mutual aid

Community Board Cash Goes to Some Members’ Nonprofit Groups

Office of Bronx Community Board 1 on Third Avenue in the South Bronx.
Office of Bronx Community Board 1 on Third Avenue in the South Bronx. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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At least two of the city’s 59 community boards recently granted funds to nonprofits run by their members, potentially violating city ethics rules.

On July 2, the Bronx’s Community Board 1 paid $10,000 to Men You’re Not Alone, a nonprofit established in January that aims to help men of color affected by violence.

The group is run by Hakiem Yahmadi, a CB1 board member since 2013 and chair of its municipal services committee.

Since 2012, Manhattan Community Board 9 has given more than $46,000 to Mustard Seed, a faith-based nonprofit run by longtime board member Georgiette Morgan-Thomas. She served as community board chair from 2012 to 2015.

Formerly cash-strapped community boards have had money to spare lately. The City Council provided each board with a $42,500 budget boost for the second consecutive year on July 1.

After approving the second round, the Council forbade boards from spending the money on vehicles, following THE CITY’s report that executives of Brooklyn CB1 used $26,000 to buy an SUV.

But restrictions in the City Charter, interpreted by the city Conflicts of Interest Board (COIB), suggest that accepting a grant from a community board while serving on that body isn’t permissible, either.

“Community Board members cannot have a job or ownership interest in companies or not-for-profit organizations that do business with their Community Board,” reads a city Conflicts of Interest Board guide called “The Top 9 Things Community Board Members Need to Know” about how City Charter ethics provisions apply to them.

‘Is That The Rule?’

In a phone interview Monday, Yahmadi said he was only providing a much-needed service to his community, where the prevalence of gun violence, drug use and homelessness are high.

“Is that the law? Is that the rule?” Yahmadi asked. “I didn’t know that that’s a conflict.”

Morgan-Thomas told THE CITY her organization has served as a conduit to pay businesses that provided backpacks, school supplies and face-painting for an annual back-to-school celebration event. The businesses aren’t on the pre-approved list of vendors that city agencies can use, she noted.

“I didn’t know anything like that,” Morgan-Thomas said, after learning about the conflicts guidelines.

The district managers of both community boards said the expenses were not improper.

Ethan Carrier, general counsel of the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board, declined to comment on the community board expenditures. In an email, he said his agency can’t discuss whether a matter is under investigation, “unless and until such a case results in a finding by the Board of a violation.”

The COIB once advised a community board that had sought to pay a member to provide legal services that the transaction was forbidden under the City Charter.

‘No Phoniness’

Yahmadi, 67, experienced the grief of losing his son, who was shot and killed a day before 9/11, he said. Now through Men You’re Not Alone, he’s trying to fill the void left by the trauma of gun violence and other problems facing South Bronx residents.

“Men of color — we don’t talk,” Yadmadi said. “We don’t get help.”

“I’m just trying to make a dent in this,” he added.

Cedric Loftin, the Bronx community board’s manager, said that Yahmadi’s work with Men You’re Not Alone and other volunteer efforts is having a positive impact.

“There is no phoniness with it,” Loftin said. “He’s been doing this for years.”

Loftin told THE CITY the $10,000 payment to Yahmadi’s nonprofit was single-handedly approved by George Rodriguez, who was the board’s chair until about three weeks ago. Rodriguez died on Sept. 5, according to his obituary in the Bronx Times.

Loftin said the money granted to Yahmadi’s nonprofit came from funds recently provided by the City Council.

Men You’re Not Alone received $10,000 from the Bronx board on July 2, city records show.

That was before the Council provided guidelines to the community boards detailing additional restrictions on spending the funds.

City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera (D-The Bronx) holds one of 5,000 tote bags Queens Community Board 7 purchased with public funds, June 17, 2019.
City Councilmember Fernando Cabrera (D-The Bronx) holds one of 5,000 tote bags Queens Community Board 7 purchased with public funds, June 17, 2019. Photo: Gabriel Sandoval /THE CITY

On Aug. 28, nearly two months after the boards secured their new round of funding, Councilmember Fernando Cabrera (D-The Bronx) wrote a letter outlining the new spending rules.

He highlighted one, using boldface and underline: “All purchases with a value of $10,000 or more must be approved by a vote of the full community board.”

Jennifer Fermino, a Council spokesperson, said in a statement that boards that don’t follow the rule risk losing out on future funds.

She added that the city Office of Management and Budget didn’t authorize any expenditures for the new fiscal year that began on July 1 until after the guidelines were approved in late August.

“Any spending prior to that was other money,” she wrote.

A representative for the mayor’s office, which includes OMB, did not respond to questions about the source of the Men You’re Not Alone funds. “No need for us to clarify anything,” said Jose Bayona, a City Hall spokesperson, said in an email.

Hats Off

Morgan-Thomas is also head of Mustard Seed Faith Ministries, a nonprofit that describes itself online as “an evangelistic, Bible based church where the atmosphere is relaxed.”

The Manhattan Community Board’s payments to Mustard Seed began in fiscal year 2013, a period in which Morgan-Thomas became the board’s chair. From then until the present, Mustard Seed has received $46,663.50, according records in the city comptroller’s Checkbook NYC portal.

Morgan-Thomas said her nonprofit acts strictly as a conduit to pay businesses that aren’t city vendors. “It’s not about an administrative fee or anything like that,” she said.

“It’s the way that Community Board 9 has been able to be active in the community,” she added.

Eutha Prince, the district manager of CB9, said the payment of $10,063.66 to Morgan-Thomas’s nonprofit in 2018, the first year of the City Council funding boost, was not improper.

Barry Weinberg, the board’s chair, agreed, saying that it was just a reimbursement.

But, he added, “I can see why that would raise a flag.”

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