NYC Community Boards Adapt to Virtual Operations

Youtube Upload of Brooklyn Community Board 10’s April Board Meeting Image Credit: Youtube, Brooklyn CB10

Community Boards working to stay optimistic through adversity. In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo shut down non-essential business throughout the state. The order effectively hamstrung the physical operation of many governmental and administrative offices. Community Boards, the closest representative body of a City district, have generally completed their many responsibilities through public assembly. Responsibilities include land use and zoning review, and other general community concerns such as traffic or deteriorating housing.

In New York, “public bodies,” such as Community Boards, are required to comply with the State’s Open Meetings Law. The Open Meetings Law generally requires that public bodies give notice of the time and place of all meetings and that there be a physically present quorum to conduct official business.

On March 25, 2020, the Department of State’s Committee on Open Government issued an advisory opinion answering whether a public body may legally achieve a quorum while observing social distancing. In the opinion, the Committee viewed the Governor’s Executive Order as temporarily suspending the in-person or video-conference quorum requirement, allowing for a phone-in quorum.   On April 7, 2020, Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 202.14, extended the suspension of the in-person meeting requirements of the Open Meetings Law through May 7, 2020.

CityLand reached out to Community Boards throughout the City to see how they were handling the pandemic and the change to virtual operations. The responses varied, but there were some reoccurring themes.

Community Board staffs have been working from home since mid-March but are still working to complete all of their regular duties, programming and services. For full board and committee meetings, boards are using Zoom, Webex, Youtube, and Facebook Live to stream and interact. Webex was made available to Community Boards through the City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. Community Boards also have a call-in option for participants.

Attendance and Scheduling

Most boards reported that there was a slight decrease in overall public participation and member participation. Kenneth Brown, District Manager for Community Board 5 in the Bronx (University Heights, Morris Heights) reported a “slight decline” in attendance. While Bronx Community Board 8 (Kingsbridge) reported “normal” attendance. Marie Adam-Ovide, District Manager of Queens Community Board 8 (Fresh Meadows) said their attendance at their last Community Board meeting was “pretty good,” despite some of their members not having the required technological capabilities.

Some District Managers pointed out that they offered virtual Community Board meeting streams before the COVID-19 outbreak. In contrast, another District Manager stated, that this was “simply not something our board planned for,” referring to it as “building the plane as we fly it.”

Multiple Boards reported that meetings scheduled in mid- to late-March were canceled but have since ran according to schedule. To look up your Community Board and a calendar of its meetings, use the link here.

Mixed Response to Participation

The reliance on technology to conduct board meetings has called into question the true extents of community participation. Some District Managers were concerned that they were not getting the full voice of their community due to limitations of the virtual platforms, while others felt that virtual accessibility provides participation opportunities for those members of the community that would not or could not physically attend a community board meeting.

Betty Braton, Chairperson of Queens Community Board 10 (Howard Beach, Ozone Park) stated “the remote meeting setting involving 40-50 people puts limitations on the necessary debate that normally takes place at live meetings. While it is understandable that that it is necessary to conduct meetings using a remote platform at this particular point in time, it should not become the method used on a regular basis.”

Angel D. Mescain, District Manager of Manhattan Community Board 11 (East Harlem) said, “the flexibility of having members participate in any meeting remotely is great and hopefully something that will remain an option for community boards.”


Essentially all boards were concerned about accessibility of meetings for those individuals without the technological means. Josephine Beckmann, District Manager of Brooklyn Community Board 10 (Bay Ridge) said, “there are several challenges to conducting meetings virtually, including access to bandwidth, training staff and Board Members and providing open access to the public in a district that holds a large digital divide.”


Community Boards from every corner of the City are looking to learn and make the most of a terrible situation. Boards are doing this by looking for innovative solutions to pressing issues and tirelessly working to serve so many New Yorkers in dire need of aid and support. John Sanchez, District Manager of Bronx Community Board 6 (Belmont) said, “this is an opportunity for Community Boards and City agencies to be creative. Just because we cannot meet in person, does not mean we can’t provide community programming and service to our community.”

Celestina Leon, District Manager of Brooklyn Community Board 4 (Bushwick), stated, “Community Boards continue to serve as an intermediary between their districts and city government…Now more than ever, support is needed to ensure the boards have access to the resources and tools to better serve all New Yorkers.”

George Torres, District Manager of Bronx Community Board 12 (Woodlawn, Baychester), stated, “I hope that the City uses this experience to include all that we are doing now. For example, the City is only now embracing Zoom and WebEx as platforms for meetings because of the Executive order on social distancing and the Governor relaxing the Open Meetings Law. I hope this continues so that more people can participate,” adding, “going forward I hope that more people will embrace technology and use it to participate in local governance.”

For New York City-specific COVID-19 updates, the City has established an information site with updates from all major administrative agencies. Agencies include the Department of Buildings, City Planning, Citywide Administrative Services, the Department of Finance and the Department of Transportation among others. You can find that page here.

By: Jason Rogovich (Jason Rogovich is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019)



One thought on “NYC Community Boards Adapt to Virtual Operations

  1. Can someone just say it:

    Community Boards are unelected captive rubberstampers. They are there as a means to personal political advancement and not distributove justice. The CM gets a slush fund to distribute and pretends to allow the CB to choose its patronage pets. That is how NYC government creates a false narrative which pretends to appease the disinterested electorate. CBs mus be abolished. They have delivered Upzoning and disutility to their districts.

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