Community Board 12 may have to change this year’s theme from “unity in the community” to “democracy is messy.”
Chairwoman Jacqueline Boyce lost control of the body’s April 18 meeting after proposing to make changes to the bylaws, with only the knowledge of a select few.
Even though the board has 30 days to decide whether to adopt the changes, members were furious that Boyce had assembled a new Bylaws Committee without their knowledge, and met with them without prior notification to the board in order to hammer out the details of the plan.
“The board members have the right to sit on any committee, so when did you meet?” asked Yolanda Thompkins, chairwoman of the Nominating Committee. Boyce did not answer her question.
Five minutes before the meeting was scheduled to end, Boyce announced that Maurice Muir, the board’s newly elected third vice chairman, would be presenting a report on proposed changes to the body’s guidelines.
Later, when questioned about waiting until the end of the meeting to discuss the issue, Boyce said it was because it was a committee report and those are always presented towards the end of the agenda.
The board members complained that they had not been given the opportunity to sit on the committee and were mailed a copy of the proposal two days prior to the meeting without being given a copy of the original bylaws until that evening.
Muir was repeatedly interrupted and shouted down by irate board members and was unable to give his report, so the substance of the changes was never discussed.
“There is no need for this,” Boyce said, attempting to regain control of the room. “We are a board and we are working together.”
Boyce said after examining the bylaws and noticing that some things “were not correct,” she asked Muir and the rest of the committee, led by Chairwoman Leslie Spigner, to go over them. Boyce said the executive board members were told of the matter at their last meeting, which preceded the April 18 general board meeting.
Muir said changes were needed because the bylaws contained legal mistakes and antiquated language including “references to abolished city agencies, reliance upon outdated Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure and obstacles preventing the harmonious operation of the board.”
The proposal consists of eight amendments. The position of parliamentarian would be dissolved because, according to the committee, it is not in compliance with Robert’s Rules of Order, which states that the position is not an elected office and that the chairwoman should be able to appoint one if and when it is necessary.
“I feel like we are being screwed over as a community and it’s happening from within,” member Herlema Owens told the Chronicle after the meeting, taking a shot a Boyce, who replaced three-term chairwoman Adjoa Gzifa in May 2011. “The whole board is falling apart.”
Owens, who had been the parliamentarian, announced early in the meeting that she was not going to seek reappointment.
Sitting in her seat on the executive board was Glenn Greenidge, director of real estate operations for the Farmers Boulevard Community Development Corp. He had just recently been appointed as a general board member. His role was unclear to the attendees as Boyce never explained why he was there. When questioned about it, board members were told that he was the sergeant at arms, a position that had not existed before.
Later, Boyce said Greenidge was not the sergeant at arms or the parliamentarian, but was there solely for the purpose of ensuring people did not exceed their time limit during the public speaking portion of the meeting.
The proposed bylaws would delete any references to the Board of Estimate, which has not existed since 1989. It is also recommended that the position of area chairperson be abolished because it is a seat that has remained vacant for many years and those duties are duplicated by other standing committees.
Under the proposal, an executive committee would be established consisting of the chairperson and other elected officers, as per Robert’s Rules, according to Muir. The nominating committee would be an ad hoc committee assembled during elections and its members would be selected by the board.
“Now that’s fairness,” Muir said Monday. “I was somewhat baffled when people said the chairwoman is trying to gain power — no, we were bringing equity to the board.”
The plan would also allow executive board vacancies to be filled on an interim basis rather than waiting until an election is scheduled to take place. The board’s rules regarding the ULURP process would also be updated.
Bilal Karriem, the chairman of the Youth Committee, said the revisions would turn the board into a “dictatorship,” giving too much control to Boyce. And he wasn’t the only one to voice concerns about the direction the board appeared to be taking.
As the discussion spun more and more out of control, members made motions on the floor that just floated out into space, including adjourning the meeting early, tabling the discussion and withdrawing the document.
“Under Robert’s Rules it clearly says that the chair does not have to entertain any motions that are dilatory or frivolous,” Muir later explained, adding, “Let’s see what the issues are and address them accordingly.”
After nearly 20 minutes of nonstop shouting and arguing, Boyce abruptly called it an evening.
“I must say that this is really something that I expected,” she said. “We are going to end the meeting now, because I am not surprised at what took place, so we are ready for this. ... Thank you very much and good night.”
By then the meeting had so exceeded its time limit that a security guard at the Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center in St. Albans, where the meeting was held, started turning off the lights and asking people to leave. The members continued to argue outside in the parking lot.
“I think one of the main problems is that the board members did not review the bylaws and they did not read the committee report as well,” Muir said. “So you had a lot of people with misperceptions. ... There was gossip and when people hear gossip, it creates this unreasonable fear and that’s why people behaved in the way that they did.”
There is talk that there are greater forces at work, moving the board forward in order to allow the Guy R. Brewer United Democratic Club, led by former City Councilman Archie Spigner, to increase its control over community affairs — something both Boyce and Spigner vehemently deny, noting that she is a member of the Elmer H. Blackburne Regular Democratic Club.
“The recently elected players are all connected to the Spigner machine — to gain greater influence over the board,” said a CB 12 member, who wished to remain anonymous. “A lot of us see it as a fix to keep that machine going.”
Both Boyce and Muir conceded that the communication process could have been better conducted. Gzifa, who did not attend the meeting, said the next day that she was not surprised after hearing what had happened.
“She’s trying to deny people their rights and that’s wrong, and when you try to strip people of their rights you get anarchy and chaos,” Gzifa said. “The bylaws are sacred and you can’t change them to suit your own personal gain.”
And that’s exactly what she said Boyce is aiming to do.
“She’s trying to set herself up as the dictator of CB 12 — period,” said Gzifa. “It’s pure nonsense. And Maurice Muir — he needs to take a flying leap because he’s about as knowledgeable as the man in the moon.”
Boyce denied the accusation, and Muir said he did not wish to respond to Gzifa’s comment about him.
Dan Andrews, spokesman for Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, said Friday that CB 12 board members are going to be invited to Borough Hall to discuss what happened at last Wednesday’s meeting. Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik, who is also the director of community boards, will oversee the talk. Andrews would not say whether anyone would be removed from the board if procedural wrongdoing is discovered.
Adrienne Adams, the chairwoman of the Education Committee, said Thursday that she was disheartened by what took place at the meeting, stating that it was “completely avoidable.”
Adams said although she is frustrated by the direction the board is taking, she will not resign because it is now more than ever that people need the community board. She also stated that she is unaware whether there is a revolt on the horizon.
“I have no idea what the other board members are thinking right now, other than the whole outrage over the meeting and the way the chairwoman and third vice chairman handled things,” Adams said adding, “[Boyce] did this to herself. I just can’t understand it.”