Editor’s note: The following letter was first published this month in Spanish on queenslatino.com.
Seth Taylor, executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership, is calling on property owners, business owners and residents to vote on the proposed expansion of a business improvement district onto Roosevelt Avenue and Junction Boulevard.
This seemingly inclusive and participatory process for deciding local policy through a direct referendum has been, in the case of the 82nd Street Partnership, flawed and undemocratic and is inherently biased toward approving the BID.
According to the city Department of Small Business Services guidelines, legislative approval to expand the 82nd Street Partnership requires “overwhelming support” from all property owners, business owners and residents within the boundaries of the proposed new BID. To demonstrate this level of support, SBS recommends that the 82nd Street Partnership conduct a vote, allowing all BID-area stakeholders one chance to declare in writing their support or opposition to the district plan.
SBS has given considerable leeway to the 82nd Street Partnership to determine how the vote will be conducted. Rather than select a transparent and impartial arbiter, such as the American Arbitration Association, to oversee the process, the 82nd Street Partnership — which has a vested interest in the outcome of the BID vote — has chosen itself as the entity to be in charge of sending out and collecting the ballots.
The voting period, which, after numerous delays, began in early July, could last one week or six months, depending on what the 82nd Street Partnership decides, but the partnership has yet to announce how long voters have to return their ballots.
Thus, rather than defining the basic parameters of the vote in advance to ensure a fair and democratic process, the partnership is basing its decisions on what it believes will achieve its desired outcome.
Likewise, the 82nd Street Partnership has assumed the role of deciding what the ballots say on them. Instead of using the neutral term “ballots,” the partnership has chosen to call its solicitations “statements of support,” which stakeholders who do not support the BID may be discouraged from filling out.
If the only people who send in ballots are those who support the BID, it becomes easy for the partnership to claim favorable results.
The 82nd Street Partnership has also not clarified to district stakeholders that their votes will not be counted based on a simple majority. Property owners’ votes count more than business owners’, whose votes count more than residents’. To this day, numerous small business owners and residents remain uninformed about the proposed BID expansion and its associated vote.
If the entity administering the ballots only selectively informs stakeholders about the BID vote, it deprives people of their voice and undermines the basic tenants of an open and transparent referendum.
In addition, many business owners are afraid that voting against the BID will lead to retaliation, either from their landlord, a city official or the 82nd Street Partnership. Several business owners have reported being pressured to vote in favor of the BID.
When the 82nd Street Partnership visited Sergio Ruiz’s bakery and grocery store on Roosevelt Avenue, they repeatedly insisted he vote yes. When he said he did not support the BID, Ruiz was not given an option to vote no.
Although Taylor claims the incident was a miscommunication, on July 16 a small property and business owner, having recently sent in his ballots to SBS voting against the BID, received a phone call from Taylor on his personal cellphone.
Although the stakeholder, who wishes to remain anonymous, had never given Taylor his phone number, Taylor called to try to convince the stakeholder to change his vote. Needless to say, meddling in voters’ results ought to be considered a violation of democratic procedure.
The 82nd Street Partnership’s disregard for a free and fair protocol undermines the legitimacy of the BID vote. Without a neutral entity in place to administer the voting process, we cannot meaningfully gauge the district’s level of support for the proposed BID expansion.
Barrios Unidos de Queens