For starters, the members are appointed by elected officials. We've heard many stories of community board members losing their post because the fell afoul of one local elected officials or another, whether it be clashing over an issue or something as simple as a personality conflict.
And community boards can be a good way for those with political aspirations to begin to get their name in the public discourse for a future run at office.
But did one community board in Queens wade too far into the political waters?
The Charter Revision Commission has submitted a proposal to add a referendum on the November ballot that would place a term limit on the tenures of community board members.
Those in favor of a term limit argue that a handful of long-serving members begin to consolidate control of the community board, stifling voices and undermining the community involvement the boards were meant to foster.
There is also the potential for corruption. Numerous land use issues come before the community board, many on behalf of individual developers looking to bend zoning regulations for their project.
While a community board's vote is non-binding, having the support of the board is still a significant asset for a developer when they make their case to the agency or legislative body that has the final say.
In response to the Charter Revision Commission proposal, the leaders of Community Board 7, which includes neighborhoods in northeast Queens, drafted a resolution calling on “all NYC Community Boards to pass similar resolutions in opposition to this Ballot Proposal and ask all their Elected Officials and Communities at large to oppose this proposition on the November 8, 2018 ballot.”
That was on September 17. Four days before that, the City Corporation Counsel sent a memo to community board offices reminding members that, while it is okay for boards to education members of the public in a neutral fashion, “it is unlawful and inappropriate for a community board, acting as a community board, to take a position in favor of or against a Charter Revision Commission proposal.”
In fact, the memo clearly stated that unlawful behavior would include “adopting a resolution supporting or opposing such a proposal,” which is pretty much exactly what the executive committee of Community Board 7 did.
Now a member of the board, John Choe, has sent a letter to the chair of the Conflicts of Interest Board calling on the agency to investigate board chair Gene Kelty, district manager Marilyn McAndrews, and vice chairs Chuck Apelian, Warren Schreiber, Frank Macchio and Barbara McHugh.
“By engaging in partisan activity to influence an election, CB7's executive committee not only undermine their own credibility and oath to serve the public, they potentially put at risk the integrity of the entire community board system,” Choe said in a statement.
Ultimately, Choe argues that the executive committee improperly used taxpayer money to influence an election. No word yet on any investigation by the Conflicts of Interest Board, but this might make for some tension at the October meeting.