A Brooklyn community board spent $26,000 in taxpayer money on an SUV — which THE CITY found parked Wednesday night across from a home owned by the board’s manager.
The discovery came as some members of Community Board 1 fumed over the purchase of the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, paid for with a City Council grant meant to help cash-strapped volunteer-fueled boards around the city. The Williamsburg board was the only one of the city’s 59 community boards to use any of the $42,500 budget-booster to buy a vehicle.
Gerald Esposito, the board’s manager for four decades and a local Democratic leader, apparently wasn’t home when THE CITY knocked on his door Wednesday night. A tenant said Esposito lives in the downstairs apartment of the Conselyea Street building.
The home is about four blocks from the board’s offices, where the white SUV was spotted parked during the day Tuesday and Wednesday in a specially designated zone on the corner of Graham Avenue and Frost Street, next to a B43 bus stop.
In the window was a city parking placard issued effective Feb. 1, 2019, and authorized for use around the clock, for a maximum of three hours at a time. The license plate number on the placard, however, did not match the plates on the Toyota. “The placard is only valid when used with the corresponding license plate,” a City Hall spokesperson noted.
Esposito, who was paid $123,535 last year as the volunteer board’s top employee, was not immediately reachable for comment.
Some Board Volunteers Surprised
Earlier this week, some board members said they were surprised and dismayed when they learned of the vehicle purchase during a recent CB1 meeting. The SUV marks the board’s largest single expense outside of payroll.
“What? A vehicle? What is it used for?” board member Ryan Kuonen recalled asking at the May 14 board meeting.
“To go different places,” replied Dealice Fuller, the board’s chairperson, according to Kuonen and two other people who attended the meeting.
I still can't believe #BKCB1 bought a car. I heard it with my own ears. I can remember exactly how the chair sounded when she said "go different places" to explain why they needed a car. But it just seems unreal.— Mike Cherepko (@mikecherepko) May 15, 2019
An unsigned response to an inquiry from THE CITY, sent from the official community board email account, said: “Vehicle is used for any Official Business operations.”
The email also stated the purchase was approved by the board’s executive committee and routed through the municipal procurement process to replace an older vehicle.
City Comptroller records show the transaction was completed on Dec. 31, 2018, at City World Motors, a Bronx dealership that has a contract with the city.
But an SUV was not what some Community Board 1 board members had in mind when the City Council gave every community board a one-time grant last year of $42,500 to spend on anything but personnel. The Council funds came in addition to the boards’ tight base budget of $288,000 each.
“With all the things that money could have been spent on, to buy a car just seems silly,” Kuonen said.
Representatives of various local boards gratefully testified at a February Council hearing about using the money to improve their districts and services — to buy a new phone system (Bronx CB9), commission a Hell’s Kitchen historic preservation report (Manhattan CB4) and customize software to help track constituent needs (Brooklyn CB14).
‘There’s Just No Transparency’
The revelation of the SUV purchase dashed the hopes of board volunteer Emily Gallagher, who, along with some other members, had been advocating since September to spend the grant money on improving community engagement.
“I know people at other community boards and they were excited about how to use this money,” said Gallagher, who has served on the Greenpoint and Williamsburg board for two years. “It seemed like a really excellent opportunity to improve things that hold people back from participating.”
When Gallagher, at the May 14 meeting, suggested using some of the funds to create a constituent services tracker in partnership with BetaNYC, Esposito and Fuller informed the general membership the money had been spent on the Toyota and computers.
The eight-member Community Board 1 executive committee “sets the agenda and then doesn’t report back with what was discussed,” Kuonen, who has been on the board since 2010, told THE CITY.
As for Esposito, “There’s just no transparency to what he does,” Kuonen said.
Esposito has a long history at CB1. He’s served for 42 years, after starting as the youngest district manager in the city when he was hired in 1977.
In 2009, he unsuccessfully campaigned for City Council, losing to Diana Reyna. Esposito also is president of the Seneca Club, one of Brooklyn’s oldest Democratic Party organizations.
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