Community Board 7 Opposes Term Limits, as City Tries to Bring in New Blood

Community Board 7 Chair Roberta Semer argues against term limits at the September Full Board Meeting.

By Alex Israel

In a letter addressing the New York City Charter Revision Commission, Community Board 7 expressed opposition to a proposed City Charter amendment that would place term limits on community board members. The city is looking to add new voices to community boards, which have been known to reappoint the same people year after year.

But several officials have pushed back against the proposed rules. CB7’s letter follows testimony from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, as well as the Borough Presidents in Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island, who have all vocalized their concerns for the implementation of term limits for community board members as well as the creation of an external Civic Engagement Commission.

As it stands, the five boroughs are broken into 59 districts, each with their own Community Board. Fifty board members, appointed through a joint effort between each district’s Borough President and City Council Members, serve as volunteers for a two-year term with unlimited opportunity for reappointment.

Following a period of public outreach, the commission charged with reviewing New York City’s Charter proposed that it be amended to limit community board members to serving no more than four consecutive terms. According to a press release from the Commission, the amendment aims to “help make community boards more reflective of the communities they represent and more effective in that representation.”

CB7 isn’t buying that justification. In their letter, they argue that a four-term limit “will weaken the ability of Community Boards to stand toe-to-toe with developers and others seeking the City’s approval for their projects.” They also claim that the City’s perception of a lack of membership turnover is “a myth,” pointing to a 60% turnover rate in the last five years.

CB7 Chair Roberta Semer, who introduced the letter at the September Full Board Meeting, advocated strongly against the idea of term limits. During a discussion session, Semer and other board members repeatedly pointed to the importance of retaining people with “institutional knowledge,” especially for particularly complex board functions regarding land use, transportation, education, parks, and preservation.

If the amendment passes, “A huge chunk of people on the community boards who have knowledge about land use and other issues would automatically be off the board,” Semer warned. With a four-term limit, she claims by the time new members develop this knowledge, they’ll be “term-limited off the board.”

Neither the community board nor Gale Brewer’s office responded to questions from West Side Rag about how many of the current members of CB7 have been there for more than four terms. According to Semer, in the last two years, they’ve had 14 new members appointed. Community Board 7 has historically drawn among the largest pool of applicants in the city, and the vast majority of them don’t get appointed (nine of the 79 applicants made it in 2014, for instance).

Citywide amendments regarding community boards and more are set to appear on the General Election Ballot in November. For more information on the amendments proposed to the City Charter, visit the Commission’s site.

NEWS | 16 comments | permalink
    1. Harold says:

      Really? Against term limits? Really?
      These folks are the worse kind of politicians. They want to stay in their seats forever, never be accountable, for when you’re in, it’s hard to get you out.
      Same for congress, senate, all of them.
      The other day, senator Leahey, who I like by the way, said at the hearing that he’s been in DC for over 40 years!
      Enough is enough, and term limits is important enough to pass a vote for it.
      Shame on board 7.

      • W 67th St says:

        These CB members give their time and energy to invest in their communities, and receive no compensation in return. How can you say they’re the worst kind of politicians? We should be thanking them for their service.

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          “Amen” to W. 67th street. the commenter apparently isn’t aware of what a Community Board is.

      • Aaron Biller says:

        Perhaps direct election of community board members, with districts subdivided to ensure that there is representation from every corner of the CB district. This might help encourage accountability for decisions, with members more inclined to listen to their neighbors rather than the few politicians who make the appointments, where loyalty is expected.

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          you are asserting that CB7 isn’t an independent body? there is no history of that.

          how could we possibly directly elect 50 people?

    2. B.B. says:

      “CB7 Chair Roberta Semer, who introduced the letter at the September Full Board Meeting, advocated strongly against the idea of term limits. During a discussion session, Semer and other board members repeatedly pointed to the importance of retaining people with “institutional knowledge,”….”

      Those pretty much were the same arguments by then mayor and city council against NYC elected office term limits. The thing passed and the city survived.

      Rudy G. essentially made the same arguments post 9/11/01 in order to remain for a third term. Happily New Yorkers saw common sense and again, the city survived.

      Sadly Bloomberg and Quinn did succeed in partially gutting term limits for their own (and large part of current city council’s) benefit. But both paid a high price.

      Bloomberg was shocked at just how close a race his third term was; so once returned to office chastened and rebuked the man had to back “reforming” the term limit reforms he pushed through.

      Christine Quinn perhaps suffered greatest as her role in over turning term limits along with a host of other issues (such as failing to prevent Saint Vincent’s from becoming one large real estate deal), proved the public does not forget, and she lost the thing held most dear; becoming mayor of NYC.

    3. Sid says:

      “Institutional knowledge” is valuable, but also a great way to dissuade others from participating. It’s a community board, and these people are holding on to their minimal power for dear life. I highly doubt that if we can turn over a president every four years, that we can’t do the same for a community board. What if Obama held onto power indefinitely because he possessed “institutional knowledge”? We need to move forward, and recruit a fresher and more diverse Community Board.

    4. GrumpyOldMan says:

      Institutional memory is a euphemism for maintenance of the status quo! Correct me if I am mistaken, but the revision would limit a community board member to 4 terms of 2 years each. The hue and cry raised by CB7 is certainly not a testament to participatory democracy. Do the sitting members of CB7 truly believe only they are worthy of advocating for the district? Their response gives credence to the notion that liberal elites love the forest but the trees in that forest, not so much. It is that conceit that has given rise to the challenges now facing our democracy.

      • Sherman says:

        You’re correct. Anybody whose politics are to the right of Bernie Sanders likely has zero chance of making it to CB7.

      • Pedestrian says:

        Institutional memory is crucial to understand the incremental changes both for good and ill in the neighborhood. Stripping the CB of that resource is just another way to less a CB’s ability to full assess proposals.

    5. Leon says:

      If people want term limits so badly, there is a very easy way to get them – don’t keep voting for the same people.

      • B.B. says:

        “As it stands, the five boroughs are broken into 59 districts, each with their own Community Board. Fifty board members, appointed through a joint effort between each district’s Borough President and City Council Members, serve as volunteers for a two-year term with unlimited opportunity for reappointment.”

        What part of that are some of you having difficulty comprehending?

        CB members are *appointed*, not directly elected. If you do not believe a number of those appointments aren’t somehow tied into the political machine network that runs things in this city then I have a bridge for sale.

        What is this “institutional memory” some of you keep harping on about anyway? Is it some sort of exclusive code or facts that are hidden away in a temple and or otherwise not accessible to others? No, didn’t think so which means anyone else can find out said information by just doing a bit of research.

        In any event this city is changing, and the UWS along with it as well. Thus while “institutional knowledge” or whatever of how things were in the past while all very well, sometimes it is better to look forward.

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          there is now a “political machine network” that runs things on the UWS?

          I think you’re unhappy that CB7 has usually stood up (at least somewhat) to real estate interests, which, from your comments, you favor.

          • B.B. says:

            What part of “appointed” are you having difficulty understanding?

            It isn’t as if CB members are elected or otherwise directly accountable to voters. They are selected by BPs and city council.

    6. Pedestrian says:

      Term limits will mean that the CBS will be at the mercy of the bureaucrats and staff at city hall as members will have no institutional memory. We need to keep experienced members.

    7. Joey says:

      Some people mistakenly think they are irrereplaceable and that the community board couldn’t function without them.