City Council Puts Brakes on Community Board Spending

Brooklyn Community Board 1’s SUV parked in front of the office, May 29, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published on 9/17/19 by THE CITY. (By: Gabriel Sandoval and Claudia Irizarry Aponte)

Community boards now have to vote before making pricey purchases with a budget-boosting grant from the City Council, which recently placed sharp limits on how boards can spend the funds.

The new rules followed the THE CITY’s May report that leaders of one Brooklyn board bought a $26,000 SUV using taxpayer money allocated by the Council.

Subsequent stories revealed how some boards tapped the $42,500 annual Council grant, now in its second year, for everything from landscaping to board-branded swag.

“We want to increase transparency and accountability for all the city’s community boards,” Breeana Mulligan, a Council spokeswoman, said in a statement. “The Council will continue to monitor the boards’ investments and check in with the boards to review.”

Mulligan added that THE CITY’s reporting inspired the change, revealed in an Aug. 30 memo sent by Council staff to the district managers of the city’s 59 community boards.

The new rules, retroactive to the July 1 start of the fiscal year, require a full board vote on proposed purchases of $10,000 or more.

The rules also forbid spending the Council funds on food — an expense growth area for some boards. The memo further specifies that the money may be used for technology, community outreach and events, staff training, planning consultants and office improvements.

Councilmember Fernando Cabrera (D-The Bronx), who had advocated for bolstering community board budgets, announced in June that the volunteer bodies could no longer purchase vehicles with the Council funds.

‘It’s the Rule’

That came after some members of Brooklyn Community Board 1 erupted in outrage when they learned that the board’s chair and other volunteer executives had approved the purchase of a Toyota RAV4 used by the district manager. Mayor Bill de Blasio called for an investigation into the Greenpoint-Williamsburg board’s SUV splurge.

City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera (D-Bronx) holds one of 5,000 tote bags Queens Community Board 7 purchased with public funds, June 17, 2019.
City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera (D-Bronx) holds one of 5,000 tote bags Queens Community Board 7 purchased with public funds, June 17, 2019. Photo: Gabriel Sandoval /THE CITY

Other boards used the first round of Council funding to buy 5,000 promotional tote bags and pay for $20,000 in landscaping.

A spokesperson for Cabrera, Claire McLeveighn, said that even though the Council member wasn’t involved in drafting the new rules, he welcomed the accountability measures.

George Torres, district manager for Bronx Community Board 12, which used Council funds to buy thousands of dollars’ worth of camera equipment aimed at making meetings more accessible, said the full-board-vote rule could make important purchases more difficult.

“Had this been a rule last year and I went to the community board and I said, ‘Hey, I want to spend $17,000,’ you might have gotten some people who said, ‘Hey, that’s too much money, you don’t have to spend so much money,” Torres said.

But, he added: “If it’s the rule, it’s the rule.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *