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Community Boards Jeer Financial Disclosure

You may soon learn a great deal more about community board members than ever before. That’s because of a new City Council bill seeking to amend the city’s administrative code, requiring disclosure of board members’ financial interests. The local law, Intro. No. 765, was introduced in December by Manhattan Councilmember Gale Brewer. The proposed law would hold community board members—a voluntary, unpaid position selected by City Council members or the borough president—up to the same disclosure standards as elected officials. “I’m against it,” said Jerry O’Shea, the president of Community Board 15. “Members are selected and pretty much investigated by board itself for conflicts of interest. I don’t think it would serve any purpose.” O’Shea has faith in community boards to police themselves. “There’s no way to make any money as a board member. It’s a volunteer position. I doubt very much that anybody would jeopardize their position, for one vote out of 50. It’s crazy.” The city’s 59 community boards serve as a conduit between the public, and city agencies and elected officials. Boards review the city’s budget, land use and zoning matters and myriad other items affecting residents’ daily life. As one of the few paid members working for the board, Community Board 11 District Manager Howard Feuer files disclosure forms annually. But he doesn’t think he—nor board members—should be forced to do so. “I don’t see myself in a public policy-making position because the board I work for doesn’t make policy,” Feuer said. “The role of community boards is advisory and I don’t think advisory personnel should have to file,” Feuer added. “We have no decision-making powers. I make no final decisions about anything,” Feuer said. Central Brooklyn City Councilmember Letitia James signed on to sponsor the bill. “I believe in openness and transparency first,” the city lawmaker said. She said the law could reveal potentially “harmful conflicts of interest.” James said the law would compel members to disclose exiting liabilities, interests in real property, personal property and other means of employment. A sister bill, which James also supports, seeks to modify the scope of the financial disclosure form, which is at present, she said, voluminous. With either bill, James said she doesn’t expect much controversy.

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