De Blasio’s Charter Revision Commission seeks term limits for Community Boards
Neighborhood community boards are in for major changes if voters approve a series of recommendations made by the mayor’s Charter Revision Commission that stand a good chance of appearing on the ballot in the Nov. 6 election.
In an effort to increase diversity and to add new voices to community boards, the commission is calling for term limits to be imposed on members. Under the proposal, board members would be limited to four consecutive terms with each term lasting two years.
The term limits proposal, along with other possible changes to the City Charter suggested by the commission, would have to be filed with the City Clerk’s office by Sept. 7 if they are to appear on the ballot in November.
Community board members immediately pushed back, charging that imposing term limits would be a mistake.
Brian Kaszuba, a member of Brooklyn’s Community Board 10, whose catchment area includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Fort Hamilton, said he strongly opposes the idea.
“I agree that we need to promote diversity, but I don’t think term limits is the way to do it. You would be losing people who have a lot of institutional knowledge about city government,” Kaszuba told this newspaper. He has been a board member for five years.
Community boards, technically speaking, have virtually no clout to stop the city from moving forward with controversial projects. But the city does rely on them to provide important feedback on local issues.
Board members, who are unpaid, are appointed by the borough presidents with input from City Council members and serve two-year terms. There currently is no limit on the number of years they can serve.
Councilmember Justin Brannan, a Democrat representing Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst, said he is open to the idea of term limits if it leads to more diversity.
“Members who have institutional knowledge and experience are great assets to our community boards. That said, I am open to the concept of term limits as a way of balancing that institutional knowledge with fresh ideas and perspectives,” he told this newspaper via email.
Many of Brooklyn’s community boards have members who have been there for decades.
There are 59 community boards in New York City, 18 of them in Brooklyn. Each board represents a geographic area usually comprised of two or three neighborhoods. Their district lines are contiguous with the boundary lines of police precincts; some have two precincts within their boundaries (in Brooklyn, CB 6 and CB 18 each cover two precincts).
Established in 1963, the boards have up to 50 members each. Their primary role is to serve as liaisons between local residents and city agencies. The boards advise city agencies on land use matters and other issues.
The boards also issue recommendations to the New York State Liquor Authority on whether the SLA should grant a liquor license to a bar or restaurant in that district.
Local boards are often tasked with voting on recommendations on zoning changes and other complex issues, sometimes under a tight time limit, according to Kaszuba, who is Board 10’s Zoning Committee chairperson. He contended that it is important to have experienced hands available to help guide newcomers on the city’s byzantine rules and regulations.
But the lack of racial and ethnic diversity on community boards is a serious issue, according to a recent report issued by the commission. The need for diversity was a common theme among New Yorkers who testified at public hearings held by the panel.
“Many commentators to the commission contended that repeated re-appointment of the same members has resulted in community boards lacking sufficient ideological or demographic diversity, and that the membership of community boards may no longer reflect the changing community districts that they serve. Members of the public observed that the leadership of some community boards is racially homogenous and not reflective of the diversity of the community district,” the report reads.
Some boards have undertaken efforts on their own to increase diversity among their ranks.
On Brooklyn’s CB 11, which covers Bensonhurst, Bath Beach and Mapleton, for example, Chairperson William Guarinello and District Manager Marnee Elias-Pavia have spent the past few years reaching out to the growing Chinese and Guatemalan populations in the area to try to convince newcomers to apply for board memberships.
CB 10 isn’t having any trouble attracting fresh faces, according to Kaszuba, who said the board has experienced a near-50 percent turnover in membership over the past several years. “Twenty new people have been appointed since I joined the board in 2103,” he said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed a charter revision commission to look at ways to increase public participation in city government. Charter revision commissions are organized every few years to take a look at how city government functions and to offer ways to improve it.
If voters approve of the proposed changes, the changes are added to the City Charter.
The City Charter is akin to a Constitution. It is the document that lays out the structure and function of New York City’s government.
The current commission is also calling for the creation of a citywide Civic Engagement Commission that would help expand the participatory budgeting program citywide and provide technical assistance to community boards.
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