Katz silent on CB 5 members amid changes

By Sarina Trangle

Interested in joining a community board? Don’t ask Borough President Melinda Katz how members are chosen.

After a Community Board 5 member said he and a colleague were axed from the board for backing City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley’s (D-Middle Village) opponent in the 2013 election, Borough Hall said it does not publicly discuss how it collaborates with Council members to select up to 50 volunteers on the county’s community boards.

When asked about the appointment process, Katz’s spokesman Michael Scholl wrote in an e-mail, “It is our office’s policy not to comment on the process of how community board members are selected.”

Under the City Charter, borough presidents are charged with ensuring that all neighborhoods are adequately represented on community boards, which work to address residents’ complaints, compile community budget priorities and give feedback on land use and zoning issues. The charter requires borough presidents to select at least half of every boards’ members from those nominated by their Council members. Incidentally, Katz worked as director of community boards under former Borough President Claire Shulman.

Scholl did not return multiple requests for elaboration.

Questions about community board membership arose Friday when Vernon McDermott said he received a notice in the mail thanking him for sitting on CB 5 for more than a dozen years, but informing him that he had not been reappointed. CB 5 covers Glendale, Ridgewood, Middle Village and Maspeth.

McDermott, a Middle Village resident, said he had a good attendance record at CB 5 and the only reason he could imagine he was targeted was because he attended a dinner and contributed to the campaign of Craig Caruana, who unsuccessfully challenged Crowley in 2013.

McDermott said his friend Manuel Caruana, uncle of the Republican candidate, was also booted from the board and that the Maspeth resident had spent several years on CB 5.

Manuel Caruana could not be reached for comment, but his uncle, the former candidate, echoed McDermott’s accusations of politicizing the community board.

“Stuff like this gets around and it discourages people from getting involved,” Craig Caruana said. “Then everyone complains that nobody attends the community board meetings.”

McDermott, whose company produces marine lights, said he joined CB 5 with support from Crowley’s predecessor and strove to represent the area’s manufacturers.

“I’m probably the only manufacturer on the board,” he said.

When asked about the turnover, Crowley said she had fewer seats to fill this year.

“After the new district lines came into effect in January 2014, Council District 30 residents were overrepresented on Community Board 5,” Crowley said of her district in a statement. “My total number of board appointments had to be reduced from 44 to 39 members to accurately reflect the 79.96 percent of Community Board 5 that includes Council District 30.”

Councilman Antonio Reynoso’s (D-Brooklyn) office said previously two CB 5 members hailed from the part of Ridgewood included in his district. But this year, the councilman learned he could appoint 10 members total and was sifting through applications for new nominees.

Crowley’s statement suggests the 50 CB 5 nominees were split equally between her and Reynoso.

But other Queens lawmakers said the borough president’s office appoints half of boards’ members. The remainder of the seats are then divvied up among the Council members from that community district in proportion to what percentage of the area they represent, according to the offices of Council members Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills).

Michael Cohen, Koslowitz’s press representative, said the borough president has the authority to overrule Council members’ nominees, but typically defers to the legislators.

Ulrich’s chief of staff, Rudy Giuliani, said he had not heard of any changes to the appointment process, but remembered that Katz intended to enforce rules designed to replace members who miss too many meetings.

CB 5 District Manager Gary Giordano said he would leave it to Katz to explain the application process.

He said to the best of the board’s knowledge, four CB 5 members had not been reappointed and one new member had been selected — who appeared to live in the part of Ridgewood represented by Crowley.

“We really didn’t know much about it until it was done, so it’s not like we were asked for any input,” Giordano said.

Neither Crowley’s nor Reynoso’s staff seemed to be aware of the new CB 5 member.

Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at strangle@cnglocal.com.