After A Change In Policy, Community Board 3 Wonders Where It Will Meet

IMG_2862Stephen Rex BrownSeptember’s Community Board 3 meeting was an overcrowded “disaster,” according to District Manager Susan Stetzer.

Community Board 3 general board meetings — known throughout the neighborhood for heated debates that go on at least four hours — just got a lot more uncomfortable.

Last month, the Department of Education stopped allowing the board to use its facilities for free, leaving District Manager Susan Stetzer searching for a space that can accommodate the scores of people that attend the monthly meetings.

The consequences of the Department of Education’s new policy was on full display on Tuesday at a standing-room-only general board meeting at the Ukrainian Museum. People had come out in droves in regards to Heathers Bar and Basketball City on Pier 36 in the Lower East Side, leaving the roughly 100 attendees flooding into the stairwell and lobby. Other people in the audience leaned in between historic Ukrainian paintings while struggling to hear the goings-on at the other end of the art gallery-turned-meeting space.

Board member David McWater raised concerns over a likely fire hazard because of the overcrowding, and suggested even adjourning the meeting. Board Chair Dominic Pisciotta asked the supporters and critics of Heathers Bar to “please leave” immediately after an expedited vote of the issues surrounding the watering hole.

“It was a disaster,” said Ms. Stetzer. “We had no idea there would be large organizing for two different issues.”

She added that it was particularly disappointing that the dozen or so children that came to speak in regards to Basketball City were forced to wait in the lobby while it was not being discussed. “It would have been better for them to see democracy in action on things that weren’t their issue,” Ms. Stetzer said. “It was an unfortunate situation, but at least they were on the floor for their issue.”

For years, board meetings were usually held in the spacious school auditorium at P.S. 20 on Essex Street, which can accommodate at least 200 people. As of last year, that arrangement was made through the sponsorship of the local Community Education Council, which has state-mandated unlimited use of space in public schools.

“These are important discussions in our community, around safety, lifestyle, budget, needs,” said Lisa Donlan, the president of Community Education Council 1. “They are public buildings, why would the community board not have access to them?”

But Ms. Donlan said that the Department of Education changed its tone in August.

“We were told ‘no, you can’t do that anymore,’” she said.

Community Board Full Meeting 1Liv BuliSusan Stetzer

Now, Community Board 3 must fork over money for the cost of security and custodial services if they wish to use school auditoriums, according to Ms. Stetzer. The total cost is around $200 per meeting; a substantial amount given that the board has roughly $10,000 per year to pay for costs associated with running the office, according to city records.

But the additional expenses aren’t the only challenge.

“Our very understaffed office is spending a great deal of time trying to find a location each month,” Ms. Stetzer said.

A spokesman for the Department of Education denied any change in policy, saying that it has consistently charged for space and security when external groups use facilities after 6 p.m. and on weekends.

Ms. Stetzer said that local elected officials have tried unsuccessfully to lobby the Department of Education in the board’s favor.

For now, full board meetings will be held at different locations each month. Next month’s meeting will be held at the Bowery Residents’ Committee Senior Center on October 31. It can accommodate around 140 people.