L.M.D.C. drops Menin from panel; community reacts

It was great news when, last summer, the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation announced it had earmarked $17 million for another round of community and cultural enhancement grants. One of the trumpeters of the good news was Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin, who also sits on the L.M.D.C. board of directors and served on the panel that administered the last round of these grants to groups in 2007.

But now, after the agency announced at its March 31 board meeting new members of the panel that would oversee the next round of grants, Menin and others are expressing dismay at the list of names. Some elected officials and the entire community board, seemed more than surprised that Menin herself was bumped from the panel this time around.

“I was shocked,” said Harold Reed, the chair of C.B. 1’s Arts and Entertainment Task Force. “I think it’s incomprehensible that she was dismissed. We need representation from this community on that panel and [Menin] is the perfect person for the job.”

As for Menin, she said she was under every impression that she would be on the panel once again. According to her, she was told at the L.M.D.C.’s October board meeting that she would indeed be re-appointed. And Menin pointed out that it was pressure from C.B.1 concerning transparency on the L.M.D.C.’s part that was responsible for this money being allocated in the first place.

“We fought tooth and nail to get that money out to these groups,” said Menin. “To have a community enhancement panel without any community representation is incomprehensible.”

At the issue’s core is the fact that the advisory panel is not appointed by the L.M.D.C., but is instead by the Mayor and Governor, who also appoint the agency’s board of directors.

L.M.D.C. spokesperson, John Delibero, issued the following statement on the matter: “The members of the advisory panel were announced publicly a month ago… The Mayor’s appointees are Kate Levin (Cultural Affairs Commissioner), Nanette Smith (Chief of Staff to First Deputy Mayor Patti Harris) and Amy Stursberg (Executive Director of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation). The Governor’s appointees are David Emil (President of LMDC), Peter Davidson (Executive Director of ESDC) and Cheryl Effron.”

Delibero continued, “The advisory panel will make recommendations to the L.M.D.C. board of directors, which is the only entity with the ability to authorize the grants. Julie Menin’s valuable input will be felt via her role as Chair of [C.B.] 1 and as an L.M.D.C. board member. Julie served as a community advisory panel member (appointed by then Governor Spitzer) in 2007. None of the members who served in 2007 were appointed to serve in 2010.”

Since the news of Menin’s exclusion broke, the community board, at its last full board meeting, passed a resolution that “demands” that she be reinstated to the panel. And a slew of elected officials have drafted a letter to support that resolution.

The letter, signed by U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Manhattan Borough Pres. Scott Stringer, NY State Sen. Daniel Squadron, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Assembly Member Deborah Glick and City Councilmember Margaret Chin, expresses “concern” over the L.M.D.C.’s decision and states that Menin is “an appropriate choice for the panel.” It also reiterates Menin’s role in securing the funds in question.

“Ms. Menin and [C.B.] 1 advocated for the funds in question to be allocated for community uses in Lower Manhattan and, along with other local leaders and elected officials, were vocal in pushing for the Request for Proposals to be released for the community and cultural enhancement fund, and for the L.M.D.C. to expedite the process,” the letter continues. “Further, it is inconceivable that a panel on community enhancement would be composed without any community representation. We therefore urge you to ensure representation from [C.B. 1] on the community and cultural enhancement panel and ask that you appoint Ms. Menin as the community’s representative.”

Also at hand is Menin’s role as a L.M.D.C. board member. In the past, she has been vocal about criticizing the agency over a lack of transparency and has often been the lone “no” vote on particular issues. At the board meeting on March 31, Menin was the only person to vote “no” on the agency’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and called for the L.M.D.C. to come up with a sunset plan.

“She’s been very critical of the L.M.D.C. and I think they’re confusing her criticism and their response to the criticism with her competence on the issue,” said Reed.

As for the agency’s response that Menin’s voice would be heard and taken into consideration as a voting member of the board, Menin is skeptical about the fact that the board has the final say on the grants.

“I’ve yet to see any comments at the L.M.D.C. board meetings that have reversed a decision on community enhancement grants,” said Menin. “In the past the board has merely rubber stamped the panel’s work.”

BY John Bayles