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Disputed Election Reveals Rift in Harlem Community Board

By Gustavo Solis | February 2, 2015 6:51pm
 Community Board 10's chair, Henrietta Lyle, holds too much power and is resistant to change, board members said.
Community Board 10's chair, Henrietta Lyle, holds too much power and is resistant to change, board members said.
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DNAinfo/Gustavo Solis

HARLEM — A power struggle has erupted in Community Board 10 pitting the old guard leadership against newer members who say the chairwoman is thwarting change in the neighborhood.

Tensions came to a head last week over the legitimacy of last year's board elections, in which 4-year incumbent chairwoman Henrietta Lyle was reappointed. She previously served two years as vice chair. The board elections also decide who serves as first vice-chair, second vice-chair, secretary, assistant secretary and treasurer. 

Some members of the board said there is no record that the ballots were cast. Neither the election nor the ballots are mentioned in any community board agenda or minutes.

Lyle said the ballots have gone missing.

Several board members believe that the elections violate the City Charter's open ballots procedure because there was no roll call before the election and nobody recorded their names on the ballots. 

"Elections may be conducted using signed paper ballots, by roll call, or by any other means by which each Board member's vote is recorded and can be made public," according to the Charter. "The Board must record each member's vote and make the record available to the public by including it in the minutes of the meeting."

But the ballots are just one symptom of a larger problem that has been plaguing CB 10, board member Manny Rivera said.

Rivera said questions about the election were first raised by board members in September and again in December.

“I think that the board has to adjust to a different model,” Rivera said. “For a long time it was a model where there were a few people running things and now you have a new group of board members that want to have more involvement.”

Lyle and a small inner circle control most of the board's power, Rivera said. By centralizing power and resisting change, they ignore the concerns from other members of the community, he said.

“It’s bad for the community,” he said. “I think part of Harlem’s strength now is that it is a diverse community. The board is supposed to be a mechanism for those different voices to be heard. Right now that mechanism does not work and that hurts the community.”

Lyle refuted Rivera’s claims saying that any board member is invited to attend the executive committee meetings, which is where most of the deliberations on community board business take place, she said.

“No one has ever been excluded from being in those meetings,” she said.

She also denied that any tension within the board is affecting their work to represent the community. This year the board created an LGBT task force and a youth task force, she added.

Newer board members say ideas that challenge the status quo are met with hostility. The atmosphere in the community board has become so tense that it is difficult to debate and facts are interpreted as personal attacks, board member Marquis Harrison said.

Harrison spent three months butting heads with Lyle while trying to change the bylaws to curtail the chairwoman's power, he said.

“It wasn’t about the change, it was about the way it was done. People were offended because he was rude, he was extremely rude to me,” Lyle said.

Nine of the 12 amendments passed, including one that puts the full board in charge of selecting the nominating committee. The chair still has the power to appoint, suspend and remove committee chairs, according to the bylaws.

Borough President Gale Brewer declined to get involved.

“While the Borough President makes Community Board appointments and the Office of the Borough President provides technical assistance to the Boards, the city’s Law Department serves as the Community Boards’ attorney,” said Andrew Goldston, spokesman for Brewer.

Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to a Community Board 10 member as Manny Ramirez, his name is Manny Rivera.