New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Community Board Reform

Community Board Reform

Read the full report at BenKallos.com/cb

Community boards are the most local form of government for residents of New York City. They serve an essential role in our city’s democracy by shaping neighborhood development and advising government on community needs and interests.

Between April 1st and May 30th of this year, four new borough presidents and twenty one new city council members, along with their previously elected colleagues, will be making 1,475 appointments to 59 community boards spanning all five boroughs. This is a unique opportunity to evaluate and implement improvements to the recruitment and appointment system.

On March 3, 2014, the Committee on Governmental Operations of the New York City Council held a hearing on “Best Practices for Recruitment and Appointments to Community Boards,” which included testimony from New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, as well as community board chairs and district managers from all five boroughs, good government groups and youth advocacy organizations.

This report covers three major areas in which community boards require improvement: outreach and recruitment; a standardized and transparent application process; and restoring the public trust by removing the politics from boards.

1. Outreach and Recruitment

A community boards is only as strong as its members, and membership can only be as strong as the application pool from which members are selected. Improving outreach and recruitment will ensure that, like New York City’s neighborhoods, each community board has a diverse group of members with unique perspectives working together. Borough presidents have begun recruiting widely and inclusively through such methods as online applications and the consideration of their boards’ overall diversity. This report recommends increased and more inclusive outreach because these efforts will better equip a community board to effectively serve its community as a whole.

2. Standardized Application Process

Every community board should benefit from the best application process in New York City. Borough presidents have innovated their applications, but there has been limited sharing of best practices across boroughs. This report recommends a standardized and transparent selection process for community boards, with reporting on best practices to the public and between government agencies. Key recommendations include expanded outreach, standardized online applications, ending the culture of “automatic reappointment” in order to encourage strong performance and ensure members do not become entrenched in their board’s organizational structure, recruitment of experts and underrepresented communities, and lowering the eligibility age for community boards to 16, so teenagers can have a say in the decisions that affect them.

3. Restoring the Public Trust

Vibrant boards must represent communities instead of political parties, elected officials, or those with financial interests before the board. To that end, members of the executive boards of political parties and the staff of elected officials must not be appointed to serve on the boards, where their influence would distract from the boards’ mission. Additionally, applications must seek information on applicants’ potential conflicts of interests. This report also recommends term limits for community board members. Two of our newly elected borough presidents have promised to phase in terms and all four newly elected borough presidents have promised to report on their appointments to the City Council in answer to a questionnaire by Citizen’s Union during their campaigns.

Summary of Best Practices

The following list of best practices for recruitment and appointment to community boards can guide elected officials in their quest to build boards that reflect New York, in all its diversity, uniqueness, and fortitude.

Outreach and Recruitment: Getting the Word Out

  • In compliance with the Charter, borough presidents and council members should solicit nominations from community boards, civic groups, community groups and neighborhood associations of candidates for appointment to the community board.
  • Each board should, on its own or in conjunction with the borough president, conduct a series of public information sessions to inform the neighborhoods they serve about the role of community boards as well as opportunities for participation.
  • Utilize press releases, email blasts, fliers, posters, websites, social media, as well as television news and call-in shows to announce vacancies.
  • Create an extensive public membership to build a pool of experienced and qualified applicants.
  • Request that applications be shared with members of churches, the veteran community, community-based organizations, housing and neighborhood associations, labor unions, the business community, as well as the disabled and LGBTQ communities.
  • Build individualized recruitment plans developed among borough presidents, community board chairs and City Council members.

Outreach and Recruitment: Experts

  • Efforts should be made to recruit applicants from professions and backgrounds that are helpful to community boards, including attorneys, urban planners, small business owners, union members, engineers, architects, students, and teachers.
  • Outreach to colleges and universities seeking students who, because of their academic studies, would make excellent candidates for the board.
  • Recruit individuals with strong interpersonal skills who perform well in group settings as well as those with exceptional writing talents since community boards operate by committee and communicate through resolutions, testimony, and other written documents.

Outreach and Recruitment: All Segments of the Community and Geographic Diversity

  • Establish citywide criteria for the recruitment and appointment of community board members which encourages diversity of geography, education level, race, ethnicity, age, gender, time as a member of the community, family status, as well as appropriate representation of members who live in different types of housing (including co-ops, condos, rent-stabilized and controlled stock, Mitchell-Lama buildings, and public housing), as well as those who use different means of transportation and are affiliated with a variety of community institutions and organizations.

Outreach and Recruitment: Youth Representation

  • Create youth committees on all community boards with a mandate for appointment of 16- and 17-year-olds as public members, which is currently permitted by law.
  • Revitalize community boards by amending the law to allow recruitment and appointment 16- and 17-year-olds to community boards.

Outreach and Recruitment: Demographic Data

  • Collect and open application data from applicants in order to measure the success of outreach and recruitment so that future efforts can be improved.

Outreach and Recruitment: Websites

  • Create a centralized web infrastructure, offering each community board its own fully functional website for free.

Standardized Application Process: Standard Online Applications

  • Establish a uniform, comprehensive application for all five boroughs which includes written questions requiring those seeking appointment and reappointment to explain their motivations for joining or remaining on a community board.
  • Digitize the community board application so it is available to be completed and submitted online.

Standardized Application Process: Requiring Reappointment Applications

  • End automatic reappointment by requiring written applications from those who have previously served on the board with consideration given to attendance, service, and participation.
  • Require written applications of all appointees and re-appointees by the borough presidents.

Standardized Application Process: Filling Interim Vacancies

  • Ending the filling of vacancies by borough presidents at politically convenient times by requiring appointments to mid-term vacancies within 30 days of vacancy.

Standardized Application Process: Independent Screening Panel

  • Create a formal, standard, and fair application process that includes an independent screening panel that reviews all applications before the borough president for consideration.

Standardized Application Process: Engaging Those Who Do Not Receive Appointments

  •  Avoid the disappointment and missed opportunity inherent in the non-appointment letter by proposing applicants seek appointments to local boards, improvement districts, council as well as Community Board public membership.

Restoring the Public Trust: Conflicts of Interest

  • Require conflict of interest questions to be included in all applications and re-applications to ensure impartiality and transparency.

Restoring the Public Trust: Ban on Appointment of Political Leaders

  • Ban appointment to community boards of individuals who serve as executive committee members of political parties or who are on the staffs of elected officials.

Restoring the Public Trust: Mandatory Reporting

  • Require the borough presidents to issue an annual report detailing their outreach efforts.
  • Require borough presidents to report to the City Council on how they advertise and make appointments.

Restoring the Public Trust: Term Limits

  • Establish term limits of five (5) consecutive two (2) year terms which would be phased in and staggered to prevent a mass exodus of institutional knowledge.
  • Establish a uniform term limits for board members serving as chair.

Read the full report at BenKallos.com/cb