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Charter Revision Commission must bolster community boards

Community Boards are made up of unpaid community volunteers who consider various land use issues and other area concerns that may be occurring in neighborhoods each board covers. These issues include rezonings, variances and other requests from local businesses and developers, landmarking issues and education, transportation, parks, environmental and health issues affecting the community at large.

They also prioritize requests in the capital and expense budgets for projects needed in the area. The community boards’ votes and decisions are advisory in nature. Other city agencies take those votes and decisions into account before final decisions are made.

I have been a member of Community Board 11 since 2005 and a lifelong resident of Bayside. I am concerned to read and hear that funding for community boards may be cut by the mayor. These cuts would paralyze the boards from functioning. Some suggest these boards may be eliminated by the City Charter Revision Commission. Either of these scenarios would be devastating to the people.

Community board meetings are comparable to town ball gatherings, a cornerstone of our democracy. They provide opportunities for everyone to speak on the issues that affect quality of life. Usually, the community board can assist those having issues or concerns by writing letters or contacting the appropriate agency to try to remediate local problems. Residents may also call the community board office between meetings to ask questions and get help with neighborhood problems.

When issues come up for a vote at board meetings, I have found community input invaluable. Local community members are the eyes and ears of what is happening in their own neighborhoods and they educate board members so appropriate votes may be cast on issues coming before us.

In order to do all of this work effectively, a paid staff and an equipped office is needed for each board. The money required to do that work is a minuscule amount compared to the entire budget of the city. The benefits derived from community board activities support the need to continue their existence.

I urge the City Charter Revision Commission to maintain and strengthen the role of local community boards. I also urge the commission to look for additional ways of making other city agencies more responsive and accessible to community needs and concerns.

The decisions of the city Board of Standards and Appeals are final unless challenged by a costly lawsuit. There needs to be a review and override process, possibly through the City Council, to re-examine BSA decisions that go against community interests. The city Department of Buildings needs an overhaul as well.

Community leaders and residents have long complained about the efficiency and effectiveness of the DOB. Many of our elected leaders have called for the reform of these and other city agencies, most notably former Councilman Tony Avella. Little progress, however, has been made due to a variety of reasons, many of them political in nature.

The City Charter Revision Commission should be considering changes that will strengthen the public’s rights to determine what happens in their neighborhoods. The public’s participation and representation in the functioning of our city is important and needs to be expanded, not curtailed.

Henry Euler

Bayside

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