Council Member Ben Kallos Releases Wide-Ranging Report on Community Board Reform

New York, New York -- Council Member Ben Kallos (District Five, Manhattan) released a report today entitled, "Improving Community Boards in New York City: Best Practices in Recruitment and Appointment to New York City’s 59 Community Boards," containing dozens of recommendations for reform to New York City's community boards. Kallos' recommendations include instituting term limits for community board members, requiring applicants to disclose conflicts of interest, requiring borough presidents to report to the City Council on the appoint process, banning the appointment of members of the executive committees of political parties or political staffers from joining community boards, and creating standardized online applications for those who wish to join boards. 

The recommendations in the report, which was distributed to all 51 Council Members today, arise from testimony heard at a March hearing by the New York City Council Committee on Governmental Operations, which Kallos chairs. The hearing included testimony from New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, as well as community board chairs and district managers from all five boroughs, good government groups and youth advocacy organizations.

"New York City community boards must truly represent the community. Those of us who have been on community boards know that they can be a vital space for New Yorkers who want to express concerns or get involved in local government. But they can and must be better: more transparent, more inclusive and less political. I am looking forward to working with community boards and elected officials to implement these much-needed reforms," said Kallos.
Between April 1st and May 30th of this year, four new borough presidents and twenty one new city council members, along with their previously elected colleagues, will be making 1,475 appointments to 59 community boards spanning all five boroughs. 

At the request of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Kallos, along with Council Members Ritchie Torres and Mark Levine, has introduced a resolution support of a state bill that would lower the eligible age for serving on community boards to sixteen.

The recommendations in the report follow:

Outreach and Recruitment: Getting the Word Out
●    In compliance with the Charter, borough presidents and council members should solicit nominations from community boards, civic groups, community groups and neighborhood associations of candidates for appointment to the community board.
●    Each board should, on its own or in conjunction with the borough president, conduct a series of public information sessions to inform the neighborhoods they serve about the role of community boards as well as opportunities for participation.
●    Utilize press releases, email blasts, fliers, posters, websites, social media, as well as television news and call-in shows to announce vacancies.
●    Create an extensive public membership to build a pool of experienced and qualified applicants.
●    Request that applications be shared with members of churches, the veteran community, community-based organizations, housing and neighborhood associations, labor unions, the business community, as well as the disabled and LGBTQ communities.
●    Build individualized recruitment plans developed among borough presidents, community board chairs and City Council members.

Outreach and Recruitment: Experts
●    Efforts should be made to recruit applicants from professions and backgrounds that are helpful to community boards, including attorneys, urban planners, small business owners, union members, engineers, architects, students, and teachers.
●    Outreach to colleges and universities seeking students who, because of their academic studies, would make excellent candidates for the board.
●    Recruit individuals with strong interpersonal skills who perform well in group settings as well as those with exceptional writing talents since community boards operate by committee and communicate through resolutions, testimony, and other written documents.

Outreach and Recruitment: All Segments of the Community and Geographic Diversity
●    Establish citywide criteria for the recruitment and appointment of community board members which encourages diversity of geography, education level, race, ethnicity, age, gender, time as a member of the community, family status, as well as appropriate representation of members who live in different types of housing (including co-ops, condos, rent-stabilized and controlled stock, Mitchell-Lama buildings, and public housing), as well as those who use different means of transportation and are affiliated with a variety of community institutions and organizations.

Outreach and Recruitment: Youth Representation
●    Create youth committees on all community boards with a mandate for appointment of 16- and 17-year-olds as public members, which is currently permitted by law.
●    Revitalize community boards by amending the law to allow recruitment and appointment 16- and 17-year-olds to community boards.

Outreach and Recruitment: Demographic Data
●    Collect and open application data from applicants in order to measure the success of outreach and recruitment so that future efforts can be improved.

Outreach and Recruitment: Websites
●    Create a centralized web infrastructure, offering each community board its own fully functional website for free.

Standardized Application Process: Standard Online Applications
●    Establish a uniform, comprehensive application for all five boroughs which includes written questions requiring those seeking appointment and reappointment to explain their motivations for joining or remaining on a community board.
●    Digitize the community board application so it is available to be completed and submitted online.

Standardized Application Process: Requiring Reappointment Applications
●    End automatic reappointment by requiring written applications from those who have previously served on the board with consideration given to attendance, service, and participation.
●    Require written applications of all appointees and re-appointees by the borough presidents.

Standardized Application Process: Filling Interim Vacancies
●    Ending the filling of vacancies by borough presidents at politically convenient times by requiring appointments to mid-term vacancies within 30 days of vacancy.

Standardized Application Process: Independent Screening Panel
●    Create a formal, standard, and fair application process that includes an independent screening panel that reviews all applications before the borough president for consideration.

Standardized Application Process: Engaging Those Who Do Not Receive Appointments
●     Avoid the disappointment and missed opportunity inherent in the non-appointment letter by proposing applicants seek appointments to local boards, improvement districts, council as well as Community Board public membership.
Restoring the Public Trust: Conflicts of Interest
●    Require conflict of interest questions to be included in all applications and re-applications to ensure impartiality and transparency.

Restoring the Public Trust: Ban on Appointment of Political Leaders
●    Ban appointment to community boards of individuals who serve as executive committee members of political parties or who are on the staffs of elected officials.

Restoring the Public Trust: Mandatory Reporting
●    Require the borough presidents to issue an annual report detailing their outreach efforts.
●    Require borough presidents to report to the City Council on how they advertise and make appointments.

Restoring the Public Trust: Term Limits
●    Establish term limits of five (5) consecutive two (2) year terms which would be phased in and staggered to prevent a mass exodus of institutional knowledge.
●    Establish a uniform term limits for board members serving as chair.

The full report is available here###