Tension over city charter reforms again flare up at Kew Gardens’ community board meeting

District Manager Frank Gulluscio and Chairman Joe Hennessy

What started out as a routine meeting in Community Board 6 on Wednesday ended with a tense exchange over the future of the advisory bodies across the city.

At the meeting, two board members squared off over their views of the term limit reforms that overwhelmingly passed in November.

The provision, which received about 72 percent of the vote, limits community board members to a maximum of four consecutive two-year terms. Those in favor of term limits argue that they will help open the community board to fresh faces who reflect the district’s underrepresented demographics. It just took effect in April.

Chairman Joe Hennessy obliquely referenced these changes in his opening report, which will be his last before the board’s summer break. “I know the community board is heading into a new age and nobody seems to know what’s going to happen in the following years,” said Hennessy. “People who are appointed now are appointed for two years. What’s going to happen with re-appointments nobody knows.”

During the public forum, board member Steve Goldberg returned to the topic. He argued that ousting people eager to serve their community board is a betrayal, adding that those in favor of reform simply should lead by example and give up their spots to new members.

“A lot of people don’t run for political office because they disagree with the tenets of their party or they disagree how their community views their service. All I’m saying is if you are so dissatisfied with being on this board, the next time you get a letter from the borough president, you can choose not to return it,” said Goldberg.

Peter Beadle, a board member who was outspokenly in favor of community board reform in his testimony to the Charter Revision Commission, objected to Goldberg’s comments.

“The reason I take the position [in favor of term limits] is because I love community boards. This is the most fundamental part of our democracy. It’s when people can come in and have their voices heard. And it’s an opportunity for us to make agency officials stand right here and listen to us,” Beadle said.

In opposition to Hennessy and Goldberg’s somber characterization of the new provisions, Beadle’s was one of rosy optimism.

“Every suggestion I’ve ever made has been to make community boards in this changing era, with changing demographics and changing technology even more effective so that other people can no longer make the accusation that we’re a dinosaur that no longer needs to exist. Because we are flexible and we are willing to be self-reflective when change is needed,” he said.

After the meeting, a new council member walked up to Beadle to thank him for his words.

“I agree that there should be some reform. Actually, I was wondering where the webcam was to put this online,” the new member said.

“That’s one of the issues! We’re supposed to have it. We don’t have any social media. We really should,” Beadle replied. “The staff does a great job but there’s so many ways we could amplify our voice and make things much more accessible.”