Volume 17, Number 42 | March 11 - 17, 2005

C.B. 1 backs away from contentious rule change

By Ronda Kaysen

Community Board 1’s Executive Committee effectively killed a Code of Conduct resolution it proposed last month that would have curbed board members’ speech, bringing the contentious issue to a close.

“I think it was the right thing for them to do,” board member Julie Menin said after the meeting.

Menin, a member of the Bylaws Subcommittee that was created to establish a code to regulate board member behavior, initially supported the resolution, but changed her position after the full board balked at the proposal.

“The original resolution did not go far enough in protecting rights of free speech,” she told Downtown Express last week.

The resolution started out benignly enough: it passed unanimously in both the subcommittee where it was drafted and in the Executive Committee. But when it came before the full board on Feb. 15 it was met with unyielding criticism. Several board members read much of the language in the resolution — which would have prevented board members from questioning the motives of other board members at meetings or anywhere else — as a marked attempt to stifle speech. Members of the Executive Committee said that was not their intent.

The debate was quickly halted when the board tabled the discussion.

“The wider body sees things that the smaller body does not,” said Bylaws Subcommittee chairperson Ray O’Keefe at a March 2 subcommittee meeting. “Nobody wants to limit anybody’s free speech.”

In what amounted to a prosaic end to the issue, Executive Committee co-chairperson Richard Kennedy announced at the March 9 committee meeting that C.B. 1 chairperson Madelyn Wils, who did not attend the meeting, would distribute a letter to board members about the issue. Kennedy did not indicate what matters the letter would address, but he indicated that she would write it “in the next few days.”

The committee took no further action, leaving the resolution tabled indefinitely.

Wils did not immediately return a call for comment by press time.

“As long as the resolution was withdrawn, they did the right thing,” board member Bill Love said after the meeting.

Love, an active member of the A.C.L.U. for 30 years, including six years on the national A.C.L.U. board, circulated a detailed response to the February resolution in which he referred to aspects of the resolution as “simply stunning,” “fundamentally flawed” and argued that it could result in a “ ‘chilling effect’ on free speech.”

“I don’t even know why we need to do anything,” he told Downtown Express last week. “I don’t see the need for a code of conduct at all.”

Love drafted an alternative resolution that did not secure enough votes in the subcommittee to pass, to Love’s relief. “I’m not pounding the table for my resolution,” he said last week. “I would be amazed if it actually passed.”

Although the resolution was not withdrawn until Wednesday night, as early as last week, it appeared dead in the water. “The wording of the original resolution — rightly or wrongly — was troubling,” said O’Keefe at the March 2 subcommittee meeting. “We can’t just keep proposing a resolution that has no support.”


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