Subject: Stringer BS on CBs and Columbia
January 23, 2007
Help Wanted: Community Board Members
Last Monday evening, at a community meeting sponsored by Transportation Alternatives, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer told the audience that his office will “get in front of the train to support the Columbia University expansion. This is the biggest development project in the city outside of ground zero. It needs community involvement.”
Stringer said that while he was not against eminent domain per se, “in this case it is not necessary to support the expansion.” But he warned that Columbia’s track record with the neighborhood was not a good one and “it can not do this unchecked.”
When asked about the future of the High Line, Stringer was optimistic. “Sander is more sensitive to the issues,” he said, speaking of Elliot Sander, who was recently appointed by Governor Spitzer as Executive Director and CEO of the Metropolitan Transit Authority. “The Pataki regime was so unresponsive. We will work it out.”
Stringer beseeched the crowd to apply for Community Board Member positions. in a borough-wide effort to reform the 12 community boards, Stringer has revised the application process. The previous recruitment process, he said, was simple: attend a political fund-raiser and then get on the board.
To attract the best and brightest people, Stringer said new procedures were designed to bring a diverse group of engaged people to the community boards. The interview process asks the applicant what skills they bring to the board, what their previous commitments to the community where and what they hope to accomplish.
Stringer is also introducing legislation to make Conflict of Interest Laws enforceable. In the past, he said, board members were appointed for political influence. His office is also seeking to strengthen the accountablity of boards. When he first came into office, the board vacancy rate was approximately 25%. Now the vacancy rate is zero.
Applications, in English, Spanish and Chinese can be found at http://www.mbpo.org/file.2006-10-25.3461565948. The completed application, along with a resume or bio, should be mailed to the Borough President’s office no later than January 31, 2007. Selected candidates will be interviewed in early February by the Community Reform Board. The final appointees will be notified by April 1, 2007.
The Community Reform Board interviews candidates on a one on one basis. The CRB are representatives from the following community-based organizations: The New York League of Conservation Voters, League of Women Voters, Municipal Art Society, NYPIRG, NYU Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens Union, Womens City Club of NY, Hispanic Federation, West Harlem Environmental Action, Regional Plan Association, Urban League, Partnership for NYC, NAACP and LGBT Center.
Stringer told the gathering that, for several years he had been openly critized by an “obnoxious board member from Washington Heights,” where he grew up and started his political career. Last year the member reapplied, via the new application process, for another term. When Stringer asked how the candidate’s interview went, he was surprised to hear, “This guy is great!” from the interviewers. He also found out that he had never once missed a board meeting in over 10 years. Stringer said, “Reform has to start from the top down.” While he would have rather see him go, he duly re-appointed his most ferocious critic.
Another reform that Stringer has instituted is more training for members. All members undergo training sessions on conflict of interest and parliamentary procedures. Board members are required to serve on at least two committees, so they have further sessions in areas like Arts and Culture, Transportation, Land Use, Economic Development, Budget and Finance, Education and Youth, Housing, Parks and Recreation and Uniform Services.
Community Board membership is a big time commitment. A board member can expect to spend at least 12 hours a month at meetings. Becoming involved in passing resolutions and community reform means even more time planning, doing research, and yes, having more meetings.
There are other levels of participation. Public members can often influence resolutions passed by boards, have a lot of input in meetings and can sometimes–depending on the community board rules–even chair committees. Most meetings are open to the general public, so anyone in the community can have a say in their local government.
It is not required that board members be U.S. citizens, but they should be legal residents. Residency is not required to be a board member, but one should have an interest, attend school, work or own a business, to be considered. The application process is competitive, said Stringer. There are usually three applicants for every available seat.
Stringer said he would like to see more young people on the boards He proposed to set up mentoring programs between teens and members who have served for several years. He said when he was 17, then Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton appointed him to the Washington Heights Community Board, making him the youngest member ever to serve.
There is one African American serving on Community Board 8, on the upper east side and no whites on Community Board 11 in Harlem. “We need to change that,” Stringer said. “I want diversity. People to think beyond the sidewalk.” he said.
He was happy with the rezoning that was happening in Community Board 3, in Chinatown. The amount of change in the city is extraordinary, he told the audience. “People are being priced out of their neighborhoods. There is a way not to overbuild. The downzoning in 96 through 110th Streets set a precedent for the Lower East Side. We don’t have to sell off this whole borough.”
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NB - The opinions expressed are exclusively attributable to the authors and do not in any way reflect the opinion of CB9M Chairman, Officers or Members. - JRM