Manhattan’s 12 community boards are local organizations each composed of 50 volunteer members serving staggered two-year terms. Community boards are tasked with being the independent and representative voices of their communities—the most grass-roots form of local government. The boards are pivotal in shaping their communities and work to enhance and preserve the character of the city’s many unique neighborhoods.
Each community board has a budget, a district manager and staff, and has three distinct responsibilities:
Monitoring the delivery of city services such as sanitation and street maintenance;
Planning and reviewing land use applications including zoning changes; and
Making recommendations for each year’s city budget.
Community boards consider a wide range of issues, including distribution of liquor licenses, consideration of sidewalk café applications, and permits for street fairs and other outdoor events. They may also weigh in issues before the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Board of Standards and Appeals (the city agency dedicated to land-use and zoning regulation), and provide input on proposals from city agencies.
Members are officially appointed by the Manhattan Borough President. Half of the members of these boards are selected unilaterally by the Borough President, and half with the nomination of the City Council Members who represent the district. The Borough President must ensure adequate representation from different geographic neighborhoods in the district and must consider whether each community’s constituencies are represented.
Learn more about Community Boards in the following excerpts from/adaptations of the “Handbook for Community Board Members,” published in 1998 by the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit:
Manhattan’s community boards are based on a parliamentary structure much like the City Council or U.S. Congress. Every board has an Executive Committee elected by the board that includes a chair, vice chairs, a secretary and a treasurer.
Community boards create additional subcommittees based off the needs of their districts. Examples of committees include Land Use and Zoning, Parks and Waterfront, Health and Human Services, Nightlife and Business Applications, Transportation, Landmarks and Preservation, and Education and Youth Services.
Boards are empowered to establish their own committee structure and procedures. Each community board member is expected to serve on a minimum of two committees.
All community board meetings are open to the public. The full community board of each district meets once a month. Meetings rotate locations but are held at the same monthly times. Subcommittees meet more frequently to discuss their individual areas of responsibility.
Borough Board and Borough Service Cabinet
The Manhattan Borough President chairs two boards that bring the chairs and district managers of each community board together with other important stakeholders in Manhattan each month.
The Borough Board, consisting of Manhattan’s City Council members and community board chairs, focuses on issues dealing with land use, development, public policy, budget, and other important matters with potential borough wide implications.
The Borough Service Cabinet, chaired by the Manhattan Borough President and composed of the district managers of Manhattan’s community boards and representatives from city agencies, focuses on city service delivery and agency responsiveness across the borough.
Community Board members must live, work, or have an otherwise significant interest in the neighborhoods served by the community board, and be a New York City resident. In addition, the Manhattan Borough President’s office looks for applicants with histories of involvement in their communities, expertise and skill sets that are helpful to community boards, attendance at community board meetings, and knowledge of issues impacting their community. No more than 25 percent of the members of any board may be New York City employees.
Application & Interview Process
Prospective community board members must submit a biography or resume and complete a comprehensive online application explaining why they want to join the board, what skills they offer, and their relationship to their districts. These applications are reviewed and evaluated by an independent screening panel. Qualified applicants are interviewed on the panel’s recommendation by staff members of the Manhattan Borough President’s office. Appointments are made by April 1st and are based on the application, panel recommendation, and interviews.
Current community board members seeking to continue their service are required to fill out a re-application form prior to the expiration of their term. Reappointment is not guaranteed. Re-applying members are subject to the same application process as prospective members but are automatically granted interviews. Members must continue to demonstrate a significant interest in their community board, the ability to make the required time commitment, and a track record of constructive participation.
Each community board member serves for two years and can re-apply at the end of their term. Members are usually expected to serve on a minimum of two committees, typically broken down by issue area and/or neighborhood, as well as attend the monthly board meeting where all committees make a report to the full board membership. Members of community boards serve without compensation but may be reimbursed for actual, necessary out-of-pocket expenses in connection with their responsibilities.
Community board membership is a major time commitment. Members are expected to be active, involved, and maintain a record of good attendance. In addition, they should seek to adhere to the principles of good government: honesty, accountability, and the avoidance of conflicts of interest.
Copyright The Office of the Manhattan Borough President