Monday, October 21, 2013

Breaking Badly: LES Dwellers demand impartial investigation of Community Board 3

Earlier this month, in a highly publicized move, Community Board 3 notified the neighborhood group The L.E.S. Dwellers that it was suspending it as a recognized block association for the remainder of the year.

As The Lo-Down reported on Oct. 7:

In a letter that was sent not only to the Dwellers but to members of CB3′s SLA Committee, Chairperson Gigi Li wrote, "it appears that the group has been working as its own entity” and acting as a 'shadow community board.'"

(Read more about this at BoweryBoogie and DNAinfo, who first reported the story.)

The L.E.S. Dwellers have been active in opposing new liquor licenses on the Lower East Side, including the proposed SoHo House on Ludlow Street ... and the ongoing battle with the DL on Delancey. (CB3 first recognized the L.E.S. Dwellers as a block association in October 2012.)

The group shared the following letter calling for an investigation of CB3 with us.

The recent suspension of our group, L.E.S. Dwellers (“LESD”), by Community Board #3 (“CB3”) is an attempt by a few members of CB3 — without board approval — to limit our participation in the process. The tactics to gerrymander our boundaries and impose an unlawful suspension where we are relegated to speak as individuals not as an organized group before CB3, applicants, existing businesses and the hundreds of residents who have taken various forms of action alongside us, is a blatant suppression of our First Amendment rights of free speech, assembly and to petition the government. Essentially, CB3’s self-determined jurisdiction over the way the LESD can dissent and demonstrate is a community board’s version of a gag order.

The purposeful narrowing by CB3 of free speech rights through sanctioned limitations that purportedly serve to protect the very rights that are being suppressed treads on treacherous First Amendment waters. This sets a standard for what community board’s can demand of neighborhood organizations and constituents. In CB3, or anywhere, the entity charged to hear the concerns of the residents and act as the liaison with government agencies, will now have the tacit authority to determine the propriety and delivery of those concerns.

Through the seemingly arbitrary and capricious nature of decisions made by certain members of CB3, there is a preponderance of evidence to suggest that our rights have been threatened for some time. For six months, CB3 has systematically challenged the legitimacy and representation of the LESD. The 58-minute conversation outlines the exact rationale for the suspension, including a selection of information not reported by Ms. Li in her formal letter. Overall, it reveals the unedited delivery of CB3’s ruling against LESD.

The audio presents an opportunity to understand the ongoing challenges we have endured from the community board, the reasons for the suspension, the manner in which it was decided, and other particularities about the inconsistent operations of the board. CB reps repeatedly overstep their bounds in the conversation and admit that while they may not approve of the manner in which LESD has acted, we have behaved lawfully and within our rights.

If community boards are permitted to impose limitations and suspend community groups absent of procedure and just cause, then the influence over government policy through protest and demonstration is severely hampered if not diminished all together. The result increases government agencies' influence over their own agendas without necessary checks and balances.

This is why, upon our suspension, we submitted a formal complaint to Manhattan Borough President (“MBP”) Scott Stringer. The complaint included an audio recording of the entirety of the conversation between the L.E.S. Dwellers and Board Chair Gigi Li and District Manager Susan Stetzer, in which LESD was told of the suspension and the reasons therefore, as well as the Community Board suspension letter and response letter from the L.E.S. Dwellers, including 81 pages of supporting supplemental material.

We then followed up with written request (CB3 Special Task Force: LESD Suspension Letter) on October 10th to CB3 chair Gigi Li to convene an independent, internal panel (“Special Task Force”) to investigate the facts and events surrounding the suspension of the LESD. We asked that the Special Task Force be charged with investigating two matters. First, did the LESD engage in any unlawful or inappropriate conduct that would warrant a suspension by CB3? Second, did CB3 Chair Gigi Li, CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer or any other member of the CB3 Executive Committee engage in unlawful or inappropriate conduct in suspending LESD?

Further, we requested to maintain independence and neutrality, the Special Task Force should be made up only of rank-and-file members of CB3, not members of the Executive Committee, including any current committee chairs. Additionally, we asked that our letter be distributed to all members of CB3, not just the Executive Committee, and requested during the course of the investigation and until the report is released, the suspension of LESD should be held in abeyance. In return, LESD would agree not to take legal action against CB3 or any of its officers or employees until the report of the Special task force is released.

As to date, CB3 has not responded to our request.

Diem Boyd
Founder of the LES Dwellers

The group shared the entirety of the nearly 60-minute conversation between them and Board Chair Gigi Li and District Manager Susan Stetzer from Sept. 27. The Timestamp link is suggestion only of particular parts of the conversation that they were concerned by or felt deserved special attention and/or consideration.


shmnyc said...

What did they do to warrant being suspended? I'm sure it's not just because of differences of opinion.

Anonymous said...

shmnyc seems like no substantial reason at all. more importantly unconstitutional. CB3 bullied this group but this is what they do to all community groups and have been doing for a way too long.

nygrump said...

They're lucky they just got the boot, in the old days, they'd be found floating in the river.

Anonymous said...

CB3 has a history of bullying neighborhood groups and even its own members into muting themselves. This is just the first time a group didn't capitulate and CB3 lost its cool and "suspended" them (for doing NOTHING illegal).

Anonymous said...

Get rid of all of them. CB3 has been acting like a cartel for years, bullying anyone who crosses their narrowly defined and seemingly arbitrary path. As an outsider who has lived in the East Village for 30 years, it appears to me that anyone with an application before CB 3 must perform a contorted high wire act where even the slightest wrong move results in ruffled feathers and bruised egos and bizarre turf battles, resulting in denial to the applicants. It seems to me that CB 3 is composed of a bunch of petty retrogrades with personal agendas. They remind me of the community boards in the old Soviet Union. I have friends who are involved in the Hell's Kitchen Community Board and by all accounts they do not behave the way CB 3 does. Getting approval from them is not emotional and it is routine and transparent and completely civilized and professional.

Anonymous said...

What does the "breaking badly" in the post's title mean? Like.. breaking up badly?

Anonymous said...

Not surprisingly, Gigi Li got the LESD letter on October 10th or so with a request to forward it to all the members of the CB. Did she? Of course not. She hid the letter from the rank and file, who are probably only learning about it today because of EV Grieve. Li is running scared (she should be).

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 9:55 - it means today's news is breaking badly for CB3's Li and Stetzer.

Anonymous said...

The Dwellers are nothing but a radical group that benefit from conflict. They should not be recognized as they don't represent the community.

Anonymous said...

Classic behavior by the Dwellers - recording a conversation without letting the other parties know about it. This is not how groups should behave. They should be permanently removed.

Anonymous said...

CB3 should be hit with RICO charges.

Anonymous said...

Really anon @ 10:23? CB3 suspends a group for speaking out freely and you are mad the Dwellers taped the conversation (which is legal, by the way)? It is a good thing they did tape the conversation, or they would lack the proof they needed to call out CB3. Like it or not, this community's traditions are far more about protecting civil liberties than supporting or opposing bar licenses or upholding CB3's favored procedures, a fact CB3's leaders (Li and Stetzer)have completely lost site of. It is a good thing the Constitution doesn't support your view that the First Amendment protects all persons and groups except those you don't like.

Anonymous said...

Gigi: You should really sign your own comments (@10:23 - ahem!)

Anonymous said...

This reply is uninformative. NYS law allows the recording of phone calls as long as 1 party is aware. This is a legitimate tactic to establish evidence of a claim. This group should be commended for their actions.

10:47 am said...

CB3 is nothing but a radical group that most members benefit from voting with self-conflict interest. They should not be recognized as they no longer represent the community but only themselves and their personal interests.

Per CB3: Any members participating in the Board's consideration of a matter involving self-serving or conflict of interest shall state the nature of the conflict in speaking to the issue and shall not vote on such matters, but shall be recorded as present and not voting for the purposes of a quorum.

2. Any member appearing before a governmental body or otherwise making a public statement which conflicts in any respect with positions adopted by the Board must clearly state that this is a personal position. ...

3. A Board Member may be removed for cause.

a. Cause for removal of a Board Member shall be any of the following:

i. Failure to adhere to these by-laws and their provisions;

ii. Failure to declare a conflict of interest;

Why is Ariel Palitz and others are sill a member? McWater may have been arrogant and a scoundrel, but he had the "decency" to resign, albeit contemptuously and insolently.

Downtowner said...

I feel strongly that this suspension is irresponsible, punitive, arbitrary and capricious in nature - the result of a few members deficient of Board approval - and constitutes a serious violation of New York City citizens’ First Amendment right to free speech.

If upheld by the Manhattan Borough President, the imposed sanction would set a very bad precedent that could have a crippling effect on all community groups and organizations citywide. Community Boards will be granted tacit permission to inhibit the First Amendment rights of residents and community groups they do not agree with by imposing the threat of punishment and limitations that will have a “chilling” effect. By supporting this decision - directly or indirectly through purposeful omission - the MBP’s office would be complicit in suppressing the constitutional right to free speech of its constituents.

It is my opinion that this suspension constitutes a serious violation of First Amendment rights and has potential legal implications: 1) establishing a prohibitive precedent citywide, 2) permitting community boards to overreach by “suspending” or “recognizing” a block association or community group, 3) allowing decisions to be made by a select few as representative of the whole, absent of procedure and against the mandate of community boards, and 4) imposing rules that inhibit and prevent natural and legal rights of NYC citizens.

Therefore, I am calling for the Borough President to take swift remedial action in this matter. Please override the irresponsible, punitive, arbitrary and capricious action taken by Community Board 3 against the Lower East Side Dwellers and rescind this suspension immediately.

I would also suggest that Community Board 3, itself, be suspended because of their ill considered, ill advised and unjustifiable, possibly illegal, action taken against a community advocacy group and the community it and the board represent.

Anonymous said...

I hope LESD recognizes the irony/hypocrisy of its argument: LESD accuses CB3 of abusing authority in a way which inhibits the rights of a group to assembly and express its point of view.

But at the same time LESD feels totally justified to interfere in the way the private individuals try to make a living. If CB3 can implement regulations in how a restaurant conducts its business, why can't it impose boundaries on the way other types of groups operate?

Anonymous said...

CB3 Politburo. Big Brother is watching. Fall in line community groups / organizations or you will be silenced too.

Then Again, Maybe There Is a Point After All said...

@JEC542 : Yes, it's ironic that the heroin salespeople have been largely made to feel unwelcome in the neighborhood. They are merely private individuals trying to make a living. And the poor crack dealers also.

DrGecko said...

CB3's problem with LESD is that LESD falsely represents itself as a block association. It's not a block association; it's a group of like-minded individuals.

There's nothing wrong with that kind of group, but block associations have to represent all the people who live in their geographic area, and there are established procedures that block associations have to follow, such as holding publicly announced meetings open to everybody in their area. LESD doesn't do this.

The "suspension" means only the CB3 won't treat LESD as a block association for 3 months, or whatever the time period is (I forget). CB3 won't automatically refers items to them and won't recognize them as a block association.

The only other issue seems to be LESD's hyper-intense pursuit of publicity, which isn't all the interesting, since there's obviously a long history of such types around here.

As I keep saying, just because you're loud and repetitive doesn't mean you're right.

Beverly said...

DrGecko, I don't think it's a bad thing for group of people to want a safe and healthy place to live. I reached out to the Dwellers when I saw one of their flyers announcing a public meeting on upcoming CB3 agenda items... seems pretty public to me.

And if the Dwellers are a bad example of what a block association is, then please tell me about an association that can best represent my block (I live on Rivington between Essex and Ludlow). Orchard Street Block Association mainly deals with issues between Delancey and Division. And I don't live within the area covered by the Eldridge Street Block Association nor SPaCE. So.....

The Dwellers may be loud, and they may be repetitive, but they're the only ones who have taken the time to express interest in my experience as a LES resident.

Mike McG said...

Diem Boyd, LESD: "Are you saying that as residents, that have formed a group, we do not have the right to *ask* an applicant to do anything without the approval of the community board?"
Susan Stetzer, CB3 District Manager: "Legally?"
LESD: "Yes."
CB3 District Manager: "You can do anything you want. Um, yeah, I'm gonna ask Gigi to weigh in on this."
Gigi Li, CB3 Board Chair: "Yeah this is a *really gray area.*"

No! I'm sorry, "board chair," but unless some Constitutional amendment snuck through Congress in the Continuing Appropriations Act, it is not a "really gray area," and hasn't been for 237 years. It's not a "somewhat gray area," it's not a "possibly gray area," it's not even an "off-white area." Such a characterization is an affront to American democracy and basic human rights. In what frame of mind must one be to so flippantly decree such a thing? I have serious difficulty imagining any logical basis there for such an outlandish point of view. The fact that it is held by someone charged with public representation is an abhorrent example of a failure of process, policy and local government.

This makes my blood boil. Soldiers have gone to battle and private citizen-activists have risked their lives to protect freedom of speech. Who are these people, from a low-level powerless government office, to tell hard-working citizens and residents that they cannot engage in private communications with other private entities?! Who are they, to reprimand private citizens for volunteering their time to contribute to a process that they themselves then bungle?! Who are they, to assert members of the public cannot directly engage other public offices?! Who are they, to secretly declare a group void in some public capacity based on (the legal representation of) one-side's disingenuous characterizations of their private, objective, professional actions as "intimidating" or "aggressive" or "distasteful"?! (I mean, really, "they hurt our feelings" is the best their lawyers could come up with?!) This not the spirit of democracy and this is not the spirit of public service.

What's intimidating, aggressive and distasteful is to assert that LESD is "not playing by [their] rules", "not working with CB3" to "achieve what *they* want to achieve", and most of all, that engaging in private communication within their boundaries is a "gray area." What's intimidating, aggressive and distasteful is the secrecy and transparency that shrouded this censorship decision. (I'm a resident of the community, why couldn't I weigh in on an issue with such basic implications to my democratic representation?!) What's intimidating, aggressive and distasteful is the complete disrespect shown to residents by not following their secret decision with a public notice of the (illegitimate) change in LESD status.

CB3 serves the community. They serve us. We don't serve them. They serve us. We don't serve Susan Stetzer. We don't serve Gigi Li. They serve us. They must go above and beyond to work with the residents, whether they be individuals, business entities, block groups, or anything else rooted in this jurisdiction. Why? Because they serve us. I'm sure some CB3 members understand and embrace this spirit of public service, but it's crystal clear that some rather reject it.

Anonymous said...

Mike McG: That was a pretty amazing post. Thank you for taking the time to write it. Very powerful and pursuasive. It has convinced me that Gigi Li is totally out of her depth (I looked her up: she's 30 years old and her lack of life expirence is shining through big time) and that she should resign. Someone has to get CB3 back on track and she is clearly not the person to do it. CB3 is metting tomorrow night. PEOPLE NEED TO SHOW UP AND DEMAND HER OUTSTER!

Anonymous said...

I do live in Hell Square and joined the mailing list of the LES Dwellers and they are constantly updating the community on meetings and upcoming license applications.

You can even go to their website and see that they announce and publish public hearings there and also on the streets (I've seen several fliers on the neighborhood's walls many times).

CB3 is unfairly punishing this group for not reporting every single meeting move and action to them. At the same time it seems ok for CB3 to silence the group without notifying the community they represent.

I completely understand some people saying that they do not agree and do not want to be represented by the Dwellers but as a resident, who has to deal with everyday trash, vomit, noise and constant disrespect I am very happy that there individuals caring for this place.

How many of these CB3 members actually live in Hell Square? I would bet that NONE of them call these blocks home so I wonder if there is a hidden agenda that is group is interfering with?

It seems to me that some members of CB3 take upon themselves to create some capricious rules as they move forward to keep in check individuals that stray away from their desires!

Anonymous said...

yes. right 2:42. i'm sure your life experience has taught you to scream for gigi's ouster because she's a hipster yuppie.

CB5 member said...

I am a member of a different community board and know well how they are supposed to operate.

Reading this, I completely agree that LESD are being illegally treated by what appears to be a small clique of fascistic-minded individuals.

There is nothing in the bylaws of any CB to permit what the fascists Li and Stetzer are doing. It is unheard of.

I can tell you that this abusive behavior is the talk of community activists throughout the borough. I got an email from someone on the UES about this.

Stetzer and Li are in above their head.

BP Stringer: Why so silent?

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work denying people having wine with their spaghetti dinners.

Anonymous said...

I think the dialoge on this page is great, but I honestly worry that CB3 is just going to ignore the community (again) and go on about its business. The BP isn't going to act, because his foot is out the door. What can the community do to force this issue?

Anonymous said...

@cb5 member, oh brother. are you seriously going to resort to calling them fascist? well, perhaps they are (for other reasons). however, do you even know the real story? probs not. perhaps the legal department has already weighed on this?

CB3 is the new KGB said...

CB3 does not serve the community; they s3rve themselves They serve us. CB# does not serve the public interests in this jurisdiction; CB3 serves the private (esp. the moneyed) private's interests. Moreover, CB3 serves their own interests. CB3 expects its community members to serve them. Stetzer and Gigi want and expect to be served by its members. They go above and beyond to work only with the moneyed private members, whether they be individuals, business entities, or otherwise.

Shawn said...

Wow, who needs TV when you have this? I haven't had so much fun watching something unfold since wondering "Who shot JR?"

The twists and turns this is taking are very interesting...

With the Dwellers all the luck in getting this resolved.

Wishing CB3 had come to a different conclusion than to outright "ban" or "blacklist" this group, who has proved most effective. Perhaps too effective?

Mike McG has a good point regarding the constitutionality of all this. This thing really smells funny.

It's Sorta Like The Truth But Different said...

Hey Anon 3:21pm -- I don't think that the "club scene" / "bar scene" is "people having wine with their spaghetti dinners".

But your phrase does have a nice homey ring to it.

chris flash said...

Who gives a FUCK which neighborhood group that UNELECTED "quality of life" nazi Susan Stetzer deigns to recognize or not?

LESD is clearly doing a better job than the "community" board, which represents no one but themselves and monied interests on the LES as Stetzer continually oversteps her authority and position as "manager" of the board. Hopefully, the next Boro Pres will do something about her.

[Nice post, "CB3 is the new KGB" -- you took the words out of my mouth!!]

Anonymous said...

congrats evgrieve! the conversation has devolved into calling someone a nazi!

chris flash said...

AnonymASS 12:01: If you knew Stetzer like We know Stetzer, you'd see that the shoe fits....

Anonymous said...

@chris flash, oh. i know her well enough. and i never said i disagreed with those description of her. however, i have a little bit more tact to devolve into name calling. it serves no purpose.

Anonymous said...

community boards have no authority over community groups...period.