New York City

Voters demanded transparency. All 5 borough presidents are late to deliver.

The BPs say City Hall failed to provide guidance — but a good government group calls that a "bad excuse."

August 21, 2019 Sam Raskin
Borough President Eric Adams has approved three Brooklyn affordable-housing projects. Photo: Paul Frangipane/Brooklyn Eagle
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All five of New York City’s borough presidents failed to meet a voter-imposed deadline to deliver information about community board representation and the member selection process — and they say it’s because they didn’t know where to send their reports.

The borough presidents faced a July 1 deadline to submit to the mayor and City Council speaker — and post on their own websites — the demographic composition of their community boards’ membership, along with other information on the appointment process. The provision was added nearly 10 months ago to the City Charter following a 2018 ballot proposal overwhelmingly supported by voters. The charter defines the organization, powers and functions of city government.

More than a month past that deadline, the borough presidents say they have not created the reports or posted them to their websites because City Hall hasn’t told them to whom the report should be addressed.

“I don’t understand why they’re saying that because they haven’t gotten anybody in the mayor’s office to send it to, they don’t have the information,” said Betsy Gotbaum, executive director of good government group Citizens Union, which supported the ballot measure. “If that is really true, that’s bullshit, frankly.”

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It remains unclear if the borough presidents have compiled the data necessary for the report. And while the borough presidents say City Hall has not been specific enough about where to send the information, the measure is clear on what community board data the officials need to collect.

The past-due report is meant to include “demographic information about community board members that was voluntarily disclosed, in aggregated and anonymous form,” according to an executive summary of the ballot measures. The charter outlines that the borough presidents are required to submit the number of open community board positions, the number of people who apply for vacant community board spots and the number of applicants interviewed for them, among other information.

The five borough presidents explained on Monday in a joint letter to a City Hall official that they were unable to meet the July 1 deadline, which passed seven weeks ago.

They wrote that since “there is no identifiable person, office, or specific unit that is able to receive the data and to whom the information should be addressed,” the borough presidents were “unable to provide the information needed” by July.

“Additionally, some of our offices outreached to the offices of the Mayor and to the New York City Civic Engagement Commission, respectively, to attain the aforementioned information,” the letter—addressed to community affairs commissioner Marco Carrión and obtained by the Brooklyn Eagle—continued. “To date, they have received no response to their overtures seeking assistance. Our offices are, therefore, seeking clarification and guidance from the city on how these reports should be submitted as the charter amendment does not provide clear instructions.”

A mayoral spokesperson told the Eagle that the borough presidents “should submit their reports to Commissioner Carrión.”

“We are in touch with them to let them know that is where they should direct their reports,” the spokesperson, Seth Stein, said Monday.

Citizens Union’s Gotbaum said not knowing where to send the information is a “bad excuse” for the borough presidents not having already compiled the information and posted it online.

“They’re supposed to collect the information, as per the charter,” Gotbaum said Wednesday. “Why isn’t it on the borough presidents’ websites?”

The new community board provision was part of the third of three Charter Revision Commission ballot proposals, which were all given the thumbs up by more than 60 percent of New Yorkers who cast their ballots. (Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2018 commission is not to be confused with the City Council’s 2019 body, which will put forward ballot measures to be voted on in November of this year).

The city’s 59 community boards weigh in on matters like liquor licenses, land-use proposals and bike lanes. The third ballot measure — which also imposed term limits on the boards’ members — was in part aimed at ensuring the city’s community boards truly reflect the neighborhoods they represent.

In the commission’s final report, released in September 2018, commissioners said the community board measure would provide “greater transparency and uniformity in the process for appointing members to community boards.”

During Charter Revision Commission testimony given at hearings throughout 2018, the commissioners heard feedback that suggested “aspects of the current process are sometimes opaque and inconsistent across boroughs, which creates a perception among some members of the community that the process is not fair or merit-based,” the report reads. This phenomenon “detracts from public confidence in community boards and discourages new applicants,” the commission said.

But New Yorkers will have to wait longer for those goals to be realized, since the borough presidents haven’t submitted their reports.

A spokesperson for Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who was the sole borough president to support the third ballot measure, said the office is in the process of compiling the information that would be included in the report. The spokesperson added that the format with which to submit the community board demographics was unclear, and that it wouldn’t make sense to disclose the required materials in a “piecemeal” fashion.

“This is the first time we’ve ever been required to compile this data, so we’re just flying blind at the moment, and we haven’t gotten much clarity from the mayor and the speaker’s office about how we’re going about it,” said the Adams rep. “The fact that you’re hearing from every single borough president office that it’s not workable … speaks to the need for more clarity.”

In a statement, Adams said that his office “has been committed to recruiting the best candidates for community boards throughout the borough, who reflect the diversity of the neighborhoods they represent.”

“We have also championed reforms to encourage the addition of new, fresh voices,” Adams, a mayoral candidate, said Tuesday. “As we indicate in our letter, all borough presidents agree that the new rules regarding the data required by the city are currently vague and unclear. We want to work in partnership with the council and the administration to ensure community boards are best able to serve their communities.”

Alina Suriel, a spokesperson for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, said that when the borough presidents get “guidance from the mayor’s office,” the borough president “will provide all of the information on the Bronx community boards as required by the charter.”

“In addition, all of the information will be posted on our website. We are simply waiting [to do] so until there are uniform guidelines of policy with regard to the compliance of all five BP’s offices,” she added.

A spokesperson for Queens Borough President Melinda Katz’s told the Eagle the office is awaiting the information from City Hall, but did not say if the data had been gathered or explain why it had not been posted to the borough president’s website.

“Information required pursuant to the City Charter will be provided upon clarification and guidance from the City on how these reports should be submitted,” said Katz spokesperson Michael Scholl.

A spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer — who launched a campaign to defeat two of the three ballot measures, including the community board-related one — did not provide an on-the-record response to the Eagle’s inquiries, but pointed to a list of Manhattan community board members that was already on the borough president’s website.

A spokesperson for Staten Island Borough President Jimmy Oddo did not return requests for comment.

Sam Raskin is a freelance reporter who lives in Brooklyn. He has written for Curbed New York, Politico New York, Gothamist, BuzzFeed News, Gotham Gazette and Bklyner. You can follow him on Twitter.

Additional reporting by Ned Berke.

Clarification (2:58 p.m.): A previous version of this post indicated that information came directly from Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. It did not; it came from a spokesperson in her office. The article has been amended, and the Eagle regrets the confusion.

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  1. Edward Jaworski

    indeed, it took me over 10 unsuccessful attempts to gain appointment to Brooklyn CB15. And, each time I make motion for members to stand, identify selves by name and what specific neighborhood and organization they represent, they refuse. Appears most follow marching orders from clubhouses. They refuse to address all the illegal building going on.