Allow Young People to Serve on Community Boards


Council Member Ben Kallos

Last week, the City Council passed a resolution in support of allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to serve on their local community boards. The resolution throws City support behind Albany legislation that would amend the City Charter and Public Officers Law to let the teens become full voting members of their boards.

Ask the average New Yorker what a community board does, and you might receive a blank stare. But the boards are the most local form of government, with key advisory powers on land use issues, addressing community concerns and much more. It’s important that they fully represent their communities.

There are 8.3 million residents of New York City and 20 percent of them are under 18 years old. These New Yorkers deserve a say in the decisions that affect their neighborhoods, education, and parks. We should not deny civically engaged teenagers the chance to serve on the grounds of their age alone.

At the age of 16, Scott Stringer was appointed to Manhattan Community Board 12 through special permission. Now, he is the City Comptroller. The values of service and participation that a community board instills have clearly stayed with him to this day.

Community boards often lack for new voices, which is part of the reason why the public hears little about them. If our most engaged and enthusiastic 16 and-17-year-olds were to join Community Boards, we would see a shift in how the public engages with them.

In March, I released a report entitled Improving Community Boards in New York City: Best Practices in Recruitment and Appointment to New York City’s 59 Boards, containing recommendations for reforms to our boards. Elected officials treat Community Boards’ opinions with seriousness and respect; they should be vibrant, diverse and free of political interests. Board members are devoted and hardworking volunteers. They, along with the communities they have the privilege of representing, deserve well-functioning, energetic and transparent boards.

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and Council Members Ritchie Torres, Mark Levine, James A. Vacca, and I worked to get this resolution passed by the City Council. We we know that, when given the chance, 16- and 17-year-olds will improve our neighborhoods and become the future public servants that transform our city.

Council Member Ben Kallos, Council District 5, serves Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island.  He is currently in his first year in office, and is Chair of the Council Committee on Government Operations.

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