Board games: Residents, electeds call for leadership change at Battery Park City

Photo by Milo Hess Battery Park City Authority board chairman Dennis Mehiel, right, joined by board president Shari Hyman, left, and member Martha Gallo, took questions from residents at a Dec. 16 forum.

Photo by Milo Hess
Residents and elected officials are calling for Battery Park City Authority board chairman Dennis Mehiel to be replaced now that his term has expired, after a string of unpopular decisions by the authority.

BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC and YANNIC RACK |

Two vacancies. Two expired terms. One local resident. Community Board 1 members think that’s a recipe for major changes to the Battery Park City Authority’s board.

CB1’s Battery Park City Committee wants Gov. Cuomo, who picks the leadership of the state authority that runs the neighborhood, to appoint residents to a majority of seats on the seven-member board.

“This is a public benefit corporation, it has been established for some time and there has only ever been one resident on the seven-person board,” Chairman Anthony Notaro said. “At the end of the day, it’s simply time for local residents to take a more active participation in the governance of the authority.”

After a string of unpopular decisions over the past year and a half, the drumbeat for more local representation is getting louder, but whether or not the governor will heed it remains to be seen.

Downtown Express repeatedly called and emailed Cuomo’s office with questions about the governor’s plans for board chairman Dennis Mehiel, whose term expired at the end of last year.

At a town hall meeting in December — the first during Mehiel’s tenure — frustrations with his leadership and a wide range of issues boiled over, and led to calls for his ouster.

But the governor’s office declined to answer any questions about whether Mehiel would be reappointed or shed any light on the appointment process. His office would not even say whether the governor planned to give the wishes of Battery Park City residents any weight at all when appointing the board that runs their neighborhood.

Board members can serve beyond their appointed term until the governor replaces or reappoints them. The term of Martha Gallo — the only neighborhood resident currently on the board — expired at the end of 2014.

But one board seat has been vacant for some time, and Frank Branchini recently left the board, so if Cuomo named residents to those seats, and replaced Mehiel with a local, Battery Park City would be controlled by people who actually live there.

At CB1’s Battery Park City Committee on Jan. 5, members drafted and passed a resolution calling for Cuomo to do just that.

The committee already asked for more local representation on the board in a report submitted to the B.P.C.A. in 2014. But nothing ever came of it, so now members plan to make the appeal directly to the governor.

“We have never sent this directly to the governor, saying this is what we want,” Notaro said.

Although the resolution passed at the committee meeting and will now be put to CB1’s full board on Jan. 26, not everyone agreed on the issue — but not because they were happy with the authority’s leadership. In fact, quite the opposite.

Tom Goodkind, the lone dissenting vote, made an impassioned plea to scrap the authority altogether instead.

“I think it’s great that you brought this up, but I just don’t see the board conforming to what is needed by this community,” he told Notaro. “I don’t think the structure that we have now — even with the governor picking a few more, let’s say, Martha Gallos — is going to make a change.”

Instead, Goodkind argued, the city should take over management of Battery Park City, which it can do under an agreement dating to the 1980s that would require the payment of $1 and the assumption of the authority’s assets and liabilities.

State Sen. Daniel Squadron recently renewed the call for a city takeover in an editorial in this paper last August and made the case to CB1’s Battery Park City Committee in November. He said that the idea, which has been around for some time, is gathering some steam.

“I support a stronger community voice in Battery Park City decision-making, and more responsiveness to the community,” Squadron said in a statement to Downtown Express. “That’s why I proposed a structure with city control and local representation. I’ll continue to push to create a real, permanent, community role in running B.P.C.”

On Jan. 14, four elected officials wrote Cuomo supporting more local representation on the board. In the letter, the officials pointed out that while the neighborhood has changed since it was a development project, its governance has not.

Squadron, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Margaret Chin said the community is not sufficiently represented and that current empty seats offer a way to ensure a local voice in B.P.C.A. decision making.

“As each vacancy arises, we strongly urge you to make appointments to the board that ensure community members compose a majority of the board’s membership,” the officials wrote.

Goodkind said a city takeover would bring profound and positive change.

“I think if we sell this to the city for a dollar, and become a part of New York City, you’re going to see fantastic changes here, and the representation we need.”

But his fellow members are not convinced — yet.

The committee agreed to set a deadline of April 1 for the governor to start the selection process for new board members, “leading to a prompt decision,” before considering any further action — including endorsing a city takeover.

On Jan. 14, four elected officials wrote Cuomo supporting more local representation on the board. In the letter, the officials pointed out that while the neighborhood has changed since it was a development project, its governance has not.

Squadron, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Margaret Chin said the community is not sufficiently represented and that current empty seats offer a way to ensure a local voice in B.P.C.A. decision making.

“As each vacancy arises, we strongly urge you to make appointments to the board that ensure community members compose a majority of the board’s membership,” the officials wrote.

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