BY COUNCILWOMAN KAREN KOSLOWITZ
A bill has been introduced in the New York City Council which, if enacted, would mandate term limits for members of local community boards. Community boards are advisory groups that deal with a wide range of issues within the boundaries of the district. They work with government agencies and public officials to maximize the effectiveness of services in the district, review and make recommendations on plans for commercial and residential development, submit an annual budget recommendation to categorize district needs and are generally concerned with any matter that impacts the district. The members of the board, which can number up to fifty, are not paid for their service.
When I nominate an individual to the borough president to be appointed or reappointed to a community board, I am looking for an individual whose presence on the board will enhance the work of the board as a whole. Those individuals, whose professional background or community activism will “add value” to the board, are the people who I want to appoint and retain.
For example, a developer comes before the board seeking a favorable recommendation to the City Planning Commission on a zoning variance for a commercial development. Having an architect on the board, to provide the board with depth and guidance would be a valuable asset. Should the board have to lose such a valued member just so we can have “new blood”?Local community boards, like their legislative counterparts, function with a committee system. The board does not have the capacity to research and investigate each and every issue as a whole board. So, matters are assigned to committees to make recommendations to the whole board. The committee recommendations are generally adopted by the whole board and are rarely rejected outright. The reason I mention this is because any resident can become a non-voting member of a committee. They can participate in all the activities of a committee except voting. An individual volunteering to be a non-voting member of a committee can and does contribute to the board process.
I realize the phrase “term limits” has a sort of universal appeal. Community boards are not legislative bodies. Community boards are composed of individuals, committed to the betterment of their neighborhood, who serve in an unsalaried capacity. In every two year appointment cycle, there are sitting board members who do not seek reappointment because of reasons of health, changing residence or simply no longer having the ability to contribute the time that the position calls for. Practically speaking, there is now and always has been substantial turnover in compositions of boards.
Lastly, permit me to take up the technical aspect of this issue. Currently, if a local council member wants “new blood” on his/her community board, that power to replace sitting board members already resides within the office of a council member. By statute, every two years, the borough president in consultation with the respective local council member determines which members are to be reappointed. If a council member wants to force the issue of turnover, this can be achieved under existing law. A council member, like me, who does not subscribe to the “new blood for the sake of new blood” ideology, should not have their appointment prerogative constrained by a term limit provision.
Effective board members are not easily replaced. Indeed, there have been some board members in the past who have rendered such distinguished service that they could never truly be replaced. Should valuable, capable and committed board members be cast out for the sake of a fresh face? I think not. When and if Intro 585/2014 comes before the entire council for a vote, I will be voting in the negative.
Karen Koslowitz is a member of the New York City Council, representing the communities of Forest Hills, Rego Park, and parts of Maspeth, Kew Gardens and Elmhurst.