Community members spoke out Monday in support of City Councilman Tony Avella (D-Bayside), who was stripped of a council committee post last month by Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan) in apparent retaliation for Avella's vote against the 18.5 percent property tax increase last November.
"Avella has been attacked," said Bayside civic activist Mandingo Tshaka at the regular monthly meeting of Community Board 11, which covers Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck, Oakland Gardens, Auburndale and Hollis Hills.
"Is this country becoming more and more fascistic? I think so," said Tshaka, a former board member.
Avella and fellow Councilman Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica), who also voted against the property tax increase, were each removed from a committee after the Feb. 12 council vote.
Jennings told the TimesLedger last month that Miller had informed them in a private meeting that the move was in response to their property tax no-votes.
The councilmen also had their citywide parking permits withheld a few days earlier.
Frank Skala of the East Bayside Homeowners Association told Monday's meeting that he had formed a group called Friends of Independent Legislators, or FOIL, to "foil attempts to punish legislators" for voting as they chose.
Douglaston resident Sean Walsh, a former board member and current president of the Queens Civic Congress, called Avella's punishment "nothing less than political extortion" and lauded the councilman for his work on zoning issues.
Board members then voted to have their chairman, Jerry Iannece, write a letter to Miller supporting Avella and objecting to retaliatory tactics against lawmakers.
"He should not be punished for speaking his mind and voting his conscience," said Iannece in a phone interview.
Avella voted for the committee removal, however, at the time.
On Tuesday, Avella said of the board's support, "I'm very appreciative," adding that he did not know in advance of CB 11's plans.
"People should be able to vote how they feel is appropriate...and in the best interests of the city," he said.
Also passed at Monday's meeting was the board's resolution on community facilities, the wording of which had been finalized over the last few months.
After some additional debate, the resolution passed overwhelmingly to recommend that city zoning laws restrict the ability of facilities such as churches and medical offices to move into residential neighborhoods.
Community facilities are currently given wide latitude to do just that, and the board's resolution, which follows those passed by other boards in northeast Queens, stipulates that they no longer be allowed to build "as of right" in residential areas and that they undergo a more stringent review process by the City Planning Commission.
The resolution also demanded that parking requirements more closely match the number of people using the facility, among other provisions.
On another front, Iannece told the board he had sent a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly last week about the dwindling number of police in the 111th Precinct, which Iannece said has about 100 officers - the least in the city.
"This is unacceptable and dangerous," read Iannece's letter, requesting that officers be redeployed and permanently assigned to the precinct.
Other topics discussed at the meeting were a public forum scheduled for next Thursday at MS 158 in Bayside to protest the elimination of School District 26.
Melvyn Meer, head of the board's ad hoc education committee, said he had visited local elected officials and Community Boards 7, 8 and 13 to rally support for preservation of the school districts.
The board also voted to recommend that 193rd Street between 45th Avenue and Northern Boulevard be renamed in memory of Arthur Warren Scullin, an Auburndale resident who died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
Scullin's family, who lives on that block, spoke to the board about the man they said was a proud lifetime New Yorker and Queens resident.
Scullin, a senior vice president at the Marsh & McLennan financial services firm, liked shoveling snow because it gave him the opportunity to talk to his neighbors, his son said.
"He always loved Auburndale," said Warren Scullin, his son.
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 146.
©2003 Community News Group
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