driving up costs

Mayor de Blasio Calls for Probe of Community Board SUV Purchase

Brooklyn’s Community Board 1 spent $26,000 on a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.
Brooklyn’s Community Board 1 spent $26,000 on a Toyota RAV4 Hybrid. Photo: Claudia Irizarry Aponte/THE CITY

Mayor de Blasio called on the city Department of Investigation Friday to probe a Brooklyn community board’s purchase of a $26,000 SUV — vowing to “make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

He spoke out after THE CITY revealed Community Board 1 purchased the 2018 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid with a taxpayer-funded grant from the City Council. THE CITY spotted vehicle parked Wednesday night across from the board manager’s home — four blocks from CB1’s Williamsburg office.

“I’m really surprised by this and I’m not happy about it and I don’t think it was right for that community board to do that,” de Blasio said during his weekly call-in to Brian Lehrer’s WNYC radio show.

“I think the Department of Investigation needs to look into that and I hope they will do that quickly,” he said in response to a caller’s question. “I’ve been working with community boards for the last 20 years or so and I have never seen anything like that….We’ve gotta figure out some way to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

A Department of Investigation spokesperson said: “DOI is aware of the matter and declines further comment.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray, May 16, 2019.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray, May 16, 2019. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

The mayor’s strong words came after the Council pledged Thursday to scrutinize how the city’s 59 community boards spent the one-time $42,500 budget boost handed out last year.

“The Council was proud to provide community boards across the city with additional funding for the first time in years so they could better serve their neighborhoods, and we expected them to use the funds with serving their neighbors in mind,” said Jennifer Fermino, a Council spokesperson.

“As part of the budget process, we will review all community board expenses as part of our continued oversight of the boards.”

The grants, appropriated by the Council and available as of last July, must be spent by June 30. The boards were told they could spend the money on anything, except for salaries.

‘Every Penny Is Pinched’

CB1 Chairperson Dealice Fuller, in a statement to THE CITY Thursday, said the board’s executive committee approved the purchase at an Aug. 8 meeting.

Yet minutes from the full board meeting the following week indicate that Fuller, asked by board member Emily Gallagher about the Council windfall, acted as if none of the $42,500 had been spoken for.

Fuller, according to the minutes, said “the Executive Committee will be discussing what to do with the budget with the one time budget increase from the City Council. She asked Ms. Gallagher if she had any ideas.”

Gerald Esposito, CB1’s district manager for four decades, noted during the session that the board was considering acquiring a new vehicle to replace a car that had been donated in 2002 by the New York Power Authority.

He said staff used the car to “investigate complaints, for going to meetings, picking up the chair for meetings, going to meetings to Borough Hall, etc.” Asked by another board member whether any other community boards own cars, Esposito professed he did not know, the minutes show.

Brooklyn Community Board 1 District Manager Gerald Esposito.
Brooklyn Community Board 1 District Manager Gerald Esposito. Photo: NYC.gov

Board members said they were not informed until this year’s May 14 meeting that the executive committee had approved the Toyota purchase.

Meanwhile, when Esposito and Fuller submitted written testimony for a February City Council hearing on how boards were using the money, they declared “every penny is pinched” as they spend their “meager budget.”

“These funds enable our board to replace outdated apparatus and secure upgraded equipment as well as replenish supplies,” they wrote.

Their testimony made no mention of a vehicle.

Esposito, who is president of a local Democratic club and made $123,535 for his board job last year, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Councilmember Stephen Levin, whose district also includes Brooklyn’s CB1, declined to comment.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who is responsible for appointing half of the volunteer members at each Brooklyn community board, put out a joint statement with Councilmember Antonio Reynoso (D-Brooklyn), whose district overlaps with CB1.

“We stand together now to express disagreement with the decision of CB 1’s executive board to purchase another city vehicle, adding to an already bloated fleet, rather than use City Council funds on resources that would better benefit the community at large,” the duo said.

Meanwhile, with the spending deadline approaching, some other boards are making big-ticket purchases. One case in point: Brooklyn Community Board 18, covering Canarsie, Mill Basin and Bergen Beach, paid $20,000 on May 6 to Dragonetti Brothers, a local landscaping company, records show.

The board did not respond to an inquiry from THE CITY.

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