A new borough president means a new approach toward community boards.
When Queens Borough President Donovan Richards held a virtual webinar on Tuesday announcing his first slate of community board appointments since being elected he also took the opportunity to make several reforms to the Queens community board network.
The reforms include establishing a centralized code of conduct for board members in addition to the call for every community board to conduct a review of its bylaws in order to try and create more uniformity throughout the 14 boards.
In describing his office’s process of naming new members to the borough’s community boards, Richards said his staff paid close attention to making appointments and reappointments that would make the panels more inclusive, adding more racial diversity and more women to them. The boards only had room for 110 appointees chosen from over 900 applicants.
In his presentation, Richards described the “huge lift” that his staff undertook to interview every single person who applied. In selecting candidates, not only did they consider gender, age, race and ethnicity but the applicants’ civic backgrounds, whether they owned cars or took public transit and whether they were homeowners or renters.
“We need to make sure that we’re doing better as we move forward on behalf of the people of Queens,” Richards said. “Democracy is at its strongest when the voices of all the people it serves are elevated, a principle we are happy to strive toward with this new class of appointees.”
Of the borough president’s 110 first-time appointees, 62.4 percent are women, which he highlighted as a 20.2 point increase from the current ratio of female membership.
But it wasn’t just gender imbalances he sought to address. Richards also made a concerted effort to appoint more young people to the boards. A resulting 74.3 percent of this year’s first-time appointees are 45 years old or younger, while individuals 35 or younger make up 43.1 percent of all new appointees.
Compared to board membership as of 2020, the new appointees include greater percentages of Latinx, East Asian/Pacific Islander, South Asian and African-American members. The immigrant LGBTQIA+ representation has also increased.
The code of conduct outlines rules and responsibilities of board members, and gives Richards’ office the power to provide disciplinary measures or remove members who violate those rules.
“I will say in terms of discipline, we can have a private discussion with individuals. There can be mediation as well, and then in some situations we will remove people,” Richards said.
Complaints against community board members for alleged violations of the code will be investigated by the Borough President’s General Counsel’s Office.
The new bylaw revision committee is aimed at modernizing community boards and making their meetings more accessible to the public. Richards called on each board to establish a bylaw revision committee this April to conduct a comprehensive review of its bylaws, policies and procedures.
He said in the presentation that part of his vision for the committee is for every board to adopt a video livestream of every meeting, and make the recordings publicly accessible. It also involves formalizing a time for public comments during each meeting and making the process easier for the general public to participate in.