Like school boards, and the doomed dodo bird before them, members of Brooklyn’s community boards are on edge this week fearing that Mayor Mike Bloomberg is intent on putting them on a “slippery slope to oblivion.”
“I see a parallel between community boards and school boards,” warned Brian Gotlieb a member of Community Board 13 in Coney Island.
Gotlieb served on School Board 21 for five years before the Bloomberg administration successfully fought to have school boards eliminated back in 2004.
“They took all the power away from school board members,” Gotlieb explained. “By slowly taking away funding from community boards and diminishing their powers it’s the same situation.”
A new Charter Revision Commission is expected to be seated sometime after the New Year. At that time, community board members like Gotlieb fear that the Bloomberg administration will attempt to scrap not only community boards, but the office of public advocate and borough presidents as well.
Sheepshead Bay’s Community Board 15 Chair Theresa Scavo is convinced that the argument to scrap community boards will go something like this: “They have no official power. They offer redundant services. You have 311 and 511. Why do you need them?”
Nevertheless, Scavo insists that when it comes to real-life issues facing neighbors like development, zoning and a myriad of other concerns, community boards provide citizens with a vital point of entry to participatory government.
“Where would a person from this area go to have these questions answered?” Scavo said.
Community boards have been in existence in New York City since 1975.
Last week, Borough President Marty Markowitz discussed the looming implications of a new Charter Revision Commission with the leadership of a number of Brooklyn community boards.
Should a charter revision commission be seated, Markowitz said that he would definitely call for borough presidents to have a voice on that commission.
He also called for community boards, borough presidents and the public advocate to all receive independent sources of operational funding.
Those sources, according to Markowitz, could be determined by formula each year, in the same way that the borough presidents’ capital budgets are today.
“It only stands to reason that the independence of these boards and offices is better protected when yearly budgets are not dependent on the whims of a mayor or city council,” Markowitz told this newspaper.
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office confirmed that a new Charter Revision Commission is, indeed, anticipated to be seated sometime after the New Year, but called any speculation about its focus “premature.”
Instead of diminishing the power of community boards or eliminating them all together, Gotlieb insists that they should be granted greater power beyond their current advisory role - especially when it comes to land use issues.
“Just something where its voice could be heard on a more substantial level,” Gotlieb said.
Similarly, Markowitz would also like to see the role of borough presidents strengthened as well.
“Certainly I would also advocate for the city to beef up the role of borough presidents,” Markowitz said. “Among other things, borough presidents should have a stronger voice in land use decisions, and in terms of education policy, borough presidents’ offices should be centers of the city’s parental-involvement efforts.”
Scavo says that she intends to fight any effort to eliminate community boards “tooth and nail.”
“I don’t believe there is a city councilperson out there who doesn’t realize how important community boards are to the community,” she said.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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