CB14 Faces a Quorum Conundrum

By Sean McVeigh

On a cold, blustery Tuesday evening, Community Board 14 members and public spectators filed into the Knights of Columbus on Beach 90th Street. As attendees found their respective seats, the radiators began to gurgle on. The Knights’ hall was dressed for the season with large wreaths encircling the room and the board members’ U-shaped tables were buttressed by a beautifully decorated Christmas tree and the always steadfast American flag.

Before official proceedings began shortly after 7 p.m., CB14 Chairwoman Delores Orr noted that a quorum, or the minimum number of community board members that needed to be present at the meeting for any votes to be counted as official, had not yet been reached. According to the charter which governs community board proceedings, CB14, which includes 49 members that were appointed by the Queens borough president, requires 51% of its total membership plus one additional member (25 members in CB14’s case) to be present for a quorum. Tuesday night, only 23 of 49 members were in attendance at the beginning of the meeting.

Chairwoman Orr began by giving her report. She relayed that the west bound lanes of the Rockaway Freeway would be closed beginning next week, December 18, from Beach 102nd to Beach 108th as the MTA begins work on a new signal tower on Beach 105th Street. She also discussed recent construction near the Redfern housing complex that had received complaints. She had reached out to Senator Sanders’ office regarding the work but had so far fallen on deaf ears. Chairwoman Orr also spoke about how, in the absence of Jonathan Gaska, the newly retired district manager, she had taken on his responsibilities in addition to her own. She was very interested in getting to the nominating committee, executive session and vote on the search committee’s selection which was scheduled for later in the meeting’s agenda in regard to finding Gaska’s replacement.

Following the chairwoman’s remarks, the board heard from the NYPD and representatives from elected officials’ offices. The 101st Precinct reported that crime, over the past 28-day period, had trended downwards while the 100th Precinct reported their numbers slightly up with the main cause being an uptick in “smash and grab” robberies from people’s vehicles. Representatives from Councilwoman Ariola’s office, DA Melinda Katz’s office, State Senator James Sanders’ office and Mayor Eric Adams’ office, all gave brief updates and wished the board happy holidays. Of note, among the updates, the representative from the mayor’s office announced that they have been collaborating with the State Sheriff’s office to crack down on illegal smoke shops. The announced plan was to begin targeting landlords with strong fines if their tenants were found to be running an illegal smoke shop.

The meeting then moved to the public speaking portion of the proceedings which, abnormally, featured only two speakers. The first requested that the board send a letter to local elected officials calling on both Washington and Albany for bipartisan support of further funding for New York City. The second speaker wanted to bring attention to the discussions that will be taking place at the next Bayswater Civic Association meeting which will take place in the new year on January 7, 2024.

At this point, about 30 minutes into the proceedings, the agenda had to be amended as the board waited hopefully that more members would arrive to reach their quorum. The board turned to the Economic Development Committee, which had recently met to discuss and create a report on local cannabis retail sale applications. This report will then be used to advise the Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) on the distributing of permits to applicants for legal recreational dispensaries within the community board’s confines. Chairwoman Orr noted that they had requested a 30-day extension as, according to her, all applicants may have some possible issues regarding the requirements that need to be met to submit an application and all still needed further review. After their review is complete, all information would be sent back to the OCM who would make the final decisions. One board member noted that she found that very few of the applicants were fully educated as to what the requirements would be and that this needed to be addressed as they expect to continue to receive more applications. She also noted that the members of the board needed to get educated on the matter as well. “This is here. As community board members, we need to get educated,” the Economic Development Committee member declared. It was reiterated that this was all part of a first draft, and that the committee would continue to work on the task at hand.

At 8:11 p.m., almost an hour after the meeting began, Chairwoman Orr announced that it appeared they would not reach their quorum and therefore would not be able to get to the meeting’s main agenda item of hearing from the nominating committee on the recommendations for Slate of Executive Officers, could not take nominations from the floor and could not go into executive session, as planned, in their search to replace Jonathan Gaska as district manager. This prompted a larger discussion about the lack of meeting attendance. Only the borough president had the power to remove members and the board’s hands were seemingly tied. Chairwoman Orr informed the board that this has been an issue at community boards across Queens and that she was recently informed that members who had missed two or more meetings from January to October this year would be receiving letters from Borough Hall. This problem seemed to stem even further to the roots of the board as it was mentioned that it has become common place for a quorum within specific committees to not be reached and therefore no actual action able to be taken. This elicited an even more concerning comment that some new members had still not been informed which committees they were assigned to and therefore could not be blamed for not attending their individual meetings. Apparently, only the committee chairs were given their lists, and some had not reached out to inform the new members of their assignment. These lists were sent out in July. One board member was enlightened to her assignment to the Budget Committee right at the meeting on Tuesday. It appears all of this is very possibly related to the recent retirement of district manager Jonathan Gaska. In a catch-22 situation, however, without a quorum, the board’s nomination to fill his position could not be voted on. Because of the lack of quorum, and therefore lack of business conducted, it was announced that there would be two CB 14 meetings held in January.

The meeting moved on to the “old and new business” portion and it was reported that upcoming road paving lists had been requested for the rest of the year and beginning of next year, but none had yet been received. Zip codes were requested to be included on board members’ name plates at meetings and traffic issues under the “El” train were discussed. In a fitting conclusion, one member requested that the old and new business portion of the meetings, which is usually at the end of meetings and therefore often cut short, be moved to the beginning moving forward. She was informed that in order to vote to make that change … you guessed it … a quorum would need to be present.

With that, Chairwoman Orr wished everyone happy holidays and concluded a disappointing final meeting of 2023 for Community Board 14.

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