June 16, 2021 By Christian Murray
Queens Community Board 7 voted Monday night to start the board removal process to oust one of its members.
The board, by a vote of 42-3 with one abstention, gave its chair Eugene Kelty the go-head to form a special committee to investigate a series of allegations brought against board member John Choe.
Choe, who is running for city council in Flushing, spoke during the tense meeting and called the motion to investigate him “am embarrassment to the entire community board system.”
He said that the board was conducting a “kangaroo court” and refuted the allegations brought against him.
The charges against Choe are numerous, with Chuck Apelian—the board’s vice chair— leading the call for Choe’s departure.
Apelian read the list of allegations during the meeting. He accused Choe of speaking on behalf of the board without the board’s consent—to starting a Community Board 7 Facebook page without permission.
Other charges include e-mailing board members seeking campaign contributions—a violation of the New York City charter; defaming the board and its board members by calling them corrupt; opting not to vote on issues before the board; and seeking a bribe—a charge that is undermined by video evidence—when he testified against the Special Flushing Waterfront District proposal at a borough hall hearing in February 2020.
The vote in support of an investigation will now see the formation of a special committee in coming days—which will consist of three executive board members and two regular members.
The investigative committee will then present its findings to the full board that will ultimately determine whether Choe should be thrown out. It will be put to a vote, where a simply majority is enough to expel him.
Kelty, who has a very strained relationship with Choe that was on display Monday night, will appoint the members of the investigative committee.
Kelty said that Choe will be able to be represented by an attorney and will be permitted to testify and bring witnesses. He will also be able to cross examine witnesses.
Choe refuted the charges during the meeting when he got an opportunity to speak, noting that it was particularly disturbing that they would be brought against him with the election next week. He said the allegations dealt with issues that go back months and years.
“I don’t understand why it took you so long to come up with these absurd allegations,” Choe said Monday night, noting that it was no coincidence that the motion to remove him was put on the agenda right before the election.
Choe, in defending himself, said that all he was trying to do as a board member was to disseminate information about meetings and events—something, he said, the leaders of the board were failing to do.
This was particularly the case, he said, leading up to the vote on the Special Flushing Waterfront District proposal. Choe voted against the massive 1,725-unit project, with the board approving it 30-8.
Choe said that his attendance record has been exemplary and said that he was not slandering anyone.
Choe said that he was just pointing out that Apelian took money from developers as a consultant, which he deems is a form of corruption.
“I can’t close my eyes to that corruption,” Choe said.
Additionally, Choe said that the notion that he sought a bribe during a public hearing made no sense. He said it would be foolish to ask for a bribe during a public meeting. He said such corruption takes place behind closed doors.
Choe in an interview with the Queens Post last week did discuss some of the allegations.
He said that he did create a Community Board 7 Facebook page.
“Yes, I did at some point,” Choe said, when asked about the page. “Anyone can create a page on Facebook and post. Not like I had to go through a special process to create a page.”
He said that he created it since the community was not getting the information that it needed and that he was very active on Facebook in getting information out.
“It is frustrating when my own community board isn’t doing that and isn’t actually distributing information to the community,” Choe said.
The page was ultimately taken down after the board reached out to the New York City Dept. of Investigations, which contacted Facebook.
Choe said the accusation that he set out to actively solicit campaign money from board members was bogus.
He is accused of sending e-mails to community board members in December wishing them Happy Holidays and soliciting money for his campaign.
Choe, who is running to represent District 20, said that he sent out the e-mail to all his contacts.
“I may have 3,000 people in my contacts,” Choe said, noting that some in his network are community board members. “I didn’t target them.”
Furthermore, he said, “I would not abuse my position on the community board to demand [campaign] money from anyone. I have pledged to clean house and that is why so many people in community board leadership are afraid of me.”
Apelian said that the e-mails to board members were in violation of the city charter. The city charter states that “public servants, including community board members are prohibited from coercing any other public servant to engage in political activities or make any political contribution.”
Apelian said a board member might feel obligated to contribute out of concern that they might not be reappointed to the community board if a council candidate is elected—or there could be retribution.
Choe told the Queens Post that his corruption allegations against Apelian are valid—even though Apelian says he has recused himself from voting whenever a project he has been professionally involved in has come up.
For instance, Apelian recused himself from voting on the Special Flushing Waterfront District proposal because he was hired as a consultant by FWRA, the developers.
Choe told the Queens Post that whether Apelian, who is the Land Use Committee chair, recuses himself or not is irrelevant. He said that as the Land Use chair and vice chair of the board he has enormous influence as to how the other members of the board vote.
“He can do everything but vote,” Choe said. “He may be following the letter of the law but he is defying the spirt of the conflict of interest law.”
Apelian, in an interview, said that the timing of the motion to oust Choe was not politically motivated. He said that the executive board has been in discussions about calling for his removal for some time.
At the board meeting Monday, Apelian said the executive board had hoped that Choe would not be reappointed when his term ended in March 2021. He said that Council Member Peter Koo recommended against his reappointment but Queens Borough President Donovan Richards approved him for another 2-year term that started April 1.
Apelian said that the executive board held off going through the public removal process until now since it thought Choe wasn’t going to be reappointed.
Choe told the Queens Post that the board should be investigating Apelian—not him. “How much money is he taking from these developers—is it $50 or is it $50,000. We deserve to know.”