Volume 74, Number 43 | March 02 - 08, 2005

Editorial (Updated)

C.B. 2 leaders and Fields disserved community by flouting conflict ruling

That a clear-cut conflict of interest on Community Board 2’s Business Committee could linger for a year and a half is an extremely serious problem.

It’s frankly shocking to us that Jim Smith, C.B. 2’s chairperson, didn’t accept the Conflicts of Interest Board’s ruling that board members who hold liquor licenses as restaurant and bar owners cannot chair committees that consider liquor license issues. After this May 2003 ruling, Smith should have immediately removed Bob Rinaolo, owner of two Village bar/restaurants, as chairperson of the Business Committee.

A basic instruction the borough president’s representatives give new board members at orientations is that, to avoid conflicts of interest, one shouldn’t chair a committee in the area of one’s profession. It’s unfathomable how Smith, Rinaolo and other Board 2 members refuse to accept this basic concept. Why Borough President C. Virginia Fields failed to enforce her own rule in this case, however, is both puzzling and disappointing. At the least, Rinaolo should have stepped down during Smith’s appeal of the ruling.

The fact that Board 2 members were not informed of the ruling is also troublesome. Smith contends he was “protecting the privacy” of Rinaolo. Is that what Smith was trying to do when The Villager first called him about Rinaolo and the conflict of interest ruling last December and Smith’s first words were “I don’t know anything about it”?

Also troubling is that Fields’s office alleges not to have received from the Greenwich Village Block Associations a letter urging her legal counsel to instruct Smith about COIB’s ruling. G.V.B.A. has the registered-mail receipts. What gives?

In the end, the buck stops with the borough president. Fields, clearly a proponent of business members on the boards, did not have the will to force Rinaolo, former chairperson of the Greenwich Village Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, to step down. Meanwhile, serious questions have been raised on whether Rinaolo worked to torpedo the application of a former business partner he had a falling out with. This is precisely the type of potential conflict of interest that the COIB’s ruling was intended to prevent.

If Fields, a candidate for mayor, can’t oversee and police the community boards — one of her main responsibilities as B.P. — how could she run the city’s government?

And now, after a year and a half of ignoring and hiding a conflict of interest ruling, Rinaolo wants to be Board 2 chairperson. While some on the board apparently don’t see a problem in this, we do. We’re sure G.V.B.A. does, too.

Like all board members, Rinaolo is a volunteer, and he’s done some good work on the Business Committee. But Smith and Rinaolo’s actions in trying to duck the conflict ruling show poor judgment on a fundamental issue, and have shaken the community’s faith in — and, yes, tarnished — Community Board 2.

The community board is supposed to represent the community’s interests — not board members’ narrow agendas. How can the community depend on Rinaolo to fairly represent their interests after all this?

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