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Boro Prez Ruben Diaz Jr. fighing proposed community board changes

City Council weighing major shakeup of community boards

Bronx Times

Bronx community boards could be facing a major shakeup.

A series of city lawmakers – including one prominent Bronx councilmember – are mulling a resolution that recommends major revisions to the local boards.

That would include imposing term limits on members, with borough presidents capping membership to 10-year terms, as well as allowing 16-year-olds to become full voting members.

Among the other drastic changes tucked into City Council Resolution 164, introduced by Manhattan Councilmember Ben Kallos and backed by Bronx Councilmember Jimmy Vacca:

• Hiring independent screening panels to vet possible members

• Requiring board members to disclose conflicts of interest

• Filling vacancies within 30 days

• Mandatory reporting from borough presidents to the City Council

We’re good, thanks

Some borough community boards are skeptical of the new proposed guidelines.

“I don’t understand why we need all of these new rules,” said John Marano, chairman of Community Board 10. “I’m extremely proud of the work that we’ve done already.”

Tony Vitaliano, chairman of Community Board 11, said he had no problem with most of the proposed changes – but cautioned against the idea of appointing teenagers on the boards. “I’ve got no problem putting them on as non-voting members,” said Vitaliano, “But especially with big land-use issues and when we’re talking about liquor licenses, I don’t think a 16- or 17-year-old has been around enough to know what’s going on.”

Big chance for change

The resolution’s backers want to get the city talking about how best to change how community boards function as New York transitions into a new crop of elected officials.

Four new borough presidents and 21 new councilmembers will make 1,475 appointments to the 59 boards citywide by May.

“Some things may work, and others might not,” said Kallos. “But I hope that they provide a conversation around what kinds of reforms might be worth doing.”

Community boards are the city’s most local form of government, tasked with, among other responsibilities, providing a local voice when new real estate developments roll into town.

Councilmember Vacca, a longtime district manager of Community Board 10, said that changing board membership once in a while wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

The reforms would limit any new appointee to five terms of two years. After that, board members could reapply after a two-year period off the board.

“I think it’s healthy to get different viewpoints, and we want to give other people a chance,” said Vacca. “People have applications pending for years, but can’t get on the board because there are no vacancies.”

Diaz against plan

None of the proposed changes are binding. For now, it will fall to individual borough presidents – who oversee all board appointments with input from local city councilmembers – to enact the reforms.

In the Bronx, change may be a long time coming. Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.’s office is already coming out against the reforms.

“Our office will not be supporting this resolution. In fact, our office feels that this resolution is not necessary,” said Diaz’s spokesman, John DeSio .

DeSio added that many of the reforms suggested –including conflict of interest disclosure –are already enacted in the Bronx.

“Many of the ideas contained within it are already standard practice in our borough, while others overreach and seek to remove charter mandated responsibility from the borough presidents,” said DeSio. “As per the City Charter, community board members are appointed by the borough president in consultation with City Council members, and our office will continue to execute our charter-mandated responsibilities as they are written.”

Reach Reporter Ben Kochman at (718) 742–3394. E-mail her at bkochman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @benkochman.

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