Council eyes term limits for community board members

Community board members would face term limits if a resolution introduced in the City Council is adopted by boards across the city.

Brooklyn council members Brad Lander (D-Park Slope), Carlos Menchaca (D-Sunset Park-Red Hook) and Antonio Reynoso (D-Bushwick) are among the lawmakers supporting the resolution introduced on April 10 by council members Ben Kallos, Jimmy Vacca and Mark Levine calling for the community boards to adopt sweeping reforms to the recruitment and appointment of members. The resolution also calls on borough presidents to adopt the changes.

The recommendations contained in Resolution 164 include term limits, recruitment efforts to attract young people, instituting independent screening panels for community board applicants and requiring conflict of interest forms to be filled out by applicants. Members seeking re-appointment would not be granted automatic renewal. Instead, their applications would be reviewed to determine if they are active participants and have good attendance records at board meetings.

The recommendations stem from a hearing of the council’s Committee on Governmental Operations, chaired by Kallos (D-Upper East Side), on March 3.

The recommendations include:

  • Term limits of five consecutive two-year terms for board members.
  • Online application and technology infrastructure.
  • Conflict of interest disclosure by all applicants.
  • Requiring reappointment applications with evaluation of attendance, service and participation.
  • Ban on political appointments; specifically staffers of elected officials and executive board members of a political party.
  •  Filling vacancies within 30 days.
  • Improved outreach and recruitment focusing on diversity, geography and experts.
  • Youth representation by 16- and 17-year olds as public members of youth committees and as full board members.

The resolution’s sponsors said they are seeking to create inclusive, apolitical boards that truly represent communities.
 
Under current law, community boards are free to set their own term limits on officers. Community Board 10 in Bay Ridge, for example, limits its chairmen to three consecutive terms in office. Community Board 11 in Bensonhurst has no term limits for officers. Most community boards do not have term limits for members.

"Term limits, conflicts of interest disclosure, youth participation and ending automatic reappointment will not only reduce absenteeism but reinvigorate our community boards with members using their precious time to improve their neighborhood," Kallos said.

“The introduction of Resolution 164 calls for vital improvements to the systems currently in place by our community boards. As a community organizer, I know that sharing best practices is the lifeline of progress, and so many of the recommendations based on this shared information would promote more transparency, diverse representation, and more accountability," Reynoso said.

The duties and responsibilities of community boards are spelled out in the City Charter. There are 59 community boards across the city, according to NYC.gov, which describes them as local representative bodies. The boards operate in an advisory capacity only, offering city officials their opinions on such things as land use or whether a bar should be granted a liquor license. Board members are appointed by the borough president of that borough. Each board has up to 50 members, all of them unsalaried and half of whom are nominated by their district's City Council members.

Each community board hires a district manager who is a paid employee and who establishes an office, hires staff, and is responsible for responding to constituent complaints and working with agencies to ensure the smooth delivery of city services such as street cleaning and trash collections. Community board staff members also process permits for block parties and street fairs.

One member of a community board in southwest Brooklyn said she agreed with the proposed changes. “I think term limits is a good idea. There are a lot of people on my board who have been there for a long time and do nothing. It would be good to get some fresh faces in,” the board member told the Brooklyn Eagle.

The March 3 hearing included testimony from New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, community board chairs and district managers, good government groups, and youth advocacy organizations.

Between April 1 and May 30, four new borough presidents and 21 new city council members, along with their previously elected colleagues, will be making 1,475 appointments to 59 community boards in the five boroughs.