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.