Harlem’s Community Board 9 formally ratified the appointment of two board members to the West Harlem Development Corporation at a meeting on Thursday night.
The vote, which passed 21-17 with two abstentions, drew controversy because it contradicted a resolution passed at the March board meeting in the chair’s absence.
Yvonne Stennett and Anthony Fletcher were appointed to the board of the corporation, which is responsible for distributing $76 million in benefits to the area around Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion.
They were nominated by Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas, the chair of CB9, in January after Donald Notice, the development corporation’s president, asked the community board to appoint two representatives.
Morgan-Thomas put forth Stennett’s and Fletcher’s names at a meeting of CB9’s executive board, which is comprised of chairs of CB9’s subcommittees. The executive board approved her nomination.
The nomination was passed by the full board in January—not as its own agenda item, but bundled in as an article under the chair’s report, a monthly summary that Morgan-Thomas gives on the board’s activities.
Because the chair’s report is typically passed without objection, some board members voted to approve it without realizing it included the nomination of Stennett and Fletcher, which they called an “abuse of executive power,” as Morgan-Thomas put it.
She insisted it was appropriate procedure for the circumstances. “When the chair’s report was accepted by the full board at the January meeting, that was acceptance of the action of the executive board,” she said. “That was a valid and legal action. The only thing we could have done different was we could have ratified that as a full board.”
At the March meeting—which Morgan-Thomas had to miss due to an emergency—the board passed a resolution cutting out Fletcher and appointing three CB9 members in addition to Stennett: Quenia Abreu, founder of the New York Women’s Chamber of Commerce; Larry English, Morgan-Thomas’ predecessor as chair; and Walter South, a preservation architect and outspoken critic of Columbia’s Manhattanville expansion.
After that meeting, Jimmy Yan, general counsel to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer—whose office oversees community boards—wrote a letter to Morgan-Thomas saying that the board would have to either approve or disapprove Stennett and Fletcher’s appointments before appointing a different group.
“We have to rescind that, undo that [Stennett and Fletcher’s appointments], if we are going to go forward with this current election,” Morgan-Thomas said before the vote on Thursday night. She called the nomination of the four board members in March, at the meeting she did not attend, “out of order.”
At the close vote on Thursday reaffirming the executive board’s original nomination of Stennett and Fletcher, board members exchanged heated words.
“Every time somebody talks, we go back around in a circle,” CB9 member Vicky Gholson said. “We should have dealt and voted on the business of the board before we picked up this crackerjack conversation.”
After months of delay, the WHDC appointed an executive director, Kofi Boateng, on April 9. Notice was scheduled to give a report of the corporation’s activities at Thursday’s meeting, but Morgan-Thomas said that he was unable to attend at the last minute.