Towers of Babble: Pols push for public comment at BPCA board meetings

Photo by Milo Hess Battery Park City Authority board chairman Dennis Mehiel is under pressure from locals and elected officials to be more responsive to residents’ concerns. The latest effort is a call by pols to allow public comments at the authority’s board meetings.
Photo by Milo Hess
Battery Park City Authority board chairman Dennis Mehiel is under pressure from locals and elected officials to be more responsive to residents’ concerns. The latest effort is a call by pols to allow public comments at the authority’s board meetings.


Members of the Battery Park City Authority’s board would never be bored at their meetings again, if local pols get their way.

An open letter to BPCA board chairman Dennis Mehiel from a who’s who of local representatives urged the agency this week to allow Battery Park City residents into its meetings to weigh in on proposed actions by the board before they come up for a vote.

“Allowing public comment is an important part of public engagement,” wrote the officials, including state Sen. Daniel Squadron, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Borough President Gale Brewer, Assemblymember Deborah Glick and City Councilmember Margaret Chin.

But some residents of the neighborhood think the request is a long shot, since it would likely turn the board meetings into shouting matches between residents and the board — as was the case at a public forum organized by the authority in December.

“I think they should expect it to be loud, because people are angry,” said Justine Cuccia, who has lived in the neighborhood for 18 years. “But also, the best way to actually combat that is to give the community a voice.”

Downtown pols have long called for a stronger community role in the authority’s decision-making, most recently by calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to appoint a majority of local residents to its board. Currently, only one of its members, Martha Gallo, actually lives in Battery Park City.

“The only way for a community member to voice concerns about agenda items would be to be on the Board itself,” the reps wrote to Mehiel in their most recent letter. “[But] as you know, only one member of the Board resides in the local community.”

Senator Squadron and Assemblymember Glick also introduced legislation in January that would require a majority of the seven-member board of the authority to be local residents — although chances are slim that the bill will make it through the Republican-controlled Senate.

Cuccia, along with some fellow residents, has started a petition to the same effect (at democracy4bpc.org), which she says has racked up more than 1,800 signatures so far.

“It’s taxation without representation,” she says of the neighborhood’s curent management. “It’s important not to just have local representation, but a cross section of the Battery Park City population. I’d like socio-economic diversity on the board. We are a diverse community.”

Calls to oust the BPCA leadership — or abolish the authority altogether — have gathered momentum over the past year in the wake of a series of unpopular decisions and tin-eared public-relations missteps during the tenure of Mehiel, whose term actually expired at the end of last year. Members of the board continue to serve until a replacement is appointed by the governor.

“Time and time again the Authority’s actions have shown that greater communication with the residents of Battery Park City must be a priority,” the officials wrote to Mehiel this week.

Their letter also noted that public comments are a regular feature at other state agencies, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority — and even the Empire State Development Corporation, where Mehiel served as vice-chair before taking up his post at the BPCA.

Members of Community Board 1 promptly followed the pols’ lead and passed a resolution to the same effect at the monthly meeting of the board’s Battery Park City committee on Tuesday.

“We should support the call for opening the monthly meetings — because all voting board members are there, so if the community has something to say, they will hear it directly instead of funneled and molded,” said Tammy Meltzer, a local resident and CB1 member.

“Other agencies do this as standard,” agreed committee chair Anthony Notaro, “so I support enforcing this call. We should direct this both to the governor and to chair Mehiel.”

But not everyone thinks the effort is worthwhile. Tom Goodkind, a longtime resident and community board member who is in favor of having the city take over the neighborhood, said he sees the letter going the same way as previous efforts to hold the board accountable.

“I haven’t seen the BPCA responding well to anything, they feel insular,” he said. “So I’m not quite sure why our elected officials are pushing for this, because it will just be ignored.”

A BPCA spokesperson declined to comment on the letter but said that the authority would welcome public comments at its next quarterly community forum on Apr. 13, which will take place from 6 to 7 p.m. at 6 River Terrace near the Irish Hunger Memorial.

The next board meeting of the authority is currently scheduled to take place earlier the same day, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the BPCA’s offices at 200 Liberty St.

Cuccia said she was keeping her expectations low — both for the prospect of opening up future board meetings, and for the upcoming town hall.

“Last time,” she said, “they just ignored everything that anybody said.”