March 12, 2021 By Christian Murray
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, a candidate for Queens Borough President, will change the make-up of community boards by appointing younger, more diverse members–if elected.
He said that nearly two-thirds of the members on the 14 community boards in Queens are over the age of 55, and the boards tend to be conservative. As borough president, he would make a point of recruiting younger people who come with a fresh perspective.
Van Bramer said that the existing boards are often comprised of “long time gatekeepers” who dominate discussions about pressing Queens issues such as climate change, Vision Zero, bike lanes, parking requirements, affordable housing, homeless shelters and transportation.
“Community Boards should reflect the diversity of the districts they represent, but the reality is they’re dominated by those who don’t,” Van Bramer said.
“The combination of a lack of term limits for board members and the historic pattern of reappointing members has had a net effect of sidelining younger, BIPOC, immigrant, and queer voices. As Borough President, I’d take aggressive steps to make sure Queens community boards truly represent the people they serve.”
A key role of the borough president is appointing members to community boards. The borough president appoints half the applicants each year, with the local council member the other half. The borough president, however, signs off on all of them.
Board members serve two year terms and are typically reappointed if they have a reasonable attendance record. Van Bramer said that as borough president he would eliminate automatic reappointments.
The city introduced community board term limits in 2019 and members who are appointed or reappointed after April 1, 2020 are limited to five consecutive two-year terms. Time served on the board prior to introduction of term limits does not count.
Van Bramer pledges to introduce term limits based on time served even prior to when term limits were adopted. Therefore, anyone who has already served over 10 years would be encouraged to step aside, he said. Members who have served 15 years or more on a community board would not be reappointed.
New appointments, he said, must reflect the current makeup of any board catchment area. All boards, he said, must have gender equity and be truly representative of BIPOC, immigrant, LGBTQ/Queer, public housing and poor/working class communities.
Each board, if Van Bramer is elected, would be required to have term limits for the Chairperson and executive board positions, he said. Some boards already do, he noted, but many do not and a Chairperson can remain for decades.
All boards, he said, would also be required to have a detailed and professional job description for all employees including the District Manager. Each employee would be subject to an annual review.
All boards would have a diversity, equity and inclusion committee dealing with external and internal matters, he pledges.
The Borough President’s office, he said, would also create an independent screening panel made up of good government groups to review and recommend applicants for the job of board member.
He said he would conduct outreach to recruit new members beyond making the application accessible online.
Van Bramer, who has represented the 26th Council district since 2009, says that he has focused on board diversity since taking office.
He says that he has recommended 23 of the current CB2 members, with his recommendations including 12 women, 14 people of color (7 Latinx, 6 Asian, 1 African American) and 1 LGBTQ member
He said that he has recommended eight members to CB1, six of whom are women
Van Bramer’s proposal is based on a report released by Measure of America and the Queens Eagle, which found that nearly two-thirds of all community board members in Queens are older than 55, and only seven community board members in Queens are younger than 25. Each of the 14 boards has about 50 members.
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards recently announced that a record number of people applied to join a Queens community board this year. He is expected to release the names of those appointed or reappointed around April. 1.
Van Bramer, however, said a record number of applications does not guarantee a more diverse board or that new members will be able to rise to leadership positions.
The primary for borough president takes place on June 22. Van Bramer is running to unseat Richards. Other candidates in the race include Elizabeth Crowley, Stan Morse and Diana Sanchez.