By Albert Amateau
It was a real disappointment for Community Board 2 members last week to get word that their annual holiday party would be cancelled this year.
The shindig was supposed to be Dec. 4 at Morandis on Waverly Pl. but soon after the invitations went out, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer froze two bank accounts that the board has had for at least 10 years. Stringer said there are questions about whether the funds are legal.
That meant the board couldnt make an advance payment to reserve the place for the event.
But on Tues., Nov. 27, Brad Hoylman, the boards chairperson, was able to announce that a new restaurant, Gottino, at 52 Greenwich Ave., would be the holiday party venue on Dec. 17, to be paid for on the spot by the $30-per-ticket charge.
So whats the problem with the two bank accounts?
Theyve never been a secret and theyve been around for maybe 15 years, said Ed Gold, a longtime C.B. 2 member.
Never a secret, but these types of funds are not specifically sanctioned by city rules, either.
Community boards are only advisory and composed of unpaid volunteer members. Yet the boards are city agencies and get their operating funds for professional staff and office expenses from the city budget.
Ive always found those accounts troubling and when I became chairperson I asked the borough president to look into it and get a Conflicts of Interest Board opinion, said Hoylman.
One of the accounts in question is known as the Flower Fund. It is derived from whatever money is left over from the community boards annual year-end holiday party and occasional contributions by C.B. 2 members. It is used to pay for flowers for community board members who are sick, in the hospital or grieving a death and incidental expenses, such as putting an advance payment on a place for the year-end party.
“They sent me flowers in the hospital when I broke my hip in 2002,” recalled Gold. As of August, the Flower Fund stood at $3,773, Hoylman said.
The other account is in the name of Friends of Community Board 2. This funds money comes from two street fairs that the community board sponsors each year and the money goes to pay for office expenses, like copying-machine rental and supplies.
Weve had to use those funds periodically because the bulk of the city budget funds goes to pay salaries for the boards district manager and three assistants, Gold said. As of the beginning of this month, The Friends fund stood at $12,336, Hoylman said.
Shaan Kahn, director of community affairs for Borough President Stringer, said his office received Hoylmans inquiry three months ago and that the borough president has been talking to the Conflicts of Interest Board about the accounts.
“The conflicts board has not yet issued a ruling. But when we saw the board’s notice about the holiday party we decided to freeze the accounts,” Kahn said. “We’re trying to work out how to legitimize the accounts.”
One of the community boards mandated duties is to review street fairs that various groups sponsor, and then submit a recommendation to the Mayors Office. The conflict arises because C.B. 2 sponsors two street fairs that it must review and for which it must submit recommendations.
Moreover, neither account is an official city account nor for a nonprofit 501-C3 organization.
One option would be to create a nonprofit group that would run the accounts and another possibility would be to find an existing 501-C3 group that would run the accounts. A third possibility would be to ask the citys Department of Finance to control the two funds. Khan said there are ways to track such funds under Department of Finance control to make sure the community board can use the money for legitimate purposes.