representation

Staten Island Pledges to Fix Failure to Track Community Board Diversity

Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, speaks to the press with MTA and union officials in August 2019.
Staten Island Borough President James Oddo, speaks to the press with MTA and union officials in August 2019. Photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit

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Staten Island Borough President James Oddo vowed Wednesday to compile demographic data on community boards after THE CITY revealed the borough failed to collect and report the information.

“We will be drafting a letter to all current community board members asking the demographic information required by the charter revision in order to help guide us in putting together the best community boards that accurately represent the district,” Oddo told THE CITY in a statement.

The data — including race, gender and age — was supposed to be included in new reports mandated by City Charter changes approved by voters in 2018 that aim to track the makeup of all 59 volunteer-led boards.

The measure was enacted in an effort to increase transparency — and boost the diversity of the boards, which weigh in with advisory opinions on everything from bike lanes to major construction developments. All responses are self-reported and optional.

Staten Island had completed a report including some charter-mandated information, such as members’ names, who appointed them and how many vacancies there were on each board. But no demographic information was included in the document.

Looking for Transparency

The four other boroughs all submitted the data, which shows whether the boards reflect their neighborhoods.

THE CITY’s analysis of the numbers available found some stark disparities.

Men outnumber women two to one in Manhattan Community Board 5. At Queens Community Board 6, where just 13% of members identified as South Asian or Asian American in a district where people of Asian descent make up nearly a third of the population.

Board members are appointed by the borough president and the local council member.

A spokesperson for Oddo said the borough president “shares the goal of increasing transparency of the community board application process,” but stressed the office was under the impression the charter mandate “did not require retroactive implementation.”

However, the charter changes — which went into effect last year — state the information should be collected for members serving in the previous calendar year, 2018. All data compiled by the four other boroughs reflected board membership in 2018.

“The charter requires the Staten Island borough president to disclose all community board members serving in the past year, not just newly appointed members,” said Alex Camarda of the good government group Reinvent Albany. “Not doing so is a violation of the charter.”

Collecting that data long has been a priority in Manhattan, where Deputy Borough President Aldrin Bonilla has spearheaded efforts to track the backgrounds of community board members since 2015.

Doing so, he said, was key to answering a question: Are boards lagging — “meaning the community boards in 2020 look like the community did in 1950,” he said — or matching current-day demographics?

“I think the consensus is that they’re lagging,” said Bonilla.

Matching Neighborhoods

In Staten Island, Leticia Remauro says it was always a struggle to find the right mix of people to serve on Community Board 1, the North Shore board she chaired from 2009 through 2015.

“We would look at the membership of the board and say, well, I have five people from West Brighton, but I only have one person from Rosebank. Or I have one person from Port Richmond, and eight from Westerleigh,” said Remauro, who is now running for borough president.

“For me, that was not correct, because, you know, we needed the representation on the board to match the neighborhoods.”

Remauro said her search for diversity extended beyond race and ethnicity. Renters, she noted, for example, were a minority on the board.

No matter what the members’ backgrounds, they need to share a dedication to “the greater good,” Remauro said.

“As long as a person is involved and conscientious … and comes to meetings and speaks to their neighbors — that makes a good community board member,” she said.

HOW TO APPLY

Interested in applying to a community board? Here’s what you need to know:

The deadlines are soon — especially in Queens.

• Queens: Last day to apply is Friday, Jan. 31. Application is here.

• The Bronx: Last day is Friday, Feb. 7. Application is here.

• Brooklyn: Last day is Friday, Feb. 14. Application is here.

• Manhattan: Last day is Friday, Feb. 14. Application is here.

• Staten Island: No deadline, applications accepted all year. Here’s the link.

Each borough’s application is different, but here’s what to expect:

• You have to live, work in or have a professional or other significant interest in the board’s district.

• Most board applications ask whether you’ve attended a community board meeting before. That experience is encouraged.

• Get ready to disclose a lot of information, kind of like a job application. Job history, references — Manhattan’s application even asks for a resume.

• Think about how much time you can dedicate to the board. It’s reasonable to assume you will be required to attend two or three meetings a month. Be ready for questions about that.

• Keep this in mind: All applicants are subject to the state Freedom of Information Law, which means your application could be made public.

If you plan to apply to be on a community board, we’d like to know and learn more about your journey. Email us and let us know at tparris@thecity.nyc, or call, text, Signal or WhatsApp 718-866-8674.

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