BY LUIS GRONDA
As the new Community Board year begins this month, some long-time members have been asked not to return, leaving those members frustrated and confused as to why they are no longer on their boards.
After elections in March and early April, each member has to resubmit paperwork asking to be reappointed to their respective Community Board. While the majority are granted membership, some are asked by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz to not return as a board member.
While some members can choose not to return for various reasons, including health, several residents will not be members in the coming year, and not by their own choice.
A new rule created this year by Katz enforces an attendance policy on the Borough’s CB members: If you miss five or more meetings for two consecutive years, you will not be reappointed.
In a phone interview with the Queens Tribune on Monday, Katz said she made the policy because it is important for board members to be present at the monthly meetings.
“And for the record, that’s half the meetings,” Katz said, discussing the policy. Community Boards meet once a month, except for July and August.
Some members are not returning for the new year, some due to their attendance, while others are under different circumstances.
Joseph Todisco, a Woodhaven resident, would have started his 20th year as a Community Board 9 member but was asked not to return.
The reason for his dismissal remains unclear to Todisco. According to Todisco, when he received a notice about no longer being a member, through a letter sent by the BP’s office, he went to the Borough President’s office to ask why and he was given no reason. Todisco said that Barry Grodenchik would only say that he is being asked to not return.
Todisco said he was told that he can reapply to be a board member again next year, but he would not consider that without knowing why he was dismissed in the first place.
“Why would I resubmit something when you treated me like garbage?” he said.
Katz’s office confirmed that Todisco was not asked to return to CB9, but it is their policy to not discuss why individual board members were not appointed to a Community Board.
Community Board 5, representing Maspeth, Middle Village, Glendale and Ridgewood, also lost members, but for different reasons.
Manuel Caruana (Maspeth), Vernon McDermott (Middle Village), Rose Johnson (Maspeth) and Rosanne Rosatto (Ridgewood) were asked not to return to the board because Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) was over represented in CB5, according to both Katz and Crowley.
Katz said when she was looking at the Community Board numbers, some percentages for council members in the Community Boards were “off” and needed to be corrected. According to the City Charter, each neighborhood within a Community Board needs to be equally represented. The Borough President selects half of the board members recommended by a council member and each council member is supposed to be equally represented within a Community Board.
Katz said there were too many members from Crowley’s district and a few needed to be eliminated to allow Councilman Antonio Reynoso (D- Brooklyn) to be more represented on the board. Reynoso’s district includes a portion of Ridgewood.
Crowley’s office sent out a statement in response to the situation.
“My total number of board appointments had to be reduced from 44 to 39 members to accurately reflect the 76.96 percent of Community Board 5 that includes Council District 30. I thank the past board members for their years of dedication and service to our community,” she said in a statement.
Caruana, who is the uncle to former City Council candidate Craig Caruana, said the reason for his removal was politically motivated. Craig Caruana ran against Crowley for her City Council seat last year and Manuel sits on the board of directors of the Juniper Park Civic Association, an organization known to have supported Crowley’s opponents in the past, including Caruana.
“This sends a really bad message to people who are looking to volunteer on a Community Board when you dismiss them like they are nothing,” Manuel said.
Campaign finance records show that both McDermott and Bob Holden, the president of the JPCA, donated to Craig Caruana’s campaign last year. Holden gave $175 and McDermott $150.
When asked about the controversy, Katz said those residents lost their membership strictly because Crowley was overrepresented and had nothing to do with politics.
“I told her that she had to lose members, it was too much from her district,” the Borough President said. “We tried to do it fairly and systematically, but it’s not always perfect.”
Community Board 8, which represents areas bordering southeast Queens including Fresh Meadows, lost two members this year as well, according to their office. One member was chronically absent from meetings and another did not reapply for health reasons.
Reach Luis Gronda at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @luisgronda.