Four members of the city’s beleaguered board of adjustment came before the city council on Tuesday evening to demand the removal of three Muslim commissioners who had been boycotting meetings to protest alleged prejudice.
Benny Taveras, vice chairman of the board, took to the podium to tell council members to remove the three members — Alaur Khondokar, Aheya Khan, and Montaha Deeb – for missing three or more consecutive meetings.
Taveras cited an ordinance to make his case. He also threatened the council by telling members either they remove the three members or the board will proceed with legal actions against the governing body. He told council members the board is willing to rescind a resolution it passed to hire an attorney to take the council to the court.
“This board does not command the council,” said Michael Jackson, 1st Ward councilman. He also noted that the ordinance Taveras was citing to forcefully compel the council to remove the three members says the three consecutive absences give the council ground to remove the members, but does not require the governing body to take action.
Forcefully removing members is not a prudent option, said Jackson. “It’s only going to create a bigger problem,” he said.
Jackson suggested the differences among the members be resolved through conversations and discussions.
Taveras suggested appointing a 10th member to the board of adjustment. That will create a “tug of war” among council members, said Andre Sayegh, 6th Ward councilman.
Maritza Davila, councilwoman at-large, wondered why the board members did not speak to their council members about the issues prior to its public explosion.
Khan came before the council few weeks ago to urge them to resolve the problems at the board of adjustment that have held up economic development in the city. The issue has been simmering for more than six months with no resolution in sight, he said.
The board grants variances to developers who undertake building projects.
Kenneth Morris, councilman at-large, has called for the removal of all nine board members. He said many developers have complained to him about the boards “unprofessional” conduct. At the center of the controversy is Geraldine Rayfield.
Khan alleged Rayfield and other members pointed out conflict of interest every time a developer with an Islamic name came before the board. He also thought Rayfield’s conduct and comments at the re-organization meeting were condemnable.
When Khan nominated Deeb as chairwoman. Rayfield told him to take back his motion. She also went on to attack Deeb over her residency.
Rayfield mumbled she was unfairly treated in the press and declined to comment on Tuesday night.
The four members who appeared before the council were Rayfield, Taveras, Leon Mondelli, and Ramon Guzman. At least three council members have called for a Committee of the Whole hearing to investigate the matter and potentially remove troublemakers from the board of adjustment.
No meetings have been scheduled over the matter.