You are reading

Community Boards Required to Resume In-Person Meetings, Queens Board 6 Refuses Citing COVID Variant

Queens Community Board 6 Office in Forest Hills (Google Maps)

Aug. 5, 2021 By Allie Griffin

Community board meetings across the city must now be held in person — but one Queens board is refusing to do so given the growing prevalence of the delta variant.

The boards have been required to hold in-person meetings since June 25, when Governor Andrew Cuomo ended his executive order declaring a state of emergency due to COVID-19.

The expiration has meant that meetings must again be hosted for the public to witness in-person, as part of the state’s Open Meetings Law (OML).

But the leaders of Queens Community Board 6 (CB6)—which covers Forest Hills and Rego Park—do not agree with the change. The board will instead continue to hold its meetings remotely until further notice due to concerns over the highly contagious delta variant, Chair Alexa Weitzman stated in a letter to elected officials Monday.

“As of the writing of this letter, Queens is still in the throes of the COVID pandemic, with concerning and increasing Delta variant transmission,” Weitzman wrote. “To require Community Boards to meet in person at this juncture is extremely problematic and antithetical to the accessibility standards Queens Community Board 6 strives for.”

Most community boards, like Queens CB6, are on summer break and are not hosting monthly board meetings in July and August.

However, a Manhattan community board, Manhattan CB2, hosted a full board meeting in person on July 26 and subsequently had to cancel all meetings scheduled for the week of Aug. 2 after two fully-vaccinated attendees tested positive for COVID-19.

Weitzman told the Queens Post that what happened at the Manhattan Community Board 2 meeting is exactly why she and other CB6 board members will refuse to shift meetings to in person.

“The two cases at Community Board 2 in Manhattan really spurred me to take action early this morning,” she said Monday after posting her letter on Twitter.

The same situation could have easily happened with Queens Community Board 6, she said, since the board holds its meetings in a small room at 80-02 Kew Gardens Rd. She said she is unaware of a meeting space in the district that could safely accommodate all its board members and the public.

“I know our community and I know the spaces that we have — we don’t have a space that would be able to accommodate the 50-person membership safely,” Weitzman said.

It would be impossible to adhere to the city’s six-feet social distancing rule with the 50 board members alone, she added.

Many board members and members of the public have reached out to her with concerns about returning to in-person meetings—even before the delta variant raised alarm.

“We have older members, we have younger members who are immunocompromised, we have people who have children who are not eligible for the vaccine yet — I’m in that category —, we have people with accessibility issues that it would be very difficult for them to be in person,” Weitzman said. “The executive order might have ended, but the pandemic is not over.”

She also said it’s important to remember that community board members are unsalaried volunteers and as such, should not be required to put themselves at risk of contracting the coronavirus for the sake of hosting meetings in person.

Furthermore, Weitzman said, Queens CB6 has held remote meetings with much success.

Since switching to remote meetings, participation and engagement from the public has increased, she said. Given the greater participation, the board has created a process where members of the public can apply to sit on a committee.

Weitzman said the Open Meetings Law requiring in-person meetings should not apply so broadly, given the pandemic. She said that a blanket approach does not make sense.

The state legislature, however, would have to pass legislation to adapt the law to allow for remote meetings to continue.

“This is uncharted territory, so I understand that laws meant to govern in pre-COVID times [now] don’t fit neatly, but that’s on the legislature to figure out how to fix this problem because it’s a big one,” Weitzman said.

Two state legislators have introduced a bill that would allow public bodies like community boards the flexibility to either continue to hold virtual meetings or hold a hybrid of in-person/virtual meetings in accordance with the Open Meetings Law.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman introduced the bill in the State Senate last month and Assembly Member Amy Paulin introduced it in the Assembly in June. It has yet to be brought to the floor for a vote since the legislature is currently not in session. However, there appears to be growing support for it among legislators.

Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi said he intends to sign onto the bill as a co-sponsor when questioned by Weitzman on Twitter.

Several elected officials have also said they support community boards meeting remotely since Weitzman made her letter public.

Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal agreed with Community Board 6’s decision to continue meetings remotely until further notice as well.

@QueensCB6 is right,” Rosenthal said in a tweet. “With the growing threat of the Delta variant Community Board members should have the option of attending meetings remotely.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards — who appoints community board members — urged the state legislature to revise the Open Meetings Law for the duration of the pandemic.

“I support the Community Board’s wishes for an option to meet remotely,” Richards said in a statement. “Amid the rise of the Delta variant, it is more important than ever we keep our public servants safe and a hybrid model at the very least is a good compromise.”

email the author: [email protected]
No comments yet

Leave a Comment
Reply to this Comment

All comments are subject to moderation before being posted.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Recent News

BP launches new advisory panel for youth to become civically engaged in the future of Queens

In an effort to get more young people involved in civics, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards has created a new advisory panel known as the Youth and Young Adult Council to introduce the “youngest and fiercest” community advocates to both community service and organization.

Members of the advisory body will advocate concerns through means of community engagement by participating in one of two cohorts. The first will be made up of high school representatives between the ages of 13 and 17, while the second cohort will be comprised of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25.

‘Where do we go now?’ Michaels set to close its doors in Fresh Meadows next month

The Michaels located at 187-04 Horace Harding Expwy. in Fresh Meadows will be permanently closing its doors on Feb. 23. The announcement that Michaels will be leaving the Fresh Meadows Shopping Center has led to an outpouring of reactions from many community members.

“We know this is disappointing to our customers in Queens, but we hope to continue to serve them at our other locations in New York City or online at Michaels.com,” a spokesperson for Michaels said in a statement to Patch.com.

Queens senator holds Lunar New Year celebration at Tangram in Flushing

Hundreds of revelers joined state Senator John Liu for a Lunar New Year celebration Friday night at Tangram in Downtown Flushing. The event featured free food from 25 local restaurants, as well as musical and cultural performances and giveaways.

Liu was joined at the event by several local leaders, including Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, Councilwomen Sandra Ung and Linda Lee and many more. Many of the leaders spoke about the importance of this celebration to the Queens community as they celebrated the start of the Year of the Rabbit.

These Queens eateries are participating in the upcoming NYC Restaurant Week

NYC Restaurant Week is underway, so nix that skillet and bring family and friends to your favorite neighborhood spot, or get inspired and break bread somewhere new and different. During this special citywide culinary event, food-lovers will enjoy curated menus and prix-fixe prices that are easy on the wallet.

Bookings began on Jan. 17 and are available until Feb. 12, and you can reserve a table at 30 participating Queens restaurants, along with hundreds more across the five boroughs.

Flushing BID launches free online raffle to support local businesses in the community

The Flushing Business Improvement District (BID), on Friday, Jan. 20, announced the launch of Lucky7, a free online raffle to celebrate the Lunar New Year, promote local businesses, and bring shoppers from other regions to downtown Flushing. 

“This event is to celebrate the culture in Downtown Flushing. The food culture, shopping culture, but most importantly to celebrate the Lunar New Year culture in Downtown Flushing,” said Dian Yu, executive director of the Flushing BID. “This is a unique opportunity for people not familiar with Downtown Flushing to truly experience the food and fun that’s only available in Flushing.”

Queens lawmaker reintroduces legislation to make Lunar New Year a federal holiday

As the Asian American community prepares to begin celebrating Lunar New Year on Sunday, Jan. 22, Queens Congresswoman Grace Meng on Friday reintroduced a package of legislation to commemorate the holiday. 

Meng’s legislative Lunar New Year package includes the Lunar New Year Day Act, which would establish Lunar New Year as the 12th federal holiday recognized across the United States. It also includes a resolution, “Recognizing the cultural and historical significance of Lunar New Year,” that commemorates the long history and explains the cultural importance of the holiday. 

Lunar New Year ‘special celebration’ held at Queensborough Community College in Bayside

Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz joined Councilwomen Sandra Ung and Linda Lee on Wednesday, Jan. 18, for a special celebration in honor of the Lunar New Year at the Student Union Building at Queensborough Community College in Bayside.

Ung escaped the Cambodian genocide as a child, and her family emigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old. Now she represents Flushing with its enormous Asian American population. She said she is proud to see how many Lunar New Year celebrations she sees around the city compared to when she first arrived in Queens.

BP Richards, local leaders speak with small business owners in Flushing in effort to improve the neighborhood

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards joined several Queens leaders Wednesday morning for a walking tour through Flushing to get input from the community on how to improve the neighborhood.

The Jan. 18 tour comes in the wake of public safety concerns in downtown Flushing. While crime was a main concern among the business owners Richards spoke with Wednesday, there were other areas they wished to see improvements in across the area, including traffic and sanitation issues.