On Tuesday, the Bronx officially gained 145 new community board members with an energetic swearing-in ceremony and orientation at Lehman College.
“You are the first line to the people that we serve, and you are the change agents,” said Janet Peguero, deputy borough president, to the new members.
According to Borough President Vanessa Gibson’s office, which oversees the boards, 548 residents from a diverse array of races, ages and backgrounds applied or reapplied for membership.
The city’s 59 community boards — 12 of which are in the Bronx — are staffed by a volunteer chairperson and members, as well as a salaried district manager.
They vote on hyperlocal issues such as construction projects, public safety and neighborhood programming, and they act as liaison between agencies and residents. While boards cannot force the hand of elected officials or agencies, their votes of support or disapproval hold sway amongst those in power.
Community boards can have up to 50 members, but 2022 data shows that vacancies remain, with the average size of a Bronx board at 43 people.
Linda Collins — a new member of Bronx Community Board 10 covering Co-Op City, Throggs Neck, City Island and other nearby neighborhoods — told the Bronx Times she’s on a mission to make sure her neighbors know how the boards can help, and that they exist at all.
“The problem is that most people don’t know where (community boards) are, what they do, or how to get involved,” she said. “By the time people figure out that there’s something happening in their communities, it’s already happening.”
Showing up for neighborhoods
All the city’s board members abide by a code of conduct, and its most important mandate is the most basic: showing up.
Attendance has become a major sticking point in boards across all boroughs, with many failing to make quorum and sometimes delaying votes or other important work. Civilian participation has also been rocky since the city decided not to renew the COVID-19 pandemic-era Emergency Executive Order 435 back in June. After the order lapsed, community boards were forced to begin holding in-person meetings again for the first time in nearly three years.
Gibson emphasized to new members, “As the meetings have now resumed in person, we need you to show up” — reminding them that attendance is monitored throughout the year.
Prospective community board members go through an extensive process, including a written application, interviews, and disclosure of possible conflicts of interest.
They are recommended by their city councilmembers or the borough president and appointed on staggered two-year terms — meaning there is a frequent flow of new members, reappointed members, and those removed for poor attendance or misconduct.
For this round of applications, Gibson’s office focused on ensuring that new members better represent the populations of the neighborhoods.
According to a 2022 report by her office, typical demographic factors such as race and gender factor into the appointments, as well as characteristics such as housing type (renter, homeowner, public housing), sexual orientation, veteran status, union membership, and more.
For the first time, the most recent application was digitized, with paper copies still available, and offered in both Spanish and English. The borough president’s office told the Bronx Times that no applicants filled out the forms in Spanish but all of them used the digital application.
And community board members can be as young as 16 — so Gibson’s office spread the word at high schools in an effort to recruit more go-getter teens. According to the office, the boards gained five new members between the ages of 16 and 19.
All board members will be grappling with major issues that directly impact the borough and have serious money attached — the Kingsbridge Armory, new Metro North Stations, and the Cross Bronx Expressway, to name a few.
And new members come with issues close to their hearts.
Rima Izquierdo, 37, is a new member of CB10 who has four children at the elementary, middle, high school, and college levels. She told the Bronx Times that education is her primary issue, and as she has advocated for her own children with disabilities, she will advocate for all.
“We’re a long way from the equity we portray that we have and the opportunities that we say are for all,” Izquierdo said.
Through the boards’ public-facing role, the borough president said on Tuesday, members can take on an even larger mission: counteracting perceptions of the Bronx as a borough riddled with crime and devoid of opportunities.
“We want to make sure we tell the good stories, so that the Bronx is no longer first in everything bad and last in everything good,” Gibson said to applause. “We will change that narrative.”
Reach Emily Swanson at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes