CB11 votes to form removal committee to oust chair, vice chair

Local residents cheered on those who spoke against the Just Home proposal at a controversial Sept. 29, 2023 public hearing.
File photo/Aliya Schneider

Community Board 11 is in the midst of an unprecedented shake-up, after the board voted to form a committee to consider demoting its chairperson and vice chairperson at its most recent general board meeting.

The decision by CB11 to pave the way for the removal of both Bernadette Ferrara, the board’s chair, and Al D’Angelo, the vice chair, was decided in executive session on Nov. 30. That closed-door session resulted in a 24-10 vote against Ferrara and a 24-11 vote against D’Angelo leading to create a removal committee to potentially strip them of their leadership positions, the first time in CB11’s history.

The effort to remove Ferrara, who is currently the president of Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance (VNNA), dates back to when she was first elected CB11’s first-ever female chairperson in January. Prior to that vote, Ferrara had already decided she was planning a run for the City Council District 13 seat — challenging incumbent Council Member Marjorie Velázquez in a Democratic primary. Ferrara, who portrayed her opponent as a progressive extremist, would go on to lose to Velázquez back in June.

During her Council District 13 campaign, Ferrara temporarily stepped down from her position as VNNA president, but continued to chair CB11 meetings. At the time, Borough President Vanessa Gibson had recommended that Ferrara take a leave of absence from CB11 during her campaign, as previously reported by the Bronx Times.

And critics of Ferarra’s felt she neglected her duties while campaigning for council as rationale for her removal.

Ferrara, however, blamed efforts to oust her on the majority of the board’s “progressive” wing, which consists of seven or eight new board members, have been resistant to the community board process and its procedures.

“This group wants immediate gratification in any discussion — if the discussion or demand is not granted, then there is character assassination met with constant challenges and monthly demands to change the bylaws to suit them and take control,” said Ferrara, adding that she has encouraged more communication amongst the board as chair.

Borough President Vanessa Gibson attended the Nov. 30 meeting and said she was angry, disappointed and frustrated with CB11’s current “chaos” and “dysfunction.” 

“The issues within (CB11) are distractions from our goals. I need everybody to buy in and be focused, because proposals in the borough are going to move forward whether this board is dysfunctional or not — and you all can be a part of the growth of this community” said Gibson, who brought up the upcoming MetroNorth stations in the Bronx, along with the possibilities of building the Bronx’s first birthing center and bringing a blood center back to the borough.

Gibson expressed her frustration with CB11’s “chaos” and “dysfunction” at its most recent board meeting last week. Photo Steven Goodstein

“I don’t see this happening with any other community boards in the Bronx. I need your leadership and partnership, and I need the members of this board to be respectful and agreeable.”

Another point of contention for board members was Ferrara’s behavior at a chaotic and unruly CB11 public hearing for the controversial Just Home initiative, which took place at Jacobi Medical Center’s Rotunda in September 2022. Although she was not chair at the time, Ferrara was seen shouting and gesturing at some of the people testifying, according to multiple CB11 board members who attended that hearing. 

According to CB11’s rules of conduct, “Community board meetings must be held in a professional and hostile free environment.”

Diana Finch, a constituent of CB11, filed an ethics complaint with the CB11 Ethics and Disciplinary Committee that October, following the public hearing, stating that CB11 didn’t invoke or observe the community board’s code of conduct, didn’t make it known to its attendees, and didn’t even reference the code of conduct at the hearing.

Finch’s ethics complaint also requested that Ferrara, as chairperson, and CB11 construct a written apology for the way the Just Home hearing was handled. CB11’s Ethics and Disciplinary Committee responded in April, stating that the complaint was justified — which led to Ferrara issuing a letter of apology to the public in July.

“I can understand why CB11 members have lost confidence in the board’s leadership,” Finch said. “As leaders of a community board, you have an obligation — to make sure the community’s needs are heard as well as represented.”

Another local resident, Kevin Daloia, also filed a complaint pertaining to Ferrara’s behavior at the hearing, requesting an apology. But, according to Daloia, Ferrara’s eventual apology was far from sufficient.

“I mean, the letter didn’t even have a CB11 letterhead — and in the first paragraph, she basically disclaimed everything that she wrote in the rest of the letter,” Daloia said. “It makes me question if she even took the apology letter seriously.”

Even though much of the criticism at the Nov. 30 general board meeting concerning Ferrara was centered on the Just Home initiative, board members also noted that she didn’t write the apology letter until after she was finished campaigning for City Council.

Ferrara took over as chairperson, following the departure of former CB11 chairperson Yahay Obeid, who suddenly resigned from the board in December 2022 after less than six months in the position.

A board member for the past 15 years, D’Angelo previously served as CB11’s chairperson for five years, as well as acting chairperson, before his most recent stint as vice chair.

An article published by The City earlier this month highlighted the column D’Angelo penned in the Bronx Times in April, where he questioned why “Black Americans are the least educated, least healthy and among the most incarcerated ethnic group in the country” and stated that it was time to start addressing the “elephant in the room.”

D’Angelo said that he wrote the letter on behalf of the Morris Park Community Association (MPCA), and that it had nothing to do with his role as a representative of CB11.

“I didn’t write that letter on behalf of CB11, I wrote it on behalf of the MPCA — so I don’t see how the letter was any of their (CB11’s) concern,” D’Angelo said. “Everything that I wrote in that letter was factual. I was absolutely not trying to be racist or make any racist remarks — I just wanted to bring attention to the fact that this is an issue in our community.”

Many residents and board members also stood up in D’Angelo’s defense at the Nov. 30 meeting, stating that he had been an active volunteer in the East Bronx community for more than 40 years.

CB11 District Manager Jeremy Warneke wouldn’t comment on Ferrara or D’Angelo — but summed up the situation as “very unfortunate.”

CB11’s bylaws state, “Upon the death, resignation or removal of any officer, the vacancy created shall be filled by the community board — and that the election to fill such a vacancy shall take place no later than the second meeting following the creation of the vacancy.” However, according to Warneke, there is currently no timetable for the removal committee to vote on Ferrara and D’Angelo’s fate with the board, as the committee has yet to be formed.

Correction: This article was updated at 3:13 p.m. because Diana Finch and Kevin Daloia were listed as having sat on Community Board 11. They are not board members. A previous version of this article also incorrectly stated that the vote to form a removal committee included one abstention.  

Reach Steven Goodstein at [email protected] or (718) 260–8326. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes