On political board, manager lives by political sword
By Lincoln Anderson
In the Handbook for Community Board Members, a publication of the Mayors Community Assistance Unit, community board district managers are described as at once municipal managers, service coordinators, ombudspersons, complaint monitors, information sources, community organizers, mediators, advocates and much more.
One of the most important single acts which each community board performs is the appointment of a district manager, the manual notes, emphasizing, The board will want to set the highest possible standards for this selection.
For the last nine years, the district manager of Community Board 2, which covers Greenwich Village, Soho, Noho, Little Italy and Hudson Sq., has been Arthur Strickler. Political, feisty and outspoken, Strickler is a former Greenwich Village Democratic district leader and former C.B. 2 member.
However, some on the board feel Strickler regularly stretches the envelope of what the handbook defines as his job. For example, in March, Stricklers decision prior to a full board meeting to insert into board members information packets an anonymous letter criticizing the Village Alliance business improvement districts expansion plan struck some board members as inappropriate.
Strickler has defended the act, saying hell continue to make a judgment call on whether to put anonymous letters in board members packets, provided they arent from nut jobs.
According to a source, Strickler has also been freelancing outside his job description by lobbying board members to vote for Maria Passannante Derr in the upcoming June chairperson election.
While the community boards 50 members are volunteers appointed by the borough president, Strickler who runs the boards office is an employee of the board.
Strickler denied hes doing any lobbying.
I dont campaign for anyone, ever, he said. I have not made a phone call to anybody. And Ill work for whoever is the next chairperson. However, he added, I would prefer the group that is not looking to get me fired I have a job to protect.
Yet, about a week and a half ago, in a surprising move, without mentioning anything specific Strickler had done, Jim Smith, the boards chairperson, notified The Villager he would seek a vote on Stricklers performance before Smith has to step down in June due to the boards two-year term limit.
Before my time is up as chairperson of Community Board 2, I will seek a review by the board of Arthur Stricklers performance and a vote, up or down, on his continued tenure, Smith said. It has been nine years since we elected Arthur to his job. After all this time, it will be good for the board to revisit what we want in a district manager and it will be good for Arthur to know where he stands with the members. The district manager serves at the pleasure of the board.
However, by the next day, Smith had modified his position, calling only for a committee to be set up to evaluate the district managers performance.
I wont go for an immediate vote on the district manager s tenure though, of course, a vote should be taken more often than once in nine years, Smith said. Instead, Smith said, the new plan was to create a Board Office Committee. From time to time, the committee would report to the board on the district managers performance and schedule meetings of the entire board membership from time to time to vote confidence or no confidence in the district manager. No confidence, Smith said, would mean termination.
Strickler confirmed he got a note from Smith about the new committee.
Hes chairperson for the next two months its a little unusual with only two months left in your term, Strickler said. However, he noted, after Smith steps down, The new chairperson can do whatever he or she wants.
By the end of last week, Smith had dropped the whole plan altogether.
The [board] members I spoke to want more rigor in noting and evaluating board office performance, he said. What is unsettled is how an office committee should go about accomplishing a more structured relationship that is objective, fair, workable. Getting consensus on that issue is, apparently, too ambitious a goal for the time I have left. Im taking no further action toward establishing a committee. But, regardless who is the new board chairperson, I believe there will be progress toward a tighter, closer relationship between board and office under the next regime.
Aubrey Lees, chairperson of the boards Parks Committee, recently lashed out at Strickler while talking to The Villager about the boards highly politicized chairperson race, accusing Strickler of getting too involved in things. Lees charged that Strickler wields excessive power, is able to engineer board members removals and, ultimately, influence who gets elected chairperson.
The borough presidents office really only listens to Artie, Lees claimed. Artie has an extraordinary amount of influence with the borough president. And the people he doesnt want on the board eventually get kicked off. Everyone knows Artie is the real chairperson of the board.
Lees said Strickler has six years till he collects his 15-year pension, and is bent on insuring he has the support of a majority of the board members so he keeps his job.
Three years ago, Strickler was reprimanded for forwarding to the entire board an obscenity-laced e-mail Charle Cafiero wrote Ed Gold, another board member, after Cafiero wasnt reappointed to the board. At that time, Strickler told The Villager that a clique he claimed was trying to oust him would fail, because, as he put it, Ive got the numbers.
Anonymous mailings have also roiled the board office under Strickler. In one case, board members were anonymously mailed a newspaper article from The Chief about a board members husband having been found guilty in a union corruption scandal. The board offices postage meter had been used to postmark the mailings.
Whenever asked about that incident, Strickler denies he sent the mailings and says of the individual, He was a crook.
Shortly after Leess recent outburst to The Villager about Strickler, Smith tapped her to chair the new district manager oversight committee and she had accepted enthusiastically.
In addition, Lees who stands to lose her Parks Committee chairpersonship if Derr wins the chairperson election submitted a talking point column to The Villager criticizing Strickler, to run in last weeks issue, but a day before press time she abruptly decided to withdraw it.
Strickler readily admits he has six years till he retires and that he makes $70,000, which he said is in the middle of what district managers in the citys 59 community boards make. Each community board decides its district managers salary.
At last months full board meeting, in another strange occurrence, a substitute resolution on the Village Alliance BID expansion plan was conspicuously noted in the minutes for the March C.B. 2 full board meeting as having not been received by the board office. Overturning its Business Committees resolution against the plan, the full board had voted in March to support a substitute resolution in favor of the BID expansion.
Honi Klein, Village Alliance executive director, could be seen at the April meeting, clearly annoyed, complaining to a board member about the substitute resolution having been marked as not having been received. As part of the review process for the BID expansion, the boards resolution is supposed to be forwarded to the citys Department of Small Business Services.
Its not serious but its extraordinary it wasnt there, Klein told The Villager.
Following the April 21 full board meeting, Smith asked Tobi Bergman, who wrote the substitute resolution, to e-mail it to him, and that Friday Smith personally handed it to a board employee, stressing to her it was to be sent to D.B.S. immediately. Bergman said hes pretty sure that at the March C.B. 2 meeting he gave the substitute resolution to the boards assistant secretary, Marc Rosenwasser, to put in the packet that is given to the board office. Strickler had Florence Arenas, a community associate in the C.B. 2 office, explain to The Villager what happened. Arenas said upon realizing she didnt have the substitute resolution she called Bergman at his home phone but didnt hear back from him. However, Bergman, who doesnt have a home answering machine, was in Tucson. Yet, according to Bergman, Arenas had called him earlier about a substitute resolution he wrote for the boards Landmarks Committee at the same March meeting but that time she called him in Tucson on his cellphone.
But Smith said the latest incident about the substitute resolution wasnt what compelled him to call albeit briefly, before he changed his mind for a vote and then a committee to review the district manager.
[It was] just a gut feeling, Smith said.
Smith also happens to be supporting Don MacPherson for chairperson against Derr.
During Smiths first term as chairperson from June 1999 to June 2001, the boards Executive Committee composed of the boards chairpersons did decide to review Strickler. Smith said they asked the citys Law Department if they had the ability to do this, but never got a response. According to a board member, the issue had been whether to censure Strickler, but the Law Department said the full board needed to vote on it, and Smith did not want to put the matter to a full board vote.
It was an idea that in my first term we worked very hard on, but came to nothing, Smith said. He noted Strickler is on a minute-to-minute contract and the board can terminate him immediately. We dont have to give him any reasons, there is no contract per se.
Basically, I like Artie and I always have, Smith said. I think hes a strong district manager. But I agree with those who feel a little more supervision of the board office could be a tonic thing.
While no ones calling him the Teflon District Manager, it seems Strickler may have escaped a close one.
As Denny Farrell once told me when I was district leader, Strickler said, referring to Manhattan Countys Democratic Party chairperson, In this business, you live by the sword, you die by the sword. This is politics.