Volume 74, Number 52 | May 04 - 10 , 2005

On political board, manager lives by political sword

By Lincoln Anderson

In the Handbook for Community Board Members, a publication of the Mayor’s 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, Strickler’s decision prior to a full board meeting to insert into board members’ information packets an anonymous letter criticizing the Village Alliance business improvement district’s expansion plan struck some board members as inappropriate.

Strickler has defended the act, saying he’ll continue to make a “judgment call” on whether to put anonymous letters in board members’ packets, provided they aren’t 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 board’s 50 members are volunteers appointed by the borough president, Strickler — who runs the board’s office — is an employee of the board.

Strickler denied he’s doing any lobbying.

“I don’t campaign for anyone, ever,” he said. “I have not made a phone call to anybody. And I’ll 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 board’s chairperson, notified The Villager he would seek a vote on Strickler’s performance before Smith has to step down in June due to the board’s 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 Strickler’s 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 manager’s performance.

“I won’t 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 manager’s 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.

“He’s chairperson for the next two months — it’s 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. I’m 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 board’s Parks Committee, recently lashed out at Strickler while talking to The Villager about the board’s 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 president’s office really only listens to Artie,” Lees claimed. “Artie has an extraordinary amount of influence with the borough president. And the people he doesn’t 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 wasn’t 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, “I’ve 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 member’s husband having been found guilty in a union corruption scandal. The board office’s 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 Lees’s 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 week’s 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 city’s 59 community boards make. Each community board decides its district manager’s salary.

At last month’s 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 Committee’s 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 board’s resolution is supposed to be forwarded to the city’s Department of Small Business Services.

“It’s not serious — but it’s extraordinary it wasn’t 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 he’s pretty sure that at the March C.B. 2 meeting he gave the substitute resolution to the board’s 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 didn’t have the substitute resolution she called Bergman at his home phone but didn’t hear back from him. However, Bergman, who doesn’t 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 board’s 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 wasn’t 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 Smith’s first term as chairperson from June 1999 to June 2001, the board’s Executive Committee — composed of the board’s chairpersons — did decide to review Strickler. Smith said they asked the city’s 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 don’t have to give him any reasons, there is no contract per se.”

“Basically, I like Artie and I always have,” Smith said. “I think he’s 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 one’s 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 County’s Democratic Party chairperson, “ ‘In this business, you live by the sword, you die by the sword.’ This is politics.”

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