April 8, 2015 By Christian Murray
To its many detractors, Community Board 2 was viewed as lacking transparency and a place where younger people felt disenfranchised.
However, in recent times that perception has been changing as newer, younger, and more diverse members have joined the board and a bigger push has been made to notify the public of meetings and its decisions.
Eight new members were brought on to the 50-person board last week taking over spots that were previously held by long-serving members and those who had poor attendance records.
Joe Conley, who had stepped down as chairman in December, is no longer on the board at all. Meanwhile, Gertrude McDonald, a 98-year-old who had served on the board for more than 40 years, has also departed.
“Tonight is the first evening in 30 years that former chairman Joe Conley is not a member of Community Board 2,” said Barry Grodenchik, director of Community Boards for the Queens Borough President, at last Thursday’s monthly board meeting. Conley received a great deal of applause.
Grodenchik then went on to announce the eight new members.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who oversaw the appointment of the new members, said Monday that his goal since he took office has been to have a board that reflects the people who work and live here.
“The board reflects that mix a lot more than it did five years ago,” Van Bramer said, referring to when he took office.
In 2014, Van Bramer brought on four new members who were all in their 20s and 30s. At the time, he said: “I made a concerted effort to bring younger people on to the community board. I feel strongly about young people getting involved in to the civic process.”
He said this year’s appointees range in age and live throughout the district. Furthermore, he said, the group represents a number of ethnicities and people with diverse occupations.
Some of the new board members include: Czarinna Andres, owner of Bing’s Hallmark in Sunnyside; Claudia Chan, who works at LaGuardia Community College in Government Relations; Ben Guttmann, with the tech-company Digital Natives; Beth Sexton, a Sunnyside resident who works at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection; Mary Torres, a Long Island City resident who works for the real estate firm Modern Spaces; and Lakshmi Reddy, a Long Island City businesswoman who is on the board of trustees of the Queens Museum.
Pat O’Brien, who took over as chairman in December, urged members Thursday—both old and new– to get more involved. He said that many people need to participate more actively in the committee work—where members get to weigh in on items such as land use applications, traffic improvements, and liquor license applications.
“You came to the board to add value,” O’Brien told members, who described attendance at the monthly meeting as “C-“.
O’Brien has been working on getting a more-advanced community board website since he took office. He said that the board is about two weeks away from going live with its updated site. He said the executive board has a working version but it is still being reviewed before it is rolled out.
“Any document that is public, we aim to put it out there,” O’Brien said in February. “I want people to know the facts, so we can have a more informed discussion.”