The Lower East Side Dwellers neighborhood group put out a press release yesterday calling for the dissolution of the 7th Precinct Community Council and for the resignation of Don West, the council’s longtime president.
The community activists cited an absence over the years of “substantive and representative community input, violation of (the) New York State Open Meetings Law, and transparency.” At the community council’s monthly meeting this week, members of the LES Dwellers intended to voice their concerns about rowdy bars in the “Hell Square” area above Delancey Street. But due to a presentation from the NYPD on firearms tactics, West said he was canceling most items on the agenda, including a “Quality of Life” discussion. That decision did not go over well with the Dwellers.
In their press release, the group said West “unilaterally and abruptly canceled the public session,” adding that “his undemocratic action silenced the nearly 30 voices of residents and local business owners who came to address community concerns and safety.” Expressing outrage, the Dwellers called the “purposeful obstruction of direct communication between the police and community” a “direct violation of the mission of this citywide forum.” In his 26 years heading the council, they said, West has “willfully disenfrachised and limited large sections of this diverse community from participating in the public process.”
“While bar and nightlife operators spent years making their presence known by attending the monthly council meetings en masse,” they said, “and serving on the council as officers, i.e. Vice President, Secretary, Sergeant at Arms, Treasurer, etc., residents and lawabiding businesses were discouraged from participation in the process, creating a vacuum of balanced and inclusive community input on quality of life, crime and public safety with the (Commanding Officer) of the local precinct and the Community Affairs office.”
The Dwellers emphasized that their criticism was aimed only at the civilian community council and not the leadership of the precinct itself, which they praised. But concerning the council and West’s leadership, the group called for “an investigation into this matter since Wednesday’s meeting represented an ongoing pattern of abuse of the parliamentary process and appears to be in violation of the charter and bylaws.”
In an interview yesterday afternoon, West said the allegations from the neighborhood group are simply inaccurate. Members of the council’s executive committee — including Vice President Fran Shulman, Recording Secretary Juanita Lewis, Assistant Secretary Mendy Arez and Sergeant of Arms Michael Mowery — have no ties to local bars, he said. There are seven members of the council’s board of directors. Carlo Schiano, the corresponding secretary, is manager at Piano’s bar and music club on Ludlow Street. Treasurer John Cutillo owns Local 138 and Iggy’s Keltic Lounge.
West asserted that he welcomes participation from all members of the community. He said representatives of the Dwellers group are not regular attendees of the monthly meetings and have not spoken up about their concerns in the past. West added that the Dwellers have been communicating with the precinct’s commanding officer, Joseph Simonetti, and other officers about enforcement issues. “It’s not a council issue,” he said. “This is a group that’s pretty organized,” he acknowledged, “but it seems like their agenda is to shut down all of the bars. They don’t seem to want a happy medium and just want to go on the attack.”
West said this week’s meeting was a special situation, noting that the firearms demonstration took several months to set up. Many items were removed from the agenda, including the “Cop of the Month” presentations that are a regular feature of council meetings. West stated that the Dwellers would have a chance to talk about quality of life issues at the next meeting on June 10.
Community councils exist in each of the city’s police precincts. The volunteer executive boards are elected each year by community members who have attended at least four meetings during a 12-month period. You can see the NYPD’s community council guidelines here. Elections are normally held in June.