June 10, 2020 By Christian Murray
Council Member Robert Holden and several candidates who are running for Queens Borough President are calling for an explanation as to why the chairperson of Community Board 2 was not reappointed to the board last month.
“We need an explanation,” said Council Member Bob Holden. “The process of the non-reappointment needs to be more transparent.”
Denise Keehan-Smith, who was the chair of Community Board 2, was not reappointed to the board this month by Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee. Board members get two-year terms and are typically reappointed if they have good attendance records.
Many long-serving Community Board 2 members expressed their disappointment that Keehan-Smith was gone at last week’s board meeting held online. She had been elected chair five times since 2016, including in November when she was reelected by a vote of 32-0.
Lee never provided Keehan-Smith with a reason as to why she was not reappointed. “I wish I knew why,” Keehan-Smith said. “I told her [Sharon Lee] she wasn’t following proper protocol.”
Lee told board members during the online meeting that she would not provide an explanation as to why Keehan-Smith was not reappointed. A spokesperson for Lee told the Queens Post today that she stands by her decision and that nobody is entitled or guaranteed a seat on a community board.
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who was consulted by Lee prior to her decision, has not provided comment despite several requests. He didn’t go to the online board meeting last week to explain Keehan-Smith’s departure.
There are several rumors as to why Keehan-Smith was not reappointed, which is why Holden said that the matter needs to be investigated.
Holden’s office says it has heard that Keehan-Smith was not reappointed since she may have had plans to run for city council. The rumors have not been substantiated.
“There are disturbing claims that need to be investigated,” Holden said, whose council district covers a small portion of Community Board 2. “It’s a shame that a dedicated, unpaid community volunteer who is well liked and was unanimously re-elected several times can no longer serve on the board.”
Other reasons that have been cited for her non-reappointment involve a complaint filed against her by CB2 District Manager Debra Markell Kleinert, alleging that Keehan-Smith was “abusive” and “abrasive.” However, the Equal Employment Opportunity complaint—filed March 19—has yet to be investigated and Keehan-Smith said she only learned about it when she was contacted by the media late last month.
Keehan-Smith has yet to see a copy of the complaint.
Some of the candidates for Queens Borough President said that Keehan-Smith was not treated fairly.
“I am appalled by the treatment of Ms. Keehan-Smith, who has been denied due process to which every citizen is entitled,” said Dao Yin, a candidate for Queens Borough president. “Our community board chairs serve as volunteers and it’s concerning that a volunteer like Ms. Keehan-Smith would be suddenly kicked to the curb, particularly since she has so much support from members of the board.”
At last week’s meeting, the newly-elected CB2 leader was upset by Keehan-Smith’s abrupt departure.
“Denise and I worked closely together and the news she was not reappointed to the board is a very disappointing and an unexpected turn of events,” said Lisa Deller, the new CB2 chair. “I don’t know anything about the mechanics of how this happened….[but] she put her heart into serving our board and being our chairperson. I thank her publicly for her great leadership.”
Anthony Miranda, a candidate for borough president, said it was concerning that neither Keehan-Smith nor the board were informed or provided with a reason as to why.
“I believe in due process and transparency,” Miranda said, adding that Keehan-Smith was entitled to an explanation.
Council Member Costa Constantinides, who is also running to be borough president, said that community board appointments are in need of reform and that there would be change if he were elected.
Constantinides said there needs to be transparency.
“Should someone be removed from the board, that person will get a full explanation as to why they were removed. Likewise, allegations of abuse, wrongdoing, or betrayal of the public trust will be investigated, with the findings put into a report,” Constantinides said.
Constantinides said at that point a decision would be made as to whether a board member should be removed. He said there was a need for consistency.
“We will have transparency in how we handle community boards,” he said.