May 1, 2014 By Christian Murray
A resolution has been introduced by a Manhattan councilman calling for term limits for community board members.
The resolution, which has the backing of Queens legislators Daniel Dromm (Jackson Heights) and Peter Koo (Flushing), calls for members to be limited to 5, two-year terms (10 years). It also calls for term limits for the chairperson and committee chairs.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Woodside, Sunnyside & Long Island City, is also a supporter of 10-year term limits for community board members. However, he has yet to co-sponsor the resolution, claiming there are a couple of items contained within it that he does not agree with.
The issue of terms limits for community board members in this district—Community Board 2– has been greeted with a mixed response.
This neighborhood’s supporters of term limits argue that they provide a mechanism for new blood to get on the board and that they help ensure that this area’s changing demographics are represented.
Meanwhile, others argue that it would weaken the community board since many board members with an enormous amount of institutional knowledge would be lost. This knowledge, they say, is vital when dealing with complex topics involving such issues as land use.
Many Community Board 2 members have served for more than 15 years, with Chairman Joe Conley almost 30 years. Conley, who almost uniformly gets high praise from fellow board members, has been community board chair for at least 20 years.
Nevertheless, the resolution, 0164-2014, which was introduced by Councilman Ben Kallos on April 10 calls for:
- Phasing in term limits, limiting service to five consecutive two year terms
- Establishing uniform term limits for the position of chairperson and the committee chairs
- Calling for greater transparency in the recruitment of board members
- Seeks the end of automatic reappointment by requiring applications from those who have previously served with consideration given to attendance and participation
- Calls for the resignation and non-appointment of individuals serving as executive committee members of political parties and the staff of elected officials
- The creation of an Independent screening panel
This resolution, like all resolutions, does not become law if it is passed by the city council. The introduction of term limits would have to be by done by changing the city charter, a complex process.
Van Bramer, who is a former CB2 board member, said there are a lot of good items in the resolution and he supports many of its provisions. “The council members and the borough president who appoint the community board members have term limits, so it makes sense that there would be term limits for board members,” he said.
Furthermore, Van Bramer said: “We want to make sure that the board is representative of the district.”
He said that many people throughout the district want the privilege to be on Community Board 2. However, he said, only 2 to 4 spots open up on the 50-person board each year. Meanwhile, he has a pool of about 20 applicants on a wait list.
“Technically, as long as someone’s attendance is ok, I can’t remove them [from the board],” Van Bramer said. “It is neither the custom nor the practice.”
Van Bramer said that term limits will also help ensure that members on the community board will be able to assume leadership positions over time. While he did not say he wanted term limits for the position of chair or committee heads, he said that the 10-year term limit should ensure change.
“I respect Joe Conley and respect Lisa Deller [Chairperson of the Land Use committee] but having said that going forward we want to encourage other people to participate in a more meaningful way and experience leadership,” he said. “I fear that there are very good, talented people who might grow frustrated if they don’t have a chance for leadership.”
However, the chair position, as with the other executive officers, are elected each year by the 50-member board. Furthermore, several of the board members spoken to had nothing but admiration for the level of expertise developed by Deller and Conley.
Daniel Dromm, meanwhile, said that he backs the resolution since there is a constant need for change. “I think when people are continually reappointed there is a danger that they get complacent,” he said.
“There are many examples of good people who have served 30-years or more on community boards,” Dromm said, but “government should change more than that and I don’t think people should be there that long.” He is also an advocate for imposing term limits on the chair.
“These people [chairman] wield a lot of power,” Dromm said, since they often decide who heads the committees and who is on them (see bylaws below). “They have a significant amount of power over the direction of the community.”
Dromm also said that people should not be on boards who work for political offices. “If your boss has a certain opinion on an issue and you are on the community board it is tough to have a different view,” he said.
However, Dorothy Morehead, a long-serving CB2 board member from Sunnyside, said that while she is generally in favor of term limits “it might be a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”
“I can’t image a better chairman of city services than Pat O’Brien who commits so much time to what he does, or Lisa Deller…,” Morehead said.
Furthermore, Morehead said, the CB2 chairman position is a very difficult job and requires a great deal of work, she said. “I have been to other [districts’] community board meetings and none are as well run as the way Joe [Conley] does them.”
Meanwhile, Morehead said new blood is good—however, not necessarily at the expense of committed people with institutional knowledge. She said a better solution might be getting tougher on those existing members with ordinary attendance records who are not engaged in the community.
Deller said that it took her a long time to get up to speed with how the city planning process works as well as other city issues. She said that unless someone is a land-use attorney, it takes years to work out all the nuances.
“I think it [term limits] would diminish the power of the community board,” Deller said. She said it would increase participation but members would be term limited once they developed a level of expertise.
Conley, meanwhile, said the governance of Community Board 2’s appears to be working fine and was not sure how other boards in the city were faring.
He said that CB2 members are removed who don’t attend meetings, unless there is a legitimate reason such as illness.
He said that each year the board holds elections and he encourages board members to run and that he, too, wants new leaders to emerge. However, he said that has not occurred in recent times. For instance, he said, there has been a vacancy as the head of one of the committees for some time—Transportation—and due to a no one wanting it, he had to step into the role.
(The headline associated with this story has been changed)