Calls for increased community representation on the Battery Park City Authority board have gained momentum amid growing discontent from residents with the authority’s decision-making and communications process.
Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and State Senator Daniel Squadron have introduced legislation in their respective houses mandating that a majority of the authority’s seven-member board be drawn from within the boundaries of Community Board 1 (recent news reports erroneously claimed the bill stipulates a majority of the board to be made up of Battery Park City residents).
The timing for proponents of a board shakeup is ideal. The seven-member board currently has two vacancies and another board member’s term is expiring this month. Community Board 1 also passed a resolution at the end of January calling on the governor to appoint more BPC residents to the board.
BPC residents and CB1 members who spoke to Our Town Downtown say the community has been at odds with the authority over a lack of transparency and consistent failure by the board to consult with residents on important decisions.
The board, for instance, recently decided to enter into contract with private security firm AlliedBarton for the use of private “security ambassadors” to patrol BPC. Many residents opposed the deal during a town hall-style meeting in December, saying that private security officers are generally directed not to step in during situations that threaten public safety.
Residents also expressed frustration that they weren’t consulted on the AlliedBarton contract in the first place, and that the board refused to provide clear answers on the future of the Parks Enforcement Patrol, who are sworn peace officers with arrest powers that have historically handled security at BPC.
Since then, the authority announced Jan. 30 that they’ve declined to renew the contract with the PEP, which ended Jan. 31. In a statement on their website, Battery Park City Authority Chairman Dennis Mehiel said the decision to end the PEP contract was informed “in large part” by feedback from residents, “who expressed their desire to seek a more effective alternative to the service provided by [PEP].”
However, in terms of effectiveness, it’s unclear what Mehiel is referring to as just one day after the AlliedBarton contract went into effect, two BPC teenagers were assaulted — one seriously — as an AlliedBarton security person stood by, according to several news reports. The authority said in the aftermath of the attack that the AlliedBarton employee notified city police of the assault. Police subsequently made two arrests.
An authority spokeswoman said AlliedBarton personnel are “an enhancement” to city police presence in the neighborhood.
“While the addition of AlliedBarton is the latest improvement to Battery Park City’s security arrangement, we continue to evaluate additional ways to build upon our existing security footprint that will best serve the needs of our dynamic community,” she said in a statement.
In his letter, Medial touted AlliedBarton’s 1,000-plus workforce in Lower Manhattan, “ensuring a continuity of service we lacked with PEP.”
Pat Smith, a 13-year resident of Battery Park City who is active in the community, contradicted Mehiel, saying of the residents, “nobody wanted to get rid of the PEPs.”
Smith has called for Mehiel’s ouster and said the chair has turned the authority into an opaque and autonomous body with little regard for the community since his tenure began in 2012. Smith said he supports CB1’s resolution and the recently introduced legislation from Squadron and Glick.
“The community board has now spoken on this and the local electeds have introduced this legislation,” he said, noting his belief that momentum is gathering in the community for a shakeup on the board.
The authority did not respond to a request regarding their decision to end the PEP contract. Authority spokesperson Robin Forst, however, did offer comment on the recently introduced legislation.
“We are fortunate to have a board of devoted and well accomplished individuals with diverse professional backgrounds who have consistently served the authority well,” said Forst. “The choice of candidates for the board is entirely within the purview of the governor with a confirmation process in the [state] Senate. We have complete confidence that Governor Cuomo will continue to select members of the highest caliber.”
Other stress points between residents and the authority have surfaced in the last two years, such as the future of North Cove Marina, which was handed over to mega-developer Brookfield Properties last year at the expense of a popular sailing school and yacht club that was a favorite at the marina for many years.
There’s also concern about an opaque RFP system that sometimes ushers in major changes without the community’s knowledge, as in the case of the contract with AlliedBarton, and conflict over the use of the Downtown Little League ball fields at BPC.
There also remains friction over the sudden and fraught departure last year of BPC Parks Conservancy head Tessa Huxley, who according to news reports was forced out of the position she held for 27 years by the authority.
Glick told Our Town Downtown that there’s been a growing sense of disenfranchisement among BPC residents, which led her to introduce the legislation in the Assembly.
“There are many individual instances that one could point to, but taken as an aggregate, it’s reached a point where there’s a lack of faith in whether or not the board is currently sufficiently in touch with the needs of people on the ground, and I think that’s the motivation,” she said.
The bill’s language confines appointments to Community District 1 — as opposed to BPC residents exclusively — because policies governing BPC also affect the community at large, she said.
“The concerns of residents of Battery Park City are not exclusive to those who reside within Battery Park City, but also impact residents who live in the community board area itself,” said Glick, mentioning specifically the use of athletic fields, park space, and P.S. 89.
Squadron said calls for the board to be comprised mostly of BPC residents predate the present friction between residents and the board.
“There have been ongoing concerns about transparency and community engagement recently, but the push for a local voice started before that and exists because it’s the right thing to do,” said Squadron. “When you look at the frustration that’s boiled over more recently, I think it’s another reminder that a local voice makes sense.”
“It’s a way to create a permanent community voice on the authority board,” he added.