Charter Revision Roils CB Chair

Would the city’s Charter Revision, occurring this November, eliminate community boards from existence?

That’s the question that Community Board 1 Chair Chris Olechowski asked this week.

Olechowski claims that the Charter Revision Commission, which last met in 2005, will be moving on a fast track this year to accomplish its agenda. He believes that the Commission will aim to either reduce the role of community boards in city policy or eliminate them entirely.

At the board’s monthly meeting this week, Olechowski announced the formation of an Ad Hoc Committee to address the Charter Revision Commission and its role in the operation of community boards.

“We need good ideas to fight strategically on how to present the argument on how we need to exist,” said Olechowski. “What do the people think, what’s the choice they have, if they could have the choice of having community board representation or calling 311. What do you think we really need, what do you think we really want.”

It is a concern that is being echoed throughout the borough over the past month, as community board members and public officials, including Borough President Marty Markowitz, are warning that the Charter Revision Commission will consider the role of community boards in its decisions. A spokesperson for the mayor’s office characterized speculation about the role of the review commission as “premature” but Markowitz remained concerned.

“It only stands to reason that the independence of these boards and offices is better protected when yearly budgets are not dependent on the whims of a mayor or city council,” Markowitz told this paper.

Council member Steve Levin seconded that concern, while noting his reliance on community boards for guidance and information on a variety of local issues at his first public address of Community Board 1.

“When someone comes to me with a project, my response is to say, ‘What does the community board want?’” said Levin, who promised to be a strong advocate for protecting community boards and their budgets. “With charter revision coming up, the community boards are vital. That’s where issues get addressed. You don’t see land use issues debated between city council members with as much detail as you do among those whose daily lives are affected.”

Board members expect the issue of Ad Hoc Committee’s formation to be discussed at the board’s next Executive Committee meeting. For CB 1 member Esteban Duran, who believes that Mayor Bloomberg wants to eliminate the city’s community boards, it comes not a moment too soon.

“The mayor should focus on fulfilling the promises of the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning specifically the affordable housing commitments which are outright delinquent instead of eliminating the boards which are important checks and balances and essential to any democracy,” said Duran.

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