Tuesday, October 14, 2008

93rd Street Beautification Association Questions the Integrity of CB8 President David Liston

Just received an email from the 93rd Street Beautification Association -- Community Board 8 is continuing its hostile stance toward its own citizenry by refusing to look at, acknowledge, discuss or think about the Sept. 10 vote, which may or may not have been legal, giving a green light to a variance that will allow a contractor to build a penthouse atop another penthouse, which will continue to destroy, among other things, the grand character of this historic area. Politicians like to talk about the book "What's the Matter with Kansas?" in the sense of red states voting against their economic interests. The real question is: What's the Matter with Community Board 8 President David Liston? Here's the email I received, slightly redacted:

Despite numerous timely requests from the community, Community Board 8 Chairman, David Liston, has refused to calender the Request for Reconsideration of the Board's erroneous September 10, 2008 approval of a precedent-setting variance which would allow a General Contracter to put a Penthouse on top of his existing Penthouse at 150 East 93rd Street, best known as historic Marx Brothers Place, in Carnegie Hill.

As NYC residents weigh the value of term limits this week, it's a perfect time to explore the length of service that should be tolerated on Community Boards. We must now ask ourselves, What is best for the community? What is it that would truly empower the residents of our city?

When Community Board Members are not only callously unapologetic about missing crucial votes that will effect our city's residential neighborhoods, but also refuse to listen to the community even when they deign to finally appear, their collective failure to reflect the purpose of these Boards and the concerns of the community necessarily begs two questions: 1) Should Community Board Members be limited to 2 years of service each? and 2) Are Community Boards and their burden to the much-stressed budget still necessary in this age of cost-effective communication and public access?

Despite very little transparency and absolutely no accountability to the public (remember that quaint little notion of democracy?) these nongovernmental-governmental bodies hold sway over everybody from your local Council Member to the Borough Presidents. Just ask for something that hasn't first been given a Community Board's seal of approval. Otherwise muscular politicians suddenly go weak in the knees.

In the face of that kind of power, one would think that Community Boards must naturally include an appeals process by which to challenge Board decisions. And one would, sadly, be wrong.

Instead of providing an opportunity for appeal, Board Members prefer to deflect community grievances, by downplaying the weight of their collective opinion and reminding everybody that a Board decision is not legally binding, after all. Well, talk about having it both ways.

NYC residents are politically precluded from progress (oh say, like a block being co-named in honor of the world's greatest comic genuises) unless that progress is specifically sanctioned and defined by their particular Community Board. It seems Board Members and the elected officials who cower to them have forgotten the most important thing of all: their public duty is to reflect the will of the community and not the other way around.

To encourage fair and balanced judgments, most democratic structures include built-in checks and balances, like an appeals process. But, here in our town, Community Boards are completely shielded from the democratic process. Because Board decisions are not legally binding, no opportunity for appeal is provided to the public.

Granted, this obvious flaw in the system may not be the fault of individual Community Board Members. But true leaders always rise above the tedium of structure to fashion solutions that are in the public's best interest. That simple concept is at the very heart of public leadership and public service…

Community Board decisions must be appealable and reversible. If not, it's time to face the simple fact that Community Boards, however useful when first created, have outlived their usefulness and should be disbanded, a very attractive prospect in a fiscally-strapped time.

So I did a little digging, and it turns out that Liston is an attorney at Hughes Hubbard. Here's a link to all kinds of information about him, and that includes an in-depth PDF file that is worth investigating further. What relationship might Liston or Hughes Hubbard have with the contractor -- or the owner of the penthouse and the building? What conflicts of interest may be preventing Liston from acting in good faith as President of CB8? I don't know that there are any. Indeed, there may be none. But it seems to me this is ready to be examined. I hope the 93rd Street Beautification Association, in addition to putting out emails, does so immediately.

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