With Friends like these
Friends of Community Board 1 has decided it is no longer, well, friends of Community Board 1. Last week, the nonprofits board of directors voted to change its name to Friends of Lower Manhattan, a first step in what may be a pending divorce from the board it was created to support.
The organization, created in 2001 to raise money for the financially strapped board, has come under heavy fire from several C.B. 1 members who accuse the organization of acting without consulting them and not representing their interests.
Losing Friends could prove costly for the community board. The nonprofit reported nearly $550,000 in gross revenue in 2003, according to its tax return, and funds the salary of one C.B. 1 employee. Last week it won a $71,000 grant from the American Red Cross to pay for a fulltime C.B. 1 employee to work at the Lower Manhattan Construction Command Center.
This would be a tragedy if some animosity were to develop between C.B. 1 and the organization that was created to raise money for it, said Ray OKeefe, member of C.B. 1 and Friends, at recent C.B. 1 task force meeting held to discuss Friends.
The Red Cross grant has quickly become a litmus test of how Friends will interact with the board now that Friends president Madelyn Wils is no longer chairperson of C.B. 1. The boards district manager Paul Goldstein who is also vice president of Friends informed several board members recently that the staffer he had in mind for the construction center post was C.B. 1 assistant district manager Judy Duffy, who also happens to be on the board of Friends.
But C.B 1s newly elected chairperson Julie Menin put the kibosh on Duffys new gig after the citys Conflicts of Interest board and the general counsel for Borough President C. Virginia Fields advised her that it may not be kosher to use grant money to fund a city official working at another government office. A new hire will go in her place.
Although the grant money is under Friends control, Menin is confident the nonprofit wont rescind the cash. There is no desire on the part of Friends to do that, said Menin in a telephone interview. Friends will pay for the individual [to represent C.B. 1 at the center.]
The growing rift between the two organizations comes in the midst of a changing of the guards. Menin was elected chairperson in June after the seat opened up when Fields unexpectedly decided not to reappoint Wils to the board last March, in the middle of her final term as chair.
As one of her first orders of business, Menin established a task force to examine Friends, which operates out of the board office. At the task forces inaugural meeting, board members grilled Goldstein for an hour about the workings of the organization and voiced frustration about the organizations relationship with the board, indicating that they hoped to secure greater control over the organization.
Friends has a right as an independent organization to do what it wants, Goldstein said at the meeting. Thats the dilemma.
The following night, Friends took Community Board 1 out of its name, despite a plea from Menin to wait until after the board offered up a list of recommendations. Menin, a new Friends member, abstained from the vote.
It was not a friendly move, said task force chairperson Bill Love in a telephone interview with UnderCover.
The board might establish a new nonprofit arm, one with more direct community board control, Love said.
Goldstein referred all calls on the matter to Wils who did not return calls for comment.
In a conversation shortly after Menin was elected as chairperson of C.B. 1, Wils told UnderCover, Weve [Friends] spent the last couple of years advocating for the community board, if the community board should not want that support, we certainly would not want to give it.