Monday, July 17, 2006

"Attack on Community Boards" Norwood News July 13-26, pages 8-9.

"Attack on Community Boards" Letter to Norwood News,
July 13-26, 2006 pages 8 to 9 reprinted

From clandestine park alienation votes, to a lockout from a public hearing, the new Yankee Stadium project has pulverized community rights in its path. The latest chapter is the purge of Bronx Community Board 4, the ramifications of which should alarm and disturb every civic-minded citizen.

Community board members are appointed by the borough president for two-year terms beginning in April. Although appointed by the borough president, community board appointees are not the borough president’s representatives to the community, but representatives of the community to the borough president. They are not required to vote as the borough president might wish but to advise the borough president on what they feel is best for their community. This is supported by the City Charter and is emphasized in the borough president’s orientation for new board members. So why is it that, of the 19 members up for reappointment, five who supported the project received another term while three who opposed it were ousted? (The fate of the others is uncertain at this writing.) There was no evident reason for not reappointing Gertrude Lane, Marie Stroud and Louise Williams except that they voted against the project.

The case of former Board chairman, Ade Rasul, is interesting. He voted for the project and yet was removed. The prevailing opinion in the community is that he was expelled because he failed to deliver the Board vote. If this is the case, just what was he expected to do? He reportedly did lobby his fellow Board members for the project and conducted an extremely fair public hearing on November 22, after which the Board voted against the project. Should he have manipulated the hearing as was done in the town hall meeting of November 17? Or should he have locked the community out, as was done in the December 12 public hearing? It seems that fairness is no longer a virtue in certain quarters since rumors abound that Gary Axelbank’s show on BRONXNET was axed because he gave air time to project opponents!

The fate of two others must be mentioned. Pat Canale voted against the project and did not apply for reappointment. Today, he complains that his sandwich shop has been visited by the Health Department too many times to be routine! District Manager David Mojica, a supporter of the project also has been removed, allegedly for failing to deliver the Board vote. The district manager is an employee of the community board, is not a Board member, does not vote and technically, should not actively lobby Board members. As with ex-chairman Rasul, what was Mojica expected to do?

Responding to questions about the purge, Bronx Borough President Carrion said: “My very clear expectation is that these appointees are there to carry out a vision for the borough president and the leadership of this borough, and that’s simply what I expect.” No statement could be more clear: Carrion evidently wants community boards to rubber stamp his decisions and presumably those of the Bronx Democratic machine and to transform community board members into his appointees to the community.

This is contrary to the spirit of the City Charter guaranteeing the integrity and independence of community boards. Members of Bronx Community Board 4 must ask for a full investigation by the Community Assistance Unit which governs all community boards in NYC. The image, reputation, relevance and viability of all Bronx community boards is now at stake. Community Board 4 members must seek the active support of the community which they were chosen to represent and they should seek support from the other 11 Bronx community boards. This is no longer about the Yankee Stadium project. It is an attack on democracy in the Bronx.

After witnessing the purge of Board 4, won’t other Bronx community board members be intimidated to vote their conscience on controversial issues? Why should energetic community activists or creative young people seek to join an organization where even being fair appears to be an act of courage? Why should neighborhood residents go to a Board with their problems if they think that board members are constrained from acting according to their conscience.

Another Carrion comment must be answered at this time, namely that “advocates and activists from outside the area” influenced the Board 4 vote. Only a couple of people testifying at the Nov. 22 hearing were from outside the area---everyone else was a community resident! It was the construction workers testifying for the project who were mostly from outside the area. Carrion is possibly making a “pre-emptive strike” at the idea postulated in the April 20 Norwood News that community organizations from all over the city must start working together.

All of us are citizens of New York City. If we feel that a great wrong is being done to our fellow citizens, it is our right—indeed, our obligation—to stand with them! Politicians who seem to have forgotten that they are public servants and who seem to feel that they are public masters must fear “community unionization.” For there is no political alliance that can overcome the united citizens of New York City. Together, the people will make New York City once again a government of, for, and by the people and not of, for and by the politicians.

John Rozankowski
The writer, a North Fordham resident, is a member of the Ravens, Friends of Poe Park.


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