Thursday, June 08, 2006

"Rumble in the Bronx" MetroNY 06/08/06

Rumble in the Bronx
Community Board 4 positions up in the air after raucous meeting; stadium concerns cited

by patrick arden / metro new york

JUN 8, 2006

BRONX — Community boards are considered the city’s most local form of government, where residents actually get a chance to weigh in on development matters.

Lukas Herbert, an urban planner for Westchester County who lives on Grand Concourse, thought his experience might benefit Community Board 4.

He joined the board’s housing and land-use committee, which considered in quick succession two of the largest projects ever to land in the South Bronx — the $400 million Gateway Mall at the Bronx Terminal Market and the $1.2 billion Yankee Stadium project.

The board approved the mall, but some members felt blindsided when the stadium plan was revealed. Last summer Mary Blassingame, the chair of the land-use committee, complained to Metro that “the projects are very much tied together.”

“The city needs to tell us what’s going on,” she said, “rather than giving us information piecemeal.”

The board rejected the Yankees’ plan by a two-to-one vote, though the decision was nonbinding. Going into last Tuesday night’s meeting, some members feared the vote mattered to Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion.

Blassingame learned she would no longer chair the housing and land-use committee. Out of the 19 members whose terms were expiring, only five will remain. Four of the six committees will have new chairs.

Herbert said members were anticipating a turnover in leadership when they received a letter saying two top members, chairperson Ade Rasul and youth and education chair Gertrude Lane, had lost bids to stay.

Rasul’s interim replacement, John Shipp, read a new slate of executive candidates. Herbert made a motion to reject it. Blassingame seconded.

“People started putting up their hands to vote,”said Anita Antonetty, the board’s recording secretary. “But then the borough president’s representative said that’s not good enough.”

“She yelled out, ‘I want names — give me your names,’” Herbert said.

“The representative of the borough president was on fire,” Antonetty said. “She was shouting people down.”

The vote was postponed until June 27.

Carrion spokesperson Anne Fenton said 10 members up for re-appointment simply didn’t apply.

That seemed unusual to Jim Fairbanks, the chief of staff for local City Councilwoman Helen Foster, who has been attending board meetings for 27 years.

“Normally people reapply, and we reappoint mostly everybody,” he said. “The city charter gives 100 percent appointment power to the borough president, but 50 percent he appoints based on the area council members’ recommendations to him.

“Our only criteria has been attendance — people can vote their conscience,” Fairbanks said. “People were upset after having served on the board for some time. Some stood up and said this was because of the way people voted on Yankee Stadium, but I don’t know how true it is — you’d have to ask the borough president.”

Boroughs by comparison

MANHATTAN — Borough President Scott Stringer has sought to avoid the appearance of political appointments to community boards by forming an independent panel to screen applications. The panel is made up of representatives from a range of good-government groups, including NYPIRG and the Citizens Union.

“Borough president Stringer felt there was simply too much politics involved in the appointment process,” said Joshua Bocian, Stringer’s director of community affairs. “A nonpartisan group looks at every new application to see whether candidates meet merit-based criteria.”

And re-appointments?

“Everybody currently on a board who wants to remain on a board is automatically granted an interview,” Bocian said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be reappointed. The final decision is always with the borough president.”


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