less than a year from the millennium, and Queens community boards still process their
About two years ago, the Mayors Community Assistance Unit
(CAU) provided each of New York Citys 59 Community Boards with computers to be
connected to the CityNet computer system. Once installed, CityNet promised to give
community boards greater access to a variety of city agencies they need to serve the needs
of Queens residents.
Two years later, several community boards in Queens have yet to be hooked up to
The city is so far behind the times, it is ridiculous, said CB9 District
Manager Mary Ann Carey. This definitely hampers our ability to serve the
At CB9 one computer is hooked up to CityNet, but other computers that Carey said staff
members need in order to efficiently run her community board have yet to be hooked up.
The problem is that the city has assigned only one computer consultant, Robert Schmidt,
to keep tabs on the systems at all 59 city community boards.
In 1998, when the various Community Boards testified as part of the Capital
Budget Expense Priorities, we all stressed the fact that he cant do the job
alone, Carey said. Because of that, were all floundering here.
I dont want to say that hes not doing his job maybe hes
overwhelmed, said Rose Rothschild, district manager of CB4 in Elmhurst. But,
thats not my problem.
Carey said she has been waiting since last July to get a service call from the CAU. And
Queens community boards reported a series of horror stories connected to the CAU, most of
which concern a lack of technical support for the CityNet system.
At CB7, the problems began five years ago when the computer they had connected to
CityNet was stolen. CB7 couldnt afford to replace the computer, so they were
disconnected from CityNet until the CAU supplied them with another computer two years ago.
When they tried hooking the new computer to CityNet, they could not. An outside consultant
was hired to hook up the in-house computer network, but they still were not hooked up to
Difficulties with the CityNet system have been reported by community boards 5, 12 and
8, but no problems seem more severe than those in CB4.
When we got the new computers, we wanted to have them connected, said
Rothschild. He (Schmidt) said that we could plug them in. I said no. You know what
happened when he came and plugged them in? The monitor blew up.
After getting the monitor replaced, Rothschild found that getting the technical support
she needed was difficult.
They have a person that is supposed to come out, but I havent seen
him, she said. Weve put phone calls into him for the last three months.
He never called back.
Rothschild said that past technical support often consisted of telephone walk-throughs,
which lead to additional problems.
He gave us a disk so we could move the complaint system from the old computer to
another, because the old computer is breaking down. You couldnt work with the disk.
It didnt work.
Trying to circumvent the CAU, Rothschild then called the City Help Line. Im
not a computer person that knows all of the words that theyre using. I said,
Can you speak English? The guy said, If you dont understand than
youve got to call... then he gave me Bob Schmidts phone number.
While all of the community board district mangers had high praise for Schmidts
personality and technical knowledge, many report that they havent seen him for
months, and in some cases for years. Some say they wait for months for phone calls to get
returned. Others have given up, and hired outside computer consultants at their own
Weve lucked out, said Jonathan Gaska, of CB14. I have someone
in my building who does this type of stuff. But theres only one person in the city
doing this....its weird.
Community boards looking for outside technical support face additional problems because
the CityNet computer program is provided by the city and most outside computer technicians
cannot access or repair the CityNet system. The problem affects the level of service
community boards provide.
Civic activist Joyce Shepard has charged that CB7 is incapable of serving residents
without the computer hookup.
Ive been complaining about community boards for about two years, said
Shepard. Its about time that the truth came out that our community boards are
If you register a complaint on Jan. 1., the response is listed on index cards,
said CB7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman. On complaints we dont have
priorities. We process them as theyre received, she said, before adding the
board has volumes of cards in the drawer.
The problems faced by CB7 are also being felt at other community boards. CB4 relies on
the telephone, hand-written notes and complaint forms which are sent to the appropriate
city agency. CB12 does as well.
And even if the system is working, there are still productivity problems. The
computer goes down a lot, said a source at CB5. Even when it works its
slow because the mainframe is so slow.
We have to put a page of commands in to utilize the system, Carey said.
It becomes time-consuming. With all of the things that we have to do, its
very, very, difficult.
In a release entitled; Computer Resources Available to Community Boards, the CAU
suggests a number of sources for computer-related assistance. It instructs
community boards to look elsewhere for Manufacturer Provided Hardware, Service Contract
Hardware, Pay-Per-Use Hardware and Manufacturer Provided Software support.
The release informs community boards that contacting the manufacturer should be the
first line of attack when dealing with either a hardware or software problem. It suggests
local computer stores and repair shops as sources of service contracts, and that any
equipment owned by community boards not having a service contract is at risk.
Requests to speak with CAU Commissioner Rosemarie OKeefe were forwarded to the
Mayors Press Office. Mayoral spokesman Charles Sturcker was unable to comment on the
Despite appearances, Queens Borough President Claire Shulman insists that Queens
community boards are not on their own.
We reached out recently, about a month ago, to the Community Assistance
Unit, said Borough Hall spokesman Dan Andrews. Apparently there have been some
Its less than a year from the millennium,
and Queens community boards still process their information long-hand.
About two years ago, the Mayors Community Assistance Unit (CAU) provided each of
New York Citys 59 Community Boards with computers to be connected to the CityNet
computer system. Once installed, CityNet promised to give community boards greater access
to a variety of city agencies they need to serve the needs of Queens residents.