Authority’s controller fired abruptly, leaving some to wonder

By Julie Shapiro

Debra Bogosian, controller for the Battery Park City Authority, was abruptly fired six weeks ago and is now fighting to either get her job back or get severance pay.

Bogosian’s dismissal came as a surprise to current and former B.P.C.A. employees, who uniformly praised her work.

“It’s shocking, quite honestly,” said Jennifer James, who worked as a consultant for the authority several years ago and worked closely with Bogosian. “She’s incredibly competent…. She really ran the ship there as far as finances [were concerned], and I don’t think she really got the credit she deserved for it.”

Bogosian told Downtown Express last week that she had no warning before Jim Cavanaugh, the authority’s president, called her into his office Oct. 28 and fired her. Bogosian, a Battery Park City resident, had worked for the authority for five-and-a-half years, starting as an accounting manager and receiving two promotions. She said all her evaluations were positive, including the one she received a week before she was fired.

Cavanaugh said he did not have to give Bogosian a reason for her dismissal, Bogosian recalled. But when she pressed him, “He said, ‘This is about being my comptroller,’” Bogosian said, emphasizing the word “my.”

“That was a little weird,” she said. “It’s not something anyone should say. I’m not going to be loyal to anyone other than what my position should be loyal to.”

Bogosian told Cavanaugh she loved her job, and she said he just sat there looking at her. Robert Holden, who works in human resources for the authority, then handed Bogosian a termination letter, which contained no mention of severance.

Bogosian provided similar details to the Broadsheet Daily, which first reported her termination.

Bogosian hired a lawyer to try to get her job back or get compensation. She said the authority did not follow its procedure on involuntary terminations, which requires a supervisor’s letter requesting the termination. Her supervisor was Robert Serpico, the authority’s C.F.O. He did not respond to a request for comment.

“We did follow our own procedures,” Cavanaugh told Downtown Express last week. “In every case, the authority consults with independent labor counsel [to make sure] that the termination is justified and followed procedure. That was carried out in this instance as well.”

Cavanaugh said that as president, he has the ability to dismiss an employee without consulting the entire authority’s board, as long as that employee was not hired by the full board. He only had to get board chairperson James Gill’s approval, which he said he did.

Gill, who was appointed chairperson by Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, is up for reappointment by Democratic Gov. David Paterson at the end of this year. Paterson’s office would not say whether they are interviewing potential replacements. Cavanaugh was also hired when Pataki was still in office. Several current and former B.P.C.A. employees privately described the atmosphere at the authority as highly politicized, with tension between political appointees and regular employees.

Cavanaugh declined to comment further or give a reason for firing Bogosian, saying, “It would not be fair to her. It would not be proper.”

Bogosian said she thinks she knows why she was fired but she did not want to disclose it.

The Battery Park City Authority met in executive session for more than an hour Dec. 2 to discuss Bogosian’s dismissal.

“If we didn’t think it was important, we wouldn’t do it,” said one board member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, of the long discussion. “We all want to do the right thing, and that takes some time. It’s not a happy situation, but we have the opportunity to make it better, to do the right thing, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Those who worked with Bogosian said she was an asset to the authority and knew of no reason for her dismissal.

“I thought she was competent, cooperative and a pleasure to work with,” said Stephanie Gelb, vice president of planning and design for the authority.

Bhavin Patel, a former intern in the Finance Department, said Bogosian was a great boss.

“She was a wealth of knowledge, and everyone knew that,” Patel said.

Hearing that Bogosian was fired was “mind-boggling,” Patel said.

Debby Hui, who worked in accounts payable several years ago, agreed.

“She’s very detail-oriented,” Hui said. “She’s very experienced — she knows what she’s doing.”

” target=_blank>Julie@DowntownExpress.com