Qchron.com Shakeups heading for community boards by Michael Gannon
A resolution wending its way though the City Council could send a seismic wave through community boards throughout the borough.
Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) wants borough presidents and Council members who make appointments to limit them to five consecutive terms; set term limits for board and committee chairmanships; and use things like meeting attendance and committee participation to end the practice of automatic reappointment.
His proposal also seeks to ban the appointment of executive board members of political parties or people serving on the staffs of elected officials.
“At this point, I’d like reform to be voluntary,” Kallos said. “[Comptroller] Scott Stringer set up a similar system when he was borough president in Manhattan. I’d like to see it spread to the other boroughs.
“Of course my appointees would have 10-year cycles and I’m term-limited to eight,” he said. “So I may not be around to see this through.”
At a meeting of Community Board 12 on April 16, Chairwoman Adrienne Adams said reform has been coming for a while.
Ever since being selected last year, and particularly since Borough President Melinda Katz took office in January, Adams has warned her members that things like attendance and participation have come increasingly under scrutiny.
Katz could not be reached for comment, but said repeatedly during her campaign that no application for reappointment would be rubber-stamped automatically. And Adams said Borough Hall has more than 300 applications.
“I’ve been telling you that there are people who want your seats,” Adams said. “It’s probably a good thing.”
Vincent Arcuri, the longtime chairman of Community Board 5, isn’t so sure.
He started by saying that he would be barred by his service on the executive board of the Queens County Conservative party. But he said it goes far deeper.
“My land use chairman has been doing a great job,” Arcuri said. “... My environmental committee chairman does an excellent job — it’s his thing. Why would I want to replace them? It seems to me that you would be throwing out a lot of institutional memory.”
Kallos acknowledged that any agreement that finally comes to a vote would have to include some sort of provision to stagger when term limits take effect to prevent Arcuri’s concern from happening.
He also said it is not yet certain just when someone’s term-limit time clock should go into effect if they already have been on a board for 10 consecutive years or longer.
Resolution 164 has 10 co-sponsors, including Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and Antonio Reynoso (Brooklyn, Queens).
Dromm, who will be facing term limits of his own should he win another election in 2017, believes the idea is worth pursuing.
“I think if not for term limits, I might not have been elected,” Dromm said in a telephone conversation this week. “I’ve supported and opposed them at one point or another, but I think they help diversity. I think people in the LGBT community have been underserved, but now [politicians] have to reach out more to communities that have been ignored in the past.”
Kallos admits that diversity is a major factor in his proposal, citing his own Upper East Side district.
“People of color have traditionally been underrepresented there,” he said.
Adams last week also cautioned her board —overwhelmingly African American — that they too eventually would have to adjust to changing demographics in Southeast Queens.
“If you look around this room, we do not look like our community,” she said.
Kallos also said diversity needs to be assured on each board in terms of race and geographic location within a district.
He said balance must include public housing, economic status, education and other factors.
Gene Kelty, chairman of CB 7, knows of the proposal but has not read it in full. He recently lost four board members, including a lawyer and an engineer, along with the expertise they brought with them.
He said the demographic balance and diversity Kallos seeks is not only desirable on a board but also necessary. But he said the Council itself has made that harder in recent years by preventing board chairmen from viewing applications before people are appointed.
“We used to be able to see them,” Kelty said. “I would want to know the geography. I might want a person of a certain occupation with certain expertise. I might want a custodian who has knowledge of certain building issues; someone in the healthcare or hospital field; a homeowner or a co-op or apartment resident.”
He said Council members will sometimes check with CB 7 to ascertain what type of applicant would be helpful.
Kelty also is not enamored with the idea of placing teenagers on the board.
“I’m glad our youth want to get involved,” he said. “Years ago we had a city-paid position of a youth coordinator whose job it was to do that kind of outreach. But some of our meetings go to 11 p.m. Do we want a board member having to leave because there’s school the next morning?”