Flushing community board member seeks borough president’s help to stop ouster from panel

John Choe (Photo courtesy of Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce)

As Community Board 7 moves forward with its efforts to expel him from the board, Flushing community leader John Choe is urging Queens Borough President Donovan Richards to investigate the “misguided actions” of the board, citing issues of transparency and power accountability.

In an open letter sent to the borough president on Tuesday, July 20, Choe stated that while Richards did increase awareness and applications for membership, “very little has changed in the operation or direction of CB 7,” which represents the neighborhoods of Flushing, Beechhurst, Bay Terrace, College Point, Whitestone, Malba, Murray Hill and Willets Point. 

“I ask that you fulfill your commitment to reform our community boards by investigating these actions by CB 7, put an immediate end to these rigged proceedings, and hold those responsible for abusing their power accountable,” said Choe, who is the executive director of the Flushing Chamber of Commerce. 

In May, the executive committee of CB 7 notified Choe of several allegations against him that were filed by First Vice Chair and Chair of the Land Use Committee Chuck Apelian. Those allegations included violating the New York City Charter by soliciting campaign funds from board members during his run for City Council, creating an unauthorized CB 7 Facebook page showing events tied to the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, having a poor attendance record, leaving meetings early and accusing board members of “being corrupt” after they voted in favor of the Special Flushing District Waterfront Development. 

A special committee was formed to conduct a thorough investigation into Choe. In June, the board voted in an overwhelming majority to approve a resolution to continue with removal proceedings to oust Choe from the board. 

According to Choe, CB 7 Board Chairman Eugene Kelty only allowed board members to vote to “call the question” (close debate) and not on the proposal itself. Even though no approval was provided by the board to initiate this process, Choe says that the chair scheduled a “special committee meeting” on July 20 — originally a virtual meeting open to the public. 

“Without my consent, the chair has now made this meeting an in-person executive session — closed to the public,” Choe claimed. “It’s clear I won’t get a fair hearing and the process is no longer transparent — if it ever was. What is CB 7 trying to hide by closing off this meeting to the public?” Choe said. “I feel I am being targeted because I am a voice for change standing up for my community. I have to tell you the experience of this show trial has been completely disheartening.” 

In response to Choe’s comments, Kelty said the meeting was open to the public and only two attendees were present for the hearing. However, Choe failed to attend the hearing despite allegedly receiving notice via email and phone calls, according to Kelty.

“The whole time we were there, the two people stayed and listened to everything with no questions. It was only when the committee had to discuss a final outcome, I recommended to the chair that they should go into an executive session. This way, they wouldn’t feel any impropriety with us sitting there and staring at them,” Kelty said. “Again, John is making statements with incorrect information.” 

Following the hearing, Kelty said he has not received news of the official vote as of yet on Choe’s future with CB 7. 

Councilman Peter Koo was not going to recommend Choe for community board reappointment, but Richards overruled the recommendation and reinstated Choe in April. 

“That’s the borough president’s privilege, but he cannot stop the board from doing the investigation,” said Kelty, who referenced the City Charter that states community boards have the power to remove a member, with cause, using a majority vote. 

In a statement to QNS, a spokesperson for the Queens borough president’s office said the borough president has no control or influence over CB 7’s initiated removal process and will not comment or speculate on an ongoing process in which they’re not involved.

“The Queens borough president’s office’s policy is to consider and address specific complaints regarding community board conduct in a confidential manner. Queens Borough President Richards is committed to ensuring that Queens’ 14 community boards and their members are duly public servants for their neighborhoods,” a spokesman for the borough president’s office said.

Choe became a critic of the board’s leadership when it lobbied against the development of a community health clinic in 2017, which would have served an additional 40,000 low-income New Yorkers, he said.  

“As you know, access to healthcare is a critical need in our community and I vowed to stop the CB 7 leadership from politicizing future decisions, ultimately joining a citywide coalition to successfully enact community board term limits in 2018,” Choe said. 

Despite calls for accountability, Choe further stated that the board’s leadership — without consulting members — chose to waste council funds on frivolous tchotchkes in 2019, violating city procurement rules and directing money toward a company associated with the spouse of an executive committee member. 

According to Kelty, the board had presented the purchased items to the president of the council that represents the community boards.

“This was branding material — notepads, bags and other things. That’s what the council asks — to make stuff for the community board,” Kelty said. “And while we were doing that, John snuck out and went on Facebook bashing the board. It only shows you what respect that gentleman has.”

Last year, Choe then questioned the ethics of Apelian, alleging that he was paid by developers he oversaw in the land use process, including the controversial Special Flushing Waterfront District Development which was approved by the City Council in December. 

Apelian told QNS that Choe’s letter is a lie. 

“There’s not one shred of truth in the letter. He is doing this to create a diversion to what was brought up against him,” Apelian said. “Instead of defending himself at the hearing, he decided to make a diversion letter attacking the board with lies, lies and more lies. He sent the letter during the hearing. That shows his own arrogance and belligerence towards the process, the charges against him, and then deflecting it to make it seem like we are the bad guys, and not him.”