Opinion: Sept. 1, 2015 By John O’Reilly
I received on August 31, 2015 an email from CB 2 forwarding documents regarding Joseph Conley’s appointment to the Board’s Land Use and Transportation Committees and the draft minutes of the Board’s June 4, 2015 meeting.
Joseph Conley Appointment: The email attaches a letter dated April 10, 2015 from Patrick A. O’Brien to Joseph Conley in which Mr. O’Brien states in relevant part that he is appointing Mr. Conley as Public Member of the Land Use Committee and the Transportation Committee.
1) The letter is dated just 9 days after the full Community Board meeting on April 1, 2015 during which the Deputy Borough President announced Mr. Conley’s departure as a member of the Community Board, best wishes and thanks for his long years of service were communicated from Borough President Melinda Katz and by many of the persons present at the meeting. Mr. Conley received a standing ovation at the April 1st meeting in the apparent belief that he was no longer going to be involved with the Board. But, incredibly, nothing was said at the April 1st Board meeting about Mr. Conley continuing on with the Board as a Public Member of two committees, including perhaps the most important committee, the Land Use Committee.
2) The letter shows no indication that it was copied to members of the CB 2 Board, to other Executive Committee Members, or to members of the Land Use and Transportation Committees. There’s no mention that the Board Chair had made this appointment in any subsequent Board minutes (May 7, 2015 and June 4, 2015). Based on the response to the FOIL request, there is no other document in the Board files concerning Mr. Conley’s public member appointment other than the April 10th letter and the email communications by Mr. O’Brien dated July 29 and July 27, 2015 and my original July 25, 2015 inquiry.
3) The basis stated by the Board Chair in the letter for the appointment are that Mr. Conley’s departure from the Board “will be a great loss·for all of us” and the “hope we will continue to benefit from the knowledge, commitment, and of time and·spirit for many years to come”. Only Mr. O’Brien’s name appears on the letter so there’s no indication of who the “all of us” and “we” are that are referenced by Mr. O’Brien.
4) As related in the prior writing on this subject (Sunnyside Post August 30, 2015), the authority of the Board Chair alone to appoint public members to Board committees is questionable because the Board By Laws set forth the positions that the Board Chair alone can appoint but that listing does not include the appointment of a public member to a Board Committee. The By Laws section dealing with public members does not state who makes the appointment and I believe that therefore the appointment belongs to the full Board.
5) Aside from what the By Laws say or don’t say, common sense and good Board practice call for full Board involvement in the appointment with advance notice to the public and opportunity to apply for a public member position before an appointment is made. The manner in which the Conley appointment was made, just days after everyone thought he was leaving Board service, gives rise to the worse suspicions that people have about decision making at CB 2 and the impotency of its members.
6) The letter is dated April 10, 2015, two days after Mr. Conley participated as a full member of the City Services Committee at the Board’s Public Hearing in Long Island City on April 8, 2015. At this meeting, Mr. Conley comported himself as a full Committee member, sitting at the Committee table, interacting with Committee members during the meeting, and asking questions of persons who appeared before the Committee. This is a status that a regular member of the public does not have during committee meetings.
7) Mr. O’Brien’s intention that Mr. Conley serve as a public member “for years to come” is at odds with calls for term limits for Board Members, reflected in legislation introduced by Councilmember Daniel Dromm and co-sponsored by Council Member Ben Kallos from Manhattan. Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer also has advocated for term limits for community board members.
8) With this appointment as public member, Mr. Conley in my opinion holds a far stronger position than when he served as Board Chair and Board member. In the latter positions, Mr. Conley was answerable to the City Council Member covering CB 2 and to the Queens Borough President, who are responsible for appointments to the Community Board. Now, as public member, Mr. Conley is answerable to only to the Board Chair (as things now stand), and not to any elected official. Mr. Conley now has full voting privileges on important issues that come before the Land Use and Transportation Committees, for purposes of recommendation and decision by the full Board. As far as I can tell, the Board has always gone along with the recommendation of the Land Use Committee, but I welcome correction of this belief with particulars. In addition, as a committee member whose attendance is counted for purposes of deciding whether there is a quorum, Mr. Conley has power over whether a committee is able to transact business or not transact business at a particular scheduled meeting.
9) The letter on its face indicates that it was delivered “By Hand” to Mr. Conley, and does not include an address for Mr. Conley. The “By Hand” delivery apparently means that a physical document was personally delivered to Mr. Conley, and therefore there is no email communication which would provide a date/time stamp for the delivery of the document. The “By Hand” designation also apparently means that the US Mail or express delivery services which would likewise provide an independent record of delivery were not used. Why the physical document was apparently personally delivered by hand to Mr. Conley and not by email (which would provide the same promptness) or other means is a matter of speculation.
Draft Minutes Board Meeting June 4, 2015
Review of the draft minutes was very helpful because I read that both Chair O’Brien and District Manager Debra Markell Kleinert said that the new website had launched. This caused me to do a more exhaustive search to locate the new website, which I was finally able to get to via the nyc.gov portal (http://www.nyc.gov/html/qnscb2/html/home/home.shtml ). A Google search still brings users to the old web site and there’s no redirection or indication on the old web page that there is an updated web site. Had the draft minutes been produced in accordance with State law, I would have been able to find the new website sooner and not make erroneous statements about the status of the web site.
Statements About Timing of Response to FOIL Requests.
1) The August 31, 2015 email forwarding requested information apologizes apparently for the timing of the response, stating “we had an incorrect email address for you.” Previously, I received on May 23, 2014, June 16, 2014, July 29, 2015 and on August 11, 2015 emails from CB 2 to the CORRECT email address I used for the Conley and Board Minutes FOIL Requests covered by the August 31st email. I called on August 20, 2015 to follow up on the emails, but was not allowed to talk with anyone, instead told to send more emails.
2) Unfortunately, the August 31, 2015 CB 2 claim of wrong email address appears to belong in the “dog ate my homework” hall of shame and potentially brings about further loss of confidence in the activity of this very important public agency.
These opinions and viewpoints do not reflect those of the Sunnyside Post