By Jonathan Sperling and David Brand
After months of public hearings and feedback, the Mayoral Charter Revision Commission voted to put three questions on the November ballot that have big implications for city government, especially at the local community board level.
One ballot question asks voters whether they support the establishment of term limits on community board members — an issue that has encountered pushback from community boards themselves.
The commission said community board term-limits can help ensure that the boards reflect the changing demographics of the districts they serve.
The other two questions on the ballot deal with campaign finance and civic engagement. Voters will be asked if they support cutting contribution limits for all New York City office candidates and increasing public matching funds for candidates who take part in a public financing program. The Committee also seeks to establish a Civic Engagement Commission that will expand language access at polling sites, develop a citywide participatory budgeting program and partner with community organizations.
Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the Charter Revision Commission vote in a statement Tuesday night.
“I applaud the Charter Revision Commission for listening to the needs of New Yorkers in developing these ballot proposals,” de Blasio said. “These reforms will go a long way toward strengthening our democracy and limiting the influence of big money in our elections. There’s no doubt in my mind that these measures will help us build a more fair and equitable city.”
In July, the commission held two public hearings in Queens to discuss their proposals. The New York City Charter, the city’s governing document, has not undergone major changes since 1989. The commission initially proposed five broad changes, but did not vote to include initiatives related to the 2020 Census or voter engagement on the November ballot.
The term limit proposal in particular has encountered criticism from four of the city’s five borough presidents — including Queens Borough President Melinda Katz — as well as the leaders of various Queens community boards.
Katz joined Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in penning a critical letter to the Charter Revision Commission. The letter said that term limits would interfere with land use decisions, the “single most important function of community boards.”
“To adequately fulfill this role, volunteer community board members who take leadership roles in the land use process are required to develop an expertise that generally comes from years of experience serving on their boards,” the letter said. “To impose term limits on these members serves only to further empower real estate developers and the lobbyists and technical advisors who appear on their behalf before the community boards.”
Community Board 5 Chairperson Vincent Arcuri told the Eagle he agreed with the assessment of the borough presidents.
“I think the borough president voiced it very well in her response against term limits for community board members because of the institutional memory and knowledge of the communities themselves,” Arcuri said. “[It takes] a long time to get projects done and instituted and get work done in the community.”
Arcuri said the typical capital project takes seven to ten years to complete and demands consistent board members to see it through to completion.
Community District 5 includes Ridgewood, Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village and Woodside. The district is 54 percent white, according to the city Planning Department’s Community District Profile, but the community board membership is mostly comprised of white, middle-aged and older adults.
Arcuri said few people have applied to join the board, which has maximum capacity of 50 members. He said only 44 to 48 people currently serve on the board.
“They’re going to force people out but you have no one coming in,” Arcuri said. “We tell anyone who is interested to come to our community meetings and see which subjects they’re interested in.”