By Madina Toure
Queens activists and lawmakers are divided over a bill from City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) that would institute term limits for community boards.
The bill, introduced in December, states that starting April 1, 2016, community board members cannot serve more than six consecutive two-year terms. The bill would not apply to current board members. Members are currently appointed by the borough presidents and City Council members.
There was a joint hearing for the bill by the governmental operations and general welfare committees May 11.
The bill has been heard and is under consideration to be heard by the full Council, according to a spokeswoman for City Councilman Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan), chairman of the governmental operations committee.
Supporters of the bill say term limits would help make community boards more representative of their communities and prevent a few people from dominating the boards.
“I feel that communities change and I feel that community boards need to reflect the changes in communities,” Dromm said.
City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, agreed.
“I sponsored Council member Dromm’s legislation to limit the term of community board members to protect our democracy,” Ferreras said in a statement. “Many elected officials are term limited for the same reason. As communities evolve, so should their representatives.”
Opponents of the bill feel that term limits would take experienced members off the boards. They argue that incompetent members could easily be removed.
Chuck Apelian, CB 7’s first vice chairman; Warren Schreiber, third vice chairman; and board member Phil Konigsberg testified against the bill on behalf of CB 7 and other community boards at an April 30 hearing of the City Council’s governmental operations committee.
“All of the experts are getting paid to tell us we’re doing it the wrong way and yet all the guys that are working hard are the ones that are here saying, ‘Hey, we love our communities and we want to protect our communities and there’s no reason to make term limits,” Apelian said during the monthly CB 7 meeting in May.
Schreiber targeted Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, a safe streets advocacy group. He said the group supports the bill because community boards routinely reject their ideas, which he says do not work in the outer boroughs.
“Many times their ideas are shot down by the community boards so he feels that, ‘Well, if we replace the members, then I can get my ill-conceived initiatives through the community boards,’” he said.
White said community boards are not responsive to safety concerns and do not reflect the communities they serve.
“We’ve seen rapidly changing neighborhoods in New York City, with an influx of new energy, new immigrants and if you look at the makeup of these boards, they’re completely out of touch with the makeup of the neighborhoods,” White said.
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz does not support the bill.
“BP Katz does not favor term limits for community board members and therefore does not support Council member Dromm’s legislation,” a spokesman for Katz said.
Dromm said individuals could still sit on the boards’ committees, although they would not be able to vote, and that term limits for executive board members are insufficient.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour