Recent local newspaper articles and letters to the editors have documented the very disturbing extent of dysfunction at Queens Community Board 7 ("CB7"). Whether due to innocent incompetence or deliberate maneuvering, the leadership of CB7 has routinely demonstrated its contempt for the very community that it exists to serve.
Whether improperly ejecting the public from the auditorium so that it may hold an unlawful private meeting, or secretly concocting a biased homeowner survey to obtain skewed results, providing inaccurate information to CB7 members prior to their votes concerning a proposed development valued in excess of $4 billion (consistent with the goal of an illegal lobbying campaign), or refusing to adhere to the States Freedom Of Information Law, the leadership of CB7 has repeatedly operated against the community's interest, with total impunity.
Rather than take corrective action, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall has instead congratulated CB7's leaders for their "hard work".
Enough is enough. Our community is being very inadequately served by CB7 in its present form, and we deserve far better. Indeed, we deserve a responsive Community Board that actually satisfies the promise of "City Government In The Community" that is intended by City Charter Sections 2800 and 2801. There is no shortage of qualified people who are available to participate and fix this problem. The first step must be the removal of CB7's present leadership, which has operated with impunity for far too long.
We seek the removal of the entire CB7 Executive Board and the CB7 District Manager. All other CB7 members should re-apply, and undergo a screening process in which the public is invited to participate. Term limits, which were in place for CB7 members until powers-that-be decided to eliminate them, must be reinstated.
We also request that the Department of Investigation examine all alleged prior wrongdoings, and hold accountable all responsible persons.
The following are examples of improper activities involving CB7.
During its review of the proposed Willets Point development:
• Unlawfully kept secret at the time, and later confirmed by retroactive filings, both CB7 Vice Chair Apelian and and CB7 Chair Kelty were "Targets" of the lobbying campaign orchestrated by Claire Shulman's local development corporation – lobbying for which Shulman's group eventually was fined the record penalty of $59,090.00;
• Apelian prohibited discussion by CB7 members of the option to disapprove (rather than approve) the proposed development with conditions;
• Despite the controversy surrounding the proposed development and the anticipated high attendance at the public hearing, CB7 scheduled the hearing and final vote to occur on the last possible date without the possibility to adjourn and continue, late in the evening, delayed by another unrelated agenda item placed first on the calendar, in a room of inadequate size, without air conditioning, in the extreme heat of mid-summer;
• Exemplifying its contempt for the public which it exists to serve, CB7 slashed the amount of time for each public speaker at the hearing, contrary to the written hearing notice which specified three minutes per speaker
• Apelian repeatedly told CB7 members that a letter from Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber "agreed to" conditions previously established by CB7 – although the letter did not actually do so;
• Just prior to the final vote, Kelty told CB7 members that if the conditions attached by CB7 to its approval were not adopted later in the land use review process, that CB7's approval then "is a 'No'" – although that is not the case, as per the City's Law Department , and the incorrect information provided by Kelty may have persuaded some CB7 members to mistakenly vote to approve;
• CB7 held the final vote at the unreasonable hour of 12:45AM;
• CB7 failed to vote by the deadline date required by the City's land use review procedure;
• When CB7 later debriefed its mishandling of the matter, it did so in secret, after instructing the public to leave the auditorium, thereby implementing an unlawful closed executive session that complied with none of the requirements of the New York State Open Meetings Law;
• When a property owner who was aggrieved by all of the foregoing complained publicly about CB7's blatant mishandling of the entire matter, CB7 insisted that the property owner apologize to CB7 by placing full-page advertisements in local newspapers, with text dictated by CB7. (The property owner did not do so.)
During its review of a traffic flow proposal affecting Malba Gardens, Whitestone:
• CB7 violated New York State's Freedom Of Information Law (F.O.I.L).
• CB7 ignored an Advisory Opinion of the Committee on Open Government, and continued to withhold information from the public, after being told they could not.
• CB7 conducted a community survey without allowing all members of the responsible committee to view the survey until after it was sent out.
• CB7 refused to acknowledge a committee member's objection to the wording of said survey.
• CB7 increased the scope of the survey area to include an area not immediately impacted by results of the survey, other than as a convenience issue. CB7 converted a significant safety issue into a mere convenience issue.
• CB7 accepted returned surveys with more than 20 discrepancies. Several residents voted twice, and several addresses within the survey area were not included.
• CB7's District Manager made inappropriate comments to an MTABT official regarding her desire to disregard the personal safety of the President of a civic association that had a safety issue pending before the board.
• After six months and repeated requests, CB7 conducted its own investigation into the alleged comments of CB7's District Manager (i.e., "I would step over his [Centola's] prone body and refuse to call for help"). CB7 member Robert LoPinto contacted several members of Malba Gardens Civic Association, requesting a copy of intercepted emails, as well as other correspondence. One year later, there is still no outcome of this investigation.
• CB7 used taxpayer dollars to investigate itself.
• CB7 chair Kelty is alleged to have made derogatory comments to his board about leaders of Civic Associations and the need of CB7 members to band together against "These Crazies".
In a recent letter to the Whitestone Times, Ms. Shepard described how recent events remind her of the illegal tactics employed by CB7 to promote development of Fort Totten.
• Then-Queens Borough President Claire Shulman appointed Adrian Joyce (also appointed Chair of Malba Gardens issue) to sit on the committee, represent the community and head the Ft. Totten Redevelopment Committee.
• The people who protested the closed door meetings were told that the people appointed by Shulman were “representing the community.” Yet when the people who live near Fort Totten asked to observe the meetings, they were told by Shulman's counsel that a “vote was taken” and it was unanimous “not” to allow the community into the meetings.
Ms. Shepard writes:
• "We organized, protested and eventually went to CB7 to testify. When I submitted my testimony to Gene Kelty, he immediately tore it up."
• "There is usually one community officer at the CB7 meetings, but I made the mistake of informing the office that I would testify that night. There were six uniformed officers from the local precinct, and as I was reading my testimony two officers came up and attempted to pull me away from the microphone."
• "This did not deter me, in fact it made people join our plight and eventually the meetings were open and Fort Totten became parkland. If we had not continued the pressure, St. John’s University would have built 300 dorms there, affecting our community with more traffic and less parking spots."
The secret meetings and use of underhanded tactics to prevent the community from speaking out against an issue is politics as usual and must be put to an end.
To express your support for the long-overdue reform of Queens Community Board 7, please visit the web site http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/anewcb7 and sign our online petition. Once we obtain sufficient signatures, we will notify appropriate authorities and begin to bring about the necessary changes.
A New CB 7