Queens Community Boards
Same Work, Different Pay
By ROSS BARKAN
In the vast world of New York City public employees, community board district managers are anomalies, performing equal work for widely diverging pay.
Identical job descriptions and budgets in the 14 Queens community boards do not equal identical salaries for the 14 district managers. While several district managers earn salaries only slightly higher than the average New York City public employee, there are a select few earning almost $100,000 a year, with one district manager making a coveted six figure sum.
Community boards are public agencies, subject to audits by the city comptroller. The Office of Management and Budget determines the budgets of all community boards. Recently, community boards learned their budget for the upcoming fiscal year could drop 5.4 percent and another 8 percent the following year. A budget of $206,895 would, if the cuts went through, eventually dip to $180,065. The community board’s opaque budgeting process, however, is poorly understood by the general public and even by board members themselves.
“We don’t really have any input on the budget,” said Community Board 6 member Jack Medina. “I don’t know anything about our budgeting. I pay attention to, specifically, issues that affect where we live like zoning and parking.”
The chairs of the community boards and all board members are volunteers. Each board’s district manager is a full-time employee, charged with working with City agencies and elected officials to solve neighborhood issues, overseeing the board’s office, drawing up meeting agendas and ensuring requests from local residents, like a call for a new speed hump on a busy side street, are heard by the proper City agencies.
Though the borough president’s office oversees the boards, it does not involve itself in the particularly budgetary matters of individual boards.
“We do not get involved in any way, shape or form, except to offer technical advice,” said Deputy Borough President Barry Grodenchik.
In 2011, the lowest paid district manager, Marie Adam-Ovide of CB 8, earned $69,392, according to salary figures provided by the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a project of the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research that posts online all salary data for New York public employees. (They draw the numbers directly from the Office of Payroll Administration.) CB 14’s Jonathan Gaska, the highest paid district manager, earned $106,109 in 2011. District managers earned on average $82,325 last year.
Put into context, Gaska’s salary is less than the City Council members that he works with but much higher than many other public employees. After a recent pay raise, City Council members now earn $112,500. A public schoolteacher with a master’s degree and eight years of teaching experience is worth $74,796 after steadily increasing from a starting salary of $51,425.
Though they work in distinct areas of Queens, district managers, at least in theory, perform the same tasks as their colleagues. The wide-ranging salaries can be considered a hallmark of the community boards because members and residents aware of their existence value them for their relative independence. While they vote on public proposals and make recommendations, boards do not have the power to overturn a decision made by City government. Board meetings occur every month in the evening and are open to the public. Boards will have committees that work on specific issues, like education and transportation.
District manager salaries have remained unchanged for several years. Budget reductions, while threatened, have not actually materialized since the last decade. Community boards groaned when proposed cuts were made public this month, but they are confident the City Council, like they have in previous years, will restore their funding.
From 2008 to 2010, district managers were able to dramatically increase their salaries. For example, CB 12 District Manager Yvonne Reddick earned $84,270 in early 2008 and only two years later earned $91,147. Similar jumps occurred for CB 9 District Manager Mary Ann Carey, who jumped from $87,644 in early 2008 to $94,665 in 2010. These raises, which across all boards tended to be in the $7,000 range, coincided with budget increases, complicating the narrative of a community board perpetually under fiscal attack. Lower level board employees did not necessarily experience the same gains.
“Ball of Wax”
CB 6 has an outspoken district manager in Frank Gulluscio. Though his roots are planted south of the board’s Forest Hills and Rego Park territory, Gulluscio got the job by interviewing with CB 6. He said that divisions still exist between those who believe the district manager should hail from the communities that the board represents and others who say geography should not matter.
Describing the budget as a “ball of wax,” Gulluscio explained that the funds are handed in one large chunk to the community board. It is up to the board and its self-written set of bylaws to decide how that money is appropriated. A certain smaller percentage of the money will go to office supplies, like staples and postage, which the comptroller’s office will audit. The budget does not include the community board building’s rent.
“Some guys could run a board with one staff member and others need five staff members,” Gulluscio said, explaining why salaries among his district manager colleagues can vary so drastically.
While Gulluscio said he would go to the community board for any type of vote on a salary increase, other community boards determine salaries in a more internal matter. At CB 9, which has four paid staffers, an executive committee discusses budgetary matters. According to Carey, their district manager, the board as a whole votes on all salary increases, though it is not clear when the last vote on salaries was taken.
“When budget cuts are proposed, we plan two budgets, one with cuts and one without,” Carey said. “We’ve started to plan the budget now and consider where we can cut funds. We don’t cut salaries because of the union people.”
Adam-Ovide, CB 8’s district manager, detailed a similarly internal process for her community board. Their chair, Alvin Warshaviak, has ultimate say over matters of salary increases. At CB 10, which includes Gulluscio’s Howard Beach home, a usually unanimous vote is held on salaries, according to a board member.
“Voting on salaries is done in private session, there are no outsiders,” said CB 8 member and civic leader Bob Harris. “When we vote depends on how much the City gives the board. Each board, of course, is different.”
For employees of the board, a less opaque system exists for determining pay because they belong to the civil service employees union, DC 37. “Community associates” or “community assistants,” individuals who work in the district office underneath the district manager, are a part of this union. A “community associate” at CB 2, for example, made $45,828 in 2011, while a “community coordinator” at CB 3 made $56,631. Lower level employees, some part-time, can make $30,000 or less.
It all depends on how the community board’s “ball of wax” is divvied up.
“Our board would be able to take a budget cut this year,” said CB 11 District Manager Susan Seinfeld. “I don’t know about next year.”
Reach Reporter Ross Barkan at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127 or rbarkan@ queenstribune.com