Oct. 22, 2018 By Christian Murray
The calls to impose term limits on community boards are about to get a whole lot louder.
The Progressive Caucus, which consists of 22 council members including Jimmy Van Bramer, are about to back a proposal that would limit community board members to four consecutive two-year terms.
Term limits for board members, along with a provision to make boards more representative of their communities, will appear as items on the general election ballot on Nov. 6. Currently, board members serve two-year terms and are re-appointed without limit.
Van Bramer said he and his fellow progressives back term limits in the belief that they give more people a chance to have a say and help ensure that a board’s make up reflects the community.
“It’s important that a diverse group of people get their voices heard and reflect the changing demographics,” Van Bramer said. “We miss out when these people who have different ideas and views are shut out because people stay on the board for decades.”
Most community boards, which have about 50 members, typically have low turnover. For instance, Van Bramer said that there are about four to five vacancies per year on Community Board 2, which covers Sunnyside, Woodside and Long Island City.
Van Bramer is in charge of filling half of those vacancies each year, and said he has a list of about 20 people who are qualified to join the board. Melinda Katz, Queens Borough President, appoints the other half, and is likely to have a list of qualified candidates, too, Van Bramer said.
The Council Member, who has been in office since 2010, said he is responsible for the appointment of 23 board members so far. Katz, who took office in 2014, has appointed about 10 members to the board, he said.
Meanwhile, 16 board members have been on CB2 for more than a decade, and 14 of those members are white. Of the 23 people Van Bramer has appointed to the board, he said 14 are minorities and two are part of the LGBT community.
Despite the turnover and the influx of more members of diverse backgrounds, statistics indicate that about one-third of the board has not changed due to the lack of term limits, which block opportunity for others, Van Bramer said.
But those who support the status quo argue that it is foolish to force out long-serving members, believing the move will weaken boards, since many of these members have developed institutional knowledge on areas related to real estate development.
Those concerns are shared by Katz and three other borough presidents, who wrote in an August letter that boards would suffer when reviewing zoning and land use matters among other fields.
“To impose term limits on these members serves to further empower real estate developers and the lobbyists and technical advisers who appear on their behalf before the community boards,” the letter reads.
Jeremy Rosenberg, who is currently on Community Board 2, disagreed with this opinion, as he wrote in a recent op-ed. He told the Sunnyside Post, additionally, that new members come with knowledge. “The new appointments are not inexperienced,” he said. “They are civic leaders and know and care about the community.”
Furthermore, if the proposal were adopted, board members could be reappointed after stepping aside for two years.
Meanwhile, Community Board 2 member Moitri Chowdhury Savard is stepping down in April after serving 10 years, basing her decision on the belief that other people should have a chance to weigh in.
The new term limits provision would start in April 2019 if voted in next month. Terms served prior to the new policy would not count toward the term limit.
Van Bramer said he does not support the argument that boards would suffer due to the loss of institutional knowledge.
“None of us are indispensable and turnover is healthy,” Van Bramer said.
He then cited a famous Charles de Gaulle expression: “The cemetery is full of indispensable people,” he said.