Last Tuesday night inside the Swinging 60s Senior Center in Williamsburg, nearly a dozen neighbors expressed disappointment with the board’s decision on how to spend more than half of the $42,500 one-time budget boost.
Local resident Deborah Spiroff said she was shocked when she learned about the purchase.
“Surely there has to be other uses for the community,” she said. “Why wasn’t the community given an opportunity to have a say?”
The Executive Committee agreed to purchase the 2018 Toyota RAV 4 Hybrid, which replaced an old 2002 vehicle that was donated to them by the New York State Power Authority.
District manager Gerald Esposito said at a committee meeting earlier this month that the car was used for “daily operations,” such as investigating complaints and taking the CB1 Chair, Dealice Fuller, to meetings at Borough Hall or City Hall.
Fuller repeated again at the meeting that the board went through the proper governmental channels for approval.
“We followed the established protocol on spending this money,” she said. “We went to every agency we were supposed to.”
Mike Cherepko, a resident who live-tweets community board meetings, called the SUV an “expensive waste.” He said the money could have been spent on improving things like the gap in the board’s community relations.
Board members have previously suggested investing in community-relationship management software.
“It’s not just about wasting $26,000 on an SUV,” he said. “It’s in the context of what it could have gone to instead.”
Cherepko even called for many of the board leaders to resign. He noted that with the new rules on term limits for community boards, many will leave anyway.
“I don’t think it’s just a mistake that will blow over and that people will forget about,” he said. “It shows that you’re not doing your jobs.”
Kevin LaCherra, a Greenpoint resident who has family roots in the neighborhood, added that he hopes the issue will be addressed by the board in a serious way.
“I hope that moving forward, the decisions that are made here are made with all of us in mind,” he said.
Responding to the criticism, Fuller said the Executive Committee had a “great discussion” about changing the processes around budgetary decisions.
“We all can do better and we will do better,” she said. “We’re taking it to heart and consideration.”
With a little over $3,000 in non-personnel money left to be spent by June 30, Fuller said she asked the board for and received suggestions on how to spend it.
The committee then sent it to the “proper entities” to inquire if any of those suggestions were doable. The agencies have not yet responded on how to proceed, Fuller said.
Earlier in the meeting, CB1 member Emily Gallagher noted that in the bylaws, the board is supposed to have a Budget Committee that reports monthly on how the board spends its money.
Gallagher said it was “clear” that the board has not been upholding the bylaws.
“We need to take responsibility for that, not be offended by those critiques, but instead rise up and get better at it,” she said. “And we need to start following our own rules.”
Maria Viera, CB1’s financial secretary, acknowledged that the board has not been doing that. She pledged to restart the committee and begin recruiting members.
“Sometimes there’s something good that comes out of mistakes or errors made,” she said.
Viera then went through the list of the board’s non-personnel expenses, including office supplies, alarm services and cell phone service. The largest expense, by far, was rent.
The board approved the expenses.
Viera personally apologized for not the car, but for “the process in which the vehicle was purchased.”
“Moving forward, we will make sure this never happens again,” she said.