2010-09-24 / Columnists

Rock Solid

Commentary By Vivian Rattay Carter

I thought the photo was really jarring – Mayor Bloomberg playing golf with President Obama. The Mayor who extended his term by negating the power of votes with the power of money, playing the quintessential upperclass sport with the president who was elected to bring “change we can believe in.” What a great publicity slogan … but only accurate to an extent. The race and the party of the President may have changed, but the message is loud and clear – power brokers still conduct business on the golf course.

So the pundits are agog, chronicling the undercurrents of voter anger and grass-roots movements to oust incumbents from office around the country. Count me in. I’m tired of being taken for granted, so I tried to change my party registration in July. The Board of Elections just ignored the form I sent them. When I went to the polls last week, I was still a Democrat.

Everywhere you look, sleepy guardians of the status quo are desperately trying to hang on to power, by hitching their wagons to more effective publicity agents and handlers, and entering into unholy alliances to accomplish their objectives in the face of challenges from motivated grassroots groups. It will probably work to keep popular, well-financed people in office. Maybe it’s time to clean house here in Rockaway, as well — and let’s not limit it to elected officials. Ineffective, out-of-step, appointed officials with unchecked power also need to be ousted. Community Board 14 is a good place to start.

How many of the 50 members of Community Board 14 do you know?

Do you have any idea how they are voting on issues that matter to you and your neighbors? Do you know their civic and business affiliations? What have the groups they represent done to improve our quality of life.? I’ve never seen a list of CB 14 members and their affiliations published anywhere in the 16 years I have lived in Rockaway, though a small box listing our representatives appears on page 4 in each issue of The Wave. What, the box isn’t big enough to include the names of the CB 14 members? What a lame excuse. As long as community boards continue to exist (and the Charter Revision commission is currently proposing to do away with them), CB 14 has a responsibility to communicate with the public, and newspapers have a duty to fully inform the community about the affairs of that body. The vast majority of community boards in the city have websites where they post news, agendas, committee reports, biographies of members, and most importantly, the minutes of meetings. The rules require that each vote by individual board members be recorded for posterity. However, CB 14 does not have a website. The date, time and place of their regular public meeting is listed in the paper each week, but beyond that, it seems that CB 14 only communicates with residents if The Wave calls and asks them to comment on a topic.

Since February, I have signed up for my two minutes of speaking time each month and urged that body to create a website to communicate with the residents they represent. They are working on it – no website yet.

If you want to acquire the minutes of CB 14 meetings, a list of the names of the board members and where they live, or find out how they are voting, you have to make a written Freedom of Information Law request to Jon Gaska, CB 14 District Manager. Mail it to him at 19-31 Mott Avenue, Far Rockaway, NY 11691. Or email it to cbrock14@nyc.rr.com. I asked for a list by name, of the recent votes on the hotly contested request by a developer to extend their right to construct a sixstory building at Shorefront Parkway and Beach 93 Street. The board voted to deny the developer’s request, but it only passed by a one-vote margin. If you own a one- or two-family house in the vicinity of that proposed tower, your investment in your home (and your quality of life, as well) is greatly affected by this razor-close vote.

As a former teacher at Channel View School for Research, I’d ask adults who live in this community to model civic involvement for our children. Do some research for yourself. Get the list of CB 14 members, and count how many of them you know. Are you aware of the groups or businesses these individuals lead? Have you seen them communicate anything of their accomplishments through a news article, or a letter to the editor? Pay no attention to articles in the local paper if the person merely received an award from another group that’s also trying to justify its continued existence. Those are meaningless credentials, in my view.

If your organization did nothing but give fellow members and officers plaques and certificates at a holiday party, and takes three months off for the summer, it’s time to start asking them some questions. Is your group truly representative of its members? Does your board function in the sunshine, or behind closed doors? Does your group just collect dues from members, then ask them to go away? Most of us are faceless, nameless “community members” who get asked to show up at meetings, give our email addresses, and sign up for our two minutes of speaking time. That is not true community involvement. And that’s what’s making many people angry these days. A really effective homeowners’ group called the Holland Seaside Community Association has been established in Rockaway Beach by Karen Traynor and her neighbors. I observed their April meeting which included spirited discussions and a meaty action agenda. The group was responsible for gathering the signatures of homeowners against the proposed development, and many attended to speak at the CB 14 meeting, probably resulting in that razor-close victory for air and light.

I can think of at least 30 people across the peninsula who have better credentials to sit on the community board than some of those now occupying the seats. Maybe the Charter Revision Commission should do something to truly invigorate city neighborhoods like ours. Instead of doing away with community boards, require contested local elections for seats. Each neighborhood would be allocated a percent of seats based on population. Based on 2007 census figures, that would give a third of the seats to Far Rockaway, a third to Arverne and Edgemere, one sixth to Rockaway Beach, and the remaining sixth (a total of about 9-10 seats) to Breezy Point, Neponsit, Belle Harbor, Rockaway Park and Broad Channel. At present, some neighborhoods are grossly over-represented, which means others do not enjoy their share of power. I’ll leave it to readers to do their research and figure out what to do about it.

Now, that would be “change we can believe in.”

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