16-Year-Olds Can Now Serve on NYC Community Boards

Leila Eliot, ’16

“They are the 59 local city halls in the five boroughs,” Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said when asked about the significance of community boards. When Year 1 students at BHSEC were asked the same question, two-thirds of the surveyed population said they had never even heard of community boards. If BP Brewer claims they are so significant, why have most teens never heard of them?

Each community board has 50 members, appointed jointly by a New York City Council member and the Borough President. These members then vote on issues that affect the lives of everyone within their district, including high school students. They take part in the decision-making that affect you when you walk into a park, take part in an afterschool program, get your phone taken away in school, walk past construction sites, or even interact with police officers in your community. If 16- and 17-year-olds had been allowed on community boards, the decisions made about these topics might have been quite different. As BP Brewer stated, “I’m sure if we had 16- and 17-year-olds on in the past we would have had a different conversation about cell phones in schools.”

In March of this year, a bill was introduced to the New York City Council to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to serve on local community boards. The bill was approved by the Council in June. Teens can now hold up to two of each board’s fifty seats.

The plan to attract older teens to the community board still has a few kinks that must be ironed out. One major issue is that many sophomores do not turn 16 until after February of their sophomore year. Since terms are two years long many will be leaving for college before the two years are complete. However, this shouldn’t prevent anyone from applying. Even if you leave for college in the August after your senior year, you would still likely be able to attend at least 20 of the 24 scheduled General Meetings that occur during two year terms. Elected officials understand the risks of allowing 16 and 17 year-olds on community boards and like many others believe it is in the best interest of society to have teens represented on the community boards.

Now that anyone 16 or older can be appointed to a community board, the culture within the community boards is hopefully going to change immensely. This can only happen if those who are given spots on community board are not only devoted to their community, but understand the amount of time and energy this commitment will require. One major concern some community board members have is whether people so young can be reliable participants. Gigi Li the president of Community Board 3, BHSEC’s Community Board, said there are a “limited number of positions” and she is unsure if teenagers will understand that “it is an important commitment that needs to be taken seriously.” Each member needs to be on one to two committees in addition to the general board. Committees meet at least once a month, and can last for hours.

In the end, even for Ms. Li, the pros out weighed the cons, and she believes, “any changes (within the community) affect young people,” and, since “the youth voice is often dismissed,” it is important that they get to vote on issues that affect them and their peers. Since the first round of appointments after the law was passed allowing 16 year olds to be on community board is fast approaching, it is up to the youth to change these conversations and give their generation a vote and a voice within local government. All students, especially those involved in activist pursuits outside of school, should seriously consider running for a position.

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