loves new taxes for new programs - but there is plenty of money flowing through the city's coffers to provide reasonable service levels without incremental new taxes.

    Open source as a model for government

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    Adam Pieniazek, a Web-site developer by trade, asked Yoon if government could learn anything from the open-source movement.

    Yoon said definitely. "Information in this day and age should be free and open to all. There's a real pragmatism behind that. ... The wisdom of crowds." He pointed to DataSF, a site that lets developers download all sorts of key data about San Francisco, so that they can build new applications to measure city performance.

    And he said he would install a 311 system, to give residents an easier number to remember, and one where calls don't end with a reminder of the mayor's name and to give the city a better way to measure its performance. He said replacing the current ten-digit number with 311 would quickly pay for itself through increased efficiencies based on analyzing the results of responses to calls.