Why Community Boards Need Reform and How You Should Help

The Community Board (CB) is the lowest level of representational government in New York City. Unfortunately, the functional life-long appointments have corrupted this tool for civic engagement and instead consolidated power into the hands of the few. If you’ve ever dealt with a CB, share your thoughts with the Charter Revision Commission, which is currently considering changing the rules governing how CBs function. Contact them here:

https://www1.nyc.gov/site/charter/about/public-comments.page

The Eastern Queens Greenway strongly supports Community Board term limits. We believe that the new rules should entail:

1. All Community Board members should have a term limit of 8 years (this will be a maximum of four appointments of 2 years each). Term limits should be for everyone, not just the executive committee. Good governance measures should have no exceptions. The more complicated the rules, the more room there is for political games or corruption.

2. Allowing “non-consecutive” term limits is not real reform. Just forcing a Board member to take a 2 year break won’t change the culture. Members should only receive one 8-year period to vote. If reappointment is allowed after a gap, the gap should be no shorter than 10 years to allow the culture to shift in their absence.

3. The fairest way to move to a term limit system would be to immediately remove anyone who has already served over the term limit amount. Having voting rights for (in some cases) 4 decades is more than long enough. If that is not possible, when term limits are put in place, a list should be made for each Community Board of members who are already over the limit. Each year 20% of that original list should be removed, beginning with the longest-tenured members. This will ensure that in 5 years, the term limit process is completely functional. The 5-year roll off avoids a mass exodus in any one year, although losing institutional knowledge is not a major concern since retired board members can still participate in the public comment period at Board meetings.

4. Term limits are a tool in helping our Community Boards become more representative of our communities. Whenever a Federal Census is conducted, all CB members should have to send a copy of their completed forms to the Borough President.  Sending this data to a Federal agency should be no different then sending it to a Borough agency. No individual data will be released, but tabulated data on each CB will be made public. Looking at the demographics of the CB in comparison to the community will help better understand the Board’s gaps in experience and perspective.

5. Implementing term limits will not cause Community Boards to lose institutional knowledge; it will only move long-tenured board members to the public comment period at Board meetings, when community members are given a chance to speak. Public comment periods should be given directly before any issue is voted on to ensure everyone’s voice is heard. (Currently some community boards hold public comment periods after votes, making it meaningless).

We believe these term limits are so important because of our members’ experience working with and serving on Community Boards.

We’ve seen a culture develop where long-tenured Board members become complacent, closing themselves off from any ideas that are not their own.

We’ve seen how insular Community Boards that are not representational of their neighborhoods allow bigotry and racism to influence their votes.

We’ve seen how a small number of members acting unilaterally can hold the entire Board hostage, excluding the rest of a Committee, the Board, and the public from decisions.

Our volunteers come together to create safe paths to and through our parks. Our interactions with Community Boards are generally related to improving parkland and transportation through our neighborhoods. CBs have been the major obstacle in our work to improve our neighborhood quality of life and to help save lives. We see other grassroots efforts similarly squashed at CBs when advocates don’t have a personal connection to a Board member. As a group that interacts with CBs often, we know there is much that should be done to improve these institutions. By enacting good governance procedures, like term limits, CBs can become great places to foster civic engagement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s