Community board members and supporters protest Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed cuts in power of boards outside Borough Hall last Tuesday. Some board members face criticism for skipping meetings. Cohen for News
It's one of the least glamorous volunteer jobs in New York City government - a seat on a community board.
More than 600 people in Queens serve on the borough's 14 community boards. That means they often sit through hours of hearings that focus on the finer points of municipal planning and zoning.
But they also have a front-row seat for major projects that move through their neighborhoods, and it can be a dream gig for gadflies, civic leaders and the politically ambitious.
Even so, dozens of board members in Queens failed to show up for more than half of the regular community board meetings last year. And an even larger number barely hit the 50% attendance rate, according to statistics obtained by Queens News.
"They are given a position of authority," said City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), who ruffled some feathers earlier this year when he said it should be easier to replace members with poor attendance records.
He also drew some anger for asking board members to meet with him and send him letters explaining why they should be reappointed.
"Sometimes people feel that once they are on, they can stay forever," Halloran said. "It's not just what you have done in the past, but what you are expected to do in the future."
Almost 60 people missed more than half of their regular board meetings in 2009.
"To me, 50% is not acceptable," said Eugene Kelty, chairman of Community Board 7, which had five members who missed more than half of the board's 13 meetings last year. "I always call members to find out what is going on."
The largest numbers of low-attendees were on Community Boards 3, 4 and 10.
Community boards and their members may be feeling especially vulnerable these days. Their budgets are being slashed and their few advisory powers are under scrutiny by Mayor Bloomberg's Charter Revision Commission.
"Community board members are volunteers, and sometimes they have work obligations," said Betty Braton, chairwoman of Community Board 10, which covers Ozone Park and Howard Beach. "People let me know when they can't make a meeting."
Board members with poor attendance rates can be removed, according to the City Charter.
But officials said quietly that some people are reappointed despite poor attendance because they offer vital professional experience or help make the board more diverse.
Many are also reluctant to force out longtime members who are absent for health reasons.
"Unfortunately, there is a lot of illness out there," said recently appointed Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik, who oversees the boards. "Seventy-five percent of the board members have good attendance."
Board members serve staggered two-year terms. Each January, half of the approximately 640 members must reapply for their seats.
Borough President Helen Marshall appoints members, but half of them must be recommended by a Council member from their district.
In January, Grodenchik sent members a letter reminding them to reapply if they want to hold onto their seats. They were also told that attendance would be one of the factors used in Marshall's decision.
About 30 people decided not to reapply.
"It's a volunteer position," said Jerry Iannece, chairman of Community Board 11, who attended all of his board's regular meetings last year. "You have to be appreciative of what they do and maybe push them a little bit."