Some Bronx residents are being kept in the dark on what happened at recent meetings of their local community boards.
Six of the borough’s 12 community boards regularly break a New York state law that requires public bodies to record and provide accessible minutes of their meetings, according to a review by THE CITY going back to 2019.
Community board members are volunteers, aided by a paid district manager. While they have no formal power, their recommendations often determine land-use decisions and liquor license approvals.
Although some boards in the Bronx documented most meetings, others have not published minutes in more than a year, essentially locking out community members from seeing what is being done. Several boards began uploading video recordings of meetings to their YouTube channels after public bodies switched to virtual and hybrid meetings during the pandemic.
Boards 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 12 have been the most egregious offenders.
As of Thursday, CB1 — which covers Mott Haven, Melrose and Port Morris in the South Bronx — has not posted minutes for any meeting since October 2022, though video of one board meeting was posted to YouTube in April. CB2 — which serves Hunts Point, Longwood and portions of Morrisania — has not posted any minutes since June 2020, while its YouTube channel has not been updated since March 2022.
The latest entry for minutes at CB3, in the Central Bronx, was in September 2022 and though the board has an active YouTube channel, the most recent link on the board websitethere was in March 2022.
CB4 has not posted minutes in a year and a half. CB5 documented five of its 10 meetings in 2022 and three meetings this year. However, three meetings of the West Bronx board were scrapped because a quorum of more than half its members could not be convened.
Kenneth Brown, district manager of CB4, pointed to those canceled meetings in a statement to THE CITY.
“Unfortunately, I am still looking to hire employees,” CB3 acting district manager Etta Ritter told THE CITY in a statement. “When I hire staff, I will look to be in compliance.”
CB12, which is in the North Central Bronx, has posted minutes for two meetings so far in 2023, and just six of a possible 10 last year.
District manager George Torres told THE CITY that CB12’s meetings are uploaded on YouTube.
“I cannot offer you any excuses,” Torres said in a statement. “It is one of our failings as a Community Board and mine personally as the District Manager.”
He added that board members are supposed to provide minutes, but noted that they do not always arrive in a timely manner — or at all.
“I have requested trainings for Board Members on what is required,” Torres said.
“In our website, we have a YouTube link under useful links,” CB2 district manager Ralph Acevedo told THE CITY in a statement. “We are having some technical issues uploading meetings that should be resolved soon.”
The website, however, does not include a visible link to its YouTube page.
“All of the Board’s committee meetings and Public Hearings/Full Board meetings will be provided via the YouTube link,” Acevedo said.
Community Boards 1 and 4 did not respond to requests for comment.
It’s the Law
Under the Open Meetings Law, “minutes shall be taken at all open meetings of a public body” and published within two weeks. Recordings qualify as minutes, but only if a link is posted on the board’s website, State Committee on Open Government spokesperson Kristin O’Neill told THE CITY.
Most of the boards that post meeting videos to YouTube did not link to them from their own sites.
A spokesperson for Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, whose office is responsible for selecting the members of the borough’s boards, said that reasons for the lapses vary from board to board.
“We are thinking through ways we can continue to offer support and guidance, which includes advocating for additional resources from the Mayor’s office,” the spokesperson said.
Community Boards 10 and 11, covering the Northeast Bronx, are the only ones in the borough that have uploaded minutes for every meeting since 2019.
“We’re a public body and everything we should do, it should be public. It’s about transparency,” CB11 district manager Jeremy Warneke said, longtime board member Harriet Lasky with drafting meeting minutes that date to 1980. “The City Charter says we’re supposed to be doing it.”
When he joined the board as district manager in 2011, Warneke said he had to talk Lasky down from the ambitious 14 pages of minutes she would normally submit to a more readable four pages.
The minutes were so extensive that board members would approve them without reading them closely, he said. So, at one meeting, Warneke decided to joke around with his colleagues.
“And so I put in the minutes during my report, ‘he announced that he was going to retire to the North Pole to help Santa with his sleigh,”’ Warneke said.
“And they voted on it — they didn’t read that. One board member caught it after the fact.”
But the failure of many boards to provide any written minutes “doesn’t surprise me at all,” former CB6 district manager John Sanchez, who served in that role when Ruben Diaz Jr. was the borough president, told THE CITY.
“It’s not difficult,” he said. ”But the point is people didn’t make it a priority and they accepted the fact that they can let it go by the wayside because the borough president’s office wasn’t paying attention to it, and they don’t want to hold anyone accountable. So, they were able to get away with things.
“And as you can see, they continue to get away with things.”
CB10 chair Joseph Russo told THE CITY that community boards “just gotta do the work.”
“It’s not that hard, it’s part of what we’re supposed to do,” he said. “You know, it’s not like rocket science or anything.”