Councilman: Elected, powerful community boards would be a disaster

Councilman: Elected, powerful community boards would be a disaster
Community News Group / Lauren Gill

He votes nay!

A Brooklyn activist group’s idea of turning the city’s 59 community boards into elected bodies with real power would just result in expensive elections for panels that would use their clout to veto any changes to their neighborhoods, says a former board member turned councilman.

“You can’t give community boards power because nothing would get done,” said former Community Board 18 member and current Councilman Alan Maisel (D–Mill Basin), slamming recent demands from a coalition called the Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network, which includes tenant groups and social justice organizations from Sunset Park, Flatbush, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, and Bushwick.

The outfit’s members rallied outside Borough Hall on Wednesday arguing the current boards — composed of volunteers who offer advisory-only recommendations to city Council members and agencies on issues such as rezonings, liquor licenses, and changes to landmarked buildings — leave neighborhoods with no real way to fight unwanted development.

Their case in point is the recent passage of Mayor DeBlasio’s sweeping changes to the city’s zoning rules, which are supposed to create more affordable housing in new buildings, but critics say will just encourage rampant development the city’s most vulnerable still can’t afford.

Council overwhelmingly passed his bills last month, despite the vast majority of community boards rejecting them.

“Because community boards lack this power, thousands of New York City residents now face a disastrous development plan, imposed on us against our will, that will bring even greater displacement to our communities,” the group said in a release.

The rabble-rousers are also demanding the city allow citizens to vote for the each member of the 50-person boards.

Currently, borough presidents and Council members nominate locals for the slots — and the beeps ultimately appoint them — but the activists claim members are afraid to criticize development proposals in case that puts them on the wrong side of the pols backing their seat.

“There are good, well-meaning people on the community board but they can’t really speak up because they’re afraid of not getting appointed again,” said Flatbush activist Imani Henry.

But electing 2,950 members across the city would just eat up taxpayer dollars, says Maisel — and few would turn out to vote anyway.

“Could you imagine the cost and expense of having elections for 50 people and nobody showing up?” he said.

A spokesman for Borough President Adams said the Beep doesn’t support elected community boards either, because it goes against the City Charter — although that is the very thing the activists are trying to change — and rejected the notion that members have hold their tongues to hold onto their positions.

“Community board members should never be afraid to speak their minds,” said Borough Hall communications guru Stefan Ringel.

Henry acknowledged his group hasn’t come up with an actual plan for holding such huge elections, but said it is still speaking to community members and politicians before presenting a proposal for how to execute its vision.

The organization says it has reached out to every Council member in the city with its idea, and its only Brooklyn respondees were Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D–Bushwick), who supports elected community boards, and Maisel.

Reynoso — who has previously described community boards as “political cesspools” that don’t reflect the demographics of their neighborhoods — did not return requests for comment.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill