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By DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC and JOSH ROGERS | (Last updated 3:16 p.m., July 30, 2015 with new statements) Tessa Huxley, who has been in charge of Battery Park City’s frequently-praised parks for nearly three decades, has apparently been forced out as executive director of the Battery Park City Parks Conservancy.
Dennis Mehiel, chairperson and C.E.O of both the Battery Park City Authority and Conservancy, refused to acknowledge Huxley’s imminent departure following an hour-long portion of the board meeting closed to the public Wed., July 29, but late that evening the authority released a statement confirming that Huxley was leaving.
Speculation that Huxley, who has been helming the conservancy since 1988, is being fired by the conservancy’s parent, the authority, began on Monday with a New York Post article citing unnamed sources.
Two sources — Vince McGowan, Huxley’s number two person from 1999 to 2012, and a person speaking on the condition of anonymity — confirmed to Downtown Express that they’ve heard from multiple sources that she is being forced out.
After Wednesday’s board meeting, Mehiel would only say that Huxley, 62, is “headed toward retirement,” and that she can speak for herself. She is serving jury duty this week and could not be reached for comment.
“She’s a straight shooter,” said the source, who said he heard from authority people about Huxley’s apparent ouster prior to the July 27 Post article. “She says ‘this is the problem and this is what needs to be done,’ and they don’t want to hear it. When they say jump, they want you to say how high.”
The state authority is run by appointees of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a former neighborhood resident.
McGowan, the former B.P.C. Parks Conservancy executive, said “there’s always been tension between the political appointees and the staff.”
The neighborhood’s lush parks are often cited by residents as the area’s best quality.
It was about 9:30 p.m. — over seven hours after the authority’s board meeting ended — that the statement was released acknowledging that “the Authority Board also announced the upcoming departure of Tessa Huxley, current executive director of the Conservancy.
“Battery Park City has achieved its preeminent status because of the ongoing work of the Conservancy and its incredible staff with the full support of the Authority,” Shari Hyman, authority president, also said in the statement. “On behalf of the entire Battery Park City Authority and BPC Parks Conservancy, we gratefully acknowledge Tessa’s performance and dedication to her work, and know that the innovative processes she has institutionalized over the past quarter century will continue.
“Tessa leaves behind a seasoned and valuable staff led by T. Fleischer, Bruno Pomponio and Abby Ehrlich. Their devotion to maintaining the parks of Battery Park City in an environmentally conscious manner, and to providing dynamic programming, has made the parks a magnet for all New Yorkers. My pride in them, and in what the Conservancy and Authority have accomplished, is enormous.”
The statement (full text at bottom) did not say when Huxley would be leaving or if any of the three conservancy staffers cited would be the senior leader. The authority did not answer those questions in a followup statement to Downtown Express Thursday.
“The Conservancy continues to maintain its strong leadership structure with T. Fleisher as head of horticulture, Bruno Pomponio as head of maintenance, Abby Ehrlich and her deputy Craig Hudon as head of Programming – all of whom have been with the Conservancy for over a decade and have been instrumental in the development of the world class parks and programs we’ve all come to enjoy,” read the new statement.
On Wednesday, McGowan, who said he hasn’t spoken directly with Huxley about the change, said she always made sure everyone would “start every day with the idea of maintaining the consistency of the quality of life Downtown….
“She’s singularly responsible for getting the authority to adopt the sustainable policy for the maintenance of the neighborhood,” McGowan said, referring to the authority’s green guidelines, which were adopted before 9/11.
During the public part of the two-hour Battery Park City Authority meeting Wednesday, there was no mention of Huxley, who was not present. In an unusual move, a Parks Enforcement Patrol officer was assigned to the meeting.
Talking to reporters afterwards, Mehiel, B.P.C.A.’s chairperson, said he “didn’t want to set the precedent to talk about personnel matters.”
He had praise for Huxley, saying, “She’s wonderful. She’s done a great job.”
A handful of Battery Park City community members attended the authority’s midday meeting, and during the closed session, they made posters with slogans such as “Tessa Matters” and “First the marina, next the gardens?” But when the board returned, they adjourned quickly before the signs were shown.
Rosalie Joseph was at the authority’s meeting and also spoke during Community Board 1’s monthly meeting on Tues., July 28.
“As you’re aware, the community has been at battle with the Battery Park City Authority to protect our community and its assets,” said Joseph, who has been living at Gateway Plaza for 26 years and has been an active leader in the community.
“We find ourselves in another crisis,” she added. “Clearly she has been forced out. Speaking to many residents today who are outraged due to Battery Park City Authority’s current behavior we have lost trust.”
Joseph asked the board to “request that the authority explain, for the community, to the community the future of the Parks Conversancy as well as the reasons for Tessa’ departure.”
On Thursday, Borough President Gale Brewer’s office put out a joint statement with local politicians saying they were “deeply disturbed” by her ouster.
“Tessa Huxley’s work for parks in the Battery Park City community has been exemplary, and it is through her leadership that Battery Park City is such a beautiful community,” read the statement, which also included U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, State Sen. Daniel Squadron, Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Sheldon Silver, and Councilmember Margaret Chin. “We are deeply disturbed by the rumors that [she] is being forced out of her position….
“If she chooses to retire she will have our thanks and our sincere best wishes, but we see absolutely no reason for her not to continue in her position for as long as she wishes to serve.”
At the C.B. 1 meeting, Paula Galloway, who runs the Battery Park City Dog Association, said that Huxley had been instrumental in keeping the neighborhood beautiful and noted her help after Sept. 11 and Superstorm Sandy.
“This is very reminiscent of what happened with Michael Fortenbaugh — you do a great job, you’re fantastic and then you get canned and we want to know why,” said Galloway. “[B.P.C.A. officials] just don’t explain anything.”
In January, Fortenbaugh was ousted as the operator of North Cove Marina when the authority chose Brookfield Office Properties and its partner Island Global Yachting. Many within the community were unhappy with that decision.
Justine Cuccia, C.B. 1 public member and Battery Park City resident, said the authority had cut back community access to the ballfields. The B.P.C.A. opened up the permitting process for the fields and many feared local leagues would lose time.
“I think this is another sign and indication of the Battery Park City Authority’s high-handedness and taking control over Battery Park City in a way that has no concern and no respect for the wishes of the residents,” she said.
Anthony Notaro, Community Board 1’s B.P.C. Committee chairperson, said the situation is “very troubling” because of “the fact that the authority again is not only not transparent but forcing someone out.”
C.B. 1 passed a resolution asking that the B.P.C.A. explain to the community their rationale for such a drastic change of leadership.
For his part, McGowan thinks the authority should close since all of the neighborhood’s sites have been developed.
“The original law had it right,” he said. “The authority was supposed to build it, but the conservancy was supposed to run it.”
Full text of the authority’s statement:
NEW YORK, July 29, 2015 – The Battery Park City Authority Board voted today to restore the years of service lost by Battery Park City Parks Conservancy employees at the time the Conservancy joined the CIRS pension and to ensure Conservancy employees receive retirement benefits in line with those Authority employees enjoy The Authority Board also announced the upcoming departure of Tessa Huxley, current executive director of the Conservancy.
“Battery Park City has achieved its preeminent status because of the ongoing work of the Conservancy and its incredible staff with the full support of the Authority,” said Battery Park City Authority President Shari C. Hyman. On behalf of the entire Battery Park City Authority and BPC Parks Conservancy, we gratefully acknowledge Tessa’s performance and dedication to her work, and know that the innovative processes she has institutionalized over the past quarter century will continue” she added.
“Tessa leaves behind a seasoned and valuable staff led by T. Fleischer, Bruno Pomponio and Abby Ehrlich,” said Ms. Hyman. “Their devotion to maintaining the parks of Battery Park City in an environmentally conscious manner, and to providing dynamic programming, has made the parks a magnet for all New Yorkers. My pride in them, and in what the Conservancy and Authority have accomplished, is enormous”.