Looking at the Friends of Community Board 1
By Elizabeth OBrien
Many Downtowners recognize they have a strong ally in Community Board 1, the city agency that advocates for residents in all matters of life below Canal St. What some may not know is that C.B. 1 itself has a powerful ally, a nonprofit arm called Friends of Community Board 1, which had revenues of nearly half a million dollars in its inaugural year of 2001, according to its 2002 tax forms.
Who are the Friends of Community Board 1 and what is their function?
The nonprofit Friends is a 501(c)3 public charity that shares office space, personnel and other resources with Community Board 1. As listed on its 990 tax form of 2002, the mission of Friends of C.B. 1 is helping to recreate Lower Manhattan as the most dynamic urban community in America through proactive community planning, government outreach and improving the quality of life.
Some community board members have argued that there is not enough distance between C.B.1 and its nonprofit sister, especially under circumstances where fundraising efforts could lead to the appearance of conflicts of interest. Madelyn Wils, chairperson of C.B. 1, has denied that there is any inappropriate overlap between the two organizations.
Friends of C.B. 1 does not report to C.B. 1, Wils said in a telephone interview. It is a separate nonprofit.
Wils also serves as president of Friends of C.B. 1, which, like her leadership of C.B.1, is a volunteer position. Paul Goldstein, district manager of C.B. 1 and a city employee, serves as the unpaid vice president of Friends.
You have the same small group of people running the same organizations in the same space, and making decisions board members are not aware of, or later become aware of, said Marc Ameruso, a board member who has called for more separation.
Friends of C.B. 1 was created in June of 2001. Wils said the city asked Community Board 1 to create a nonprofit organization, so that the organization could then serve as a legal entity to preserve the recreation center slated for Chambers St. as a community amenity. A spokesperson for the citys Economic Development Corporation, which oversees the development, said that it had not yet decided how the community center to be part of the residential complex planned for the city-owned 5C lot bounded by Chambers, West and Warren Sts. would be legally structured.
Since 9/11, Friends of Community Board 1 has expanded its role to help Lower Manhattan recover from the devastation of the World Trade Center attack. It gave cash gifts to police and firefighters as part of its Project Gratitude program. The organization also conducted polls of Downtowners about the rebuilding process, conducted studies of Site 5C and neighboring Site 5B, and gave a donation to the new Millennium High School, a public school that opened last fall on Broad St.
To fund its activities, Friends received $290,000 from the September 11th Fund, an amount paid in two separate installments in 2002 and 2003, according to a fund spokesperson. Friends has also held gala fundraisers at such venues as the now-defunct Wall Street Regent Hotel.
Some attendees at last years gala were representatives from companies that sometimes have business before Community Board 1, including David Childs, architect for World Trade Center leaseholder Larry Silverstein, and Arthur Imperatore, Jr., president of New York Waterway.
Wils said that Friends is vigilant about not accepting donations from people who have imminent business before C.B.1. She said that, despite the misperceptions of some, the finances of Friends and C.B. 1 are completely separate, with separate accountants and auditors.
As a public charity, Friends has no legal obligation to disclose the identity of its donors, said Suzanne Coffman, director of communications for GuideStar, an online database of nonprofits. Some current and former C.B. 1 members argue that both organizations should nonetheless make their finances more transparent to board members and to potential donors.
To the extent that Friends trades on the good name of Community Board 1 in fundraising, thats a problem, said Bernard DOrazio, a former member of C.B. 1. DOrazio said that because of the similar names and close connection between the two organizations, donors might not realize that money given to Friends is actually a donation to a nonprofit organization, not to a city agency.
The citys 59 community boards have a solely advisory function; they make recommendations to the city on all aspects of life within their districts, including construction and liquor licenses. Charles Walker, a spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, who oversees community boards in the borough, said he was not aware of any other community board in Manhattan that has a nonprofit arm similar to Friends of C.B. 1.
Community Board 1 enjoys more influence than most of the citys other community boards, a position Wils has attributed to the districts proximity to the World Trade Center site and also to her involvement on the boards of other organizations, including the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.
C.B. 1 receives an annual budget from the city of approximately $175,000. Friends had gross revenue of $484,497 in 2001, according to its 2002 tax form. Wils said this week that Friends revenue was likely smaller this year, since 9/11 grant money it received had already been used.
Wils insisted that C. B. 1 and Friends never dip into the same pot.
One does not feed the otherit never has, Wils said.