On Election Day, New Yorkers will be able to vote on Ballot Proposal 3, which would limit Community Board members to a maximum four consecutive two years terms, after which they would have to take at least a term off before seeking reappointment. I strongly endorse voting yes on this proposal, based on my experience as a former District Manager of a Manhattan Community Board.
Board members have often been nominated because of their political connections. This reinforces cronyism and entrenched social networks, and blocks innovation, open-mindedness and flexibility. Once on Boards, members are reappointed automatically upon their request, leading many to consider themselves essentially entitled to a lifetime appointment. I saw members celebrated for remaining on the board for decades, even though their times of significant contribution were long past. This is wrong in so many ways. Why do many elected officials and their political allies argue against term limits? They don’t want to offend board members - who are often also members of their teams.
The strongest argument against term limits is that some board members have developed expertise and institutional memory, essential for making land use planning decisions. Yes, some members do have such expertise, but the argument is bogus: former members are always able to attend board meetings, which are public, and offer their input to current members. Instead, elected officials and board members should prioritize ongoing efforts to find, nominate and cultivate new cohorts of neighborhood leaders who can follow in the footsteps of veteran members. After a two-year break, former members can reapply for the board, but they should be encouraged to seek out new venues for community leadership. The Manhattan Borough President’s office is doing a good job of recruiting community activists and those who have demonstrated professionalism, competence and civic engagement. Other boroughs should follow this example. Term limits would speed up a healthy evolution of board culture and membership.
Check out your local community board. Many CB staff and board members are working hard to address community needs. Other boards have serious problems, and elected officials and their communities should try to fix them. Voting yes on Proposal 3, in favor of term limits, is a good next step.