Mendez Withdraws CB3 Member’s Appointment Over Potential Conflict of Interest
In our story recent story on this year’s appointees to Community Board 3, we noted that one member, Anne Johnson, was not reappointed. We have more details about that today.
Community board members are selected by the borough president, and half of them are nominated by local City Council members. Johnson, one of the longest-serving members of CB3, was an appointee of District 2 Council member Rosie Mendez.
In an interview with Mendez yesterday, she explained that the borough president’s office raised a concern about a potential conflict of interest regarding her appointment of Johnson to another term. For many years, even before she was elected to the Council, Johnson has prepared Mendez’s taxes through her accounting business. Mendez said it had not occurred to her in the past that there could be an issue, but that the borough president’s legal counsel weighed in with an opinion that there was indeed a conflict. So Mendez made the decision to remove Johnson from her list of appointees.
Separately, Mendez asked the Conflicts of Interest Board for an opinion. She told us the board disagreed with the borough president’s counsel, finding that the appointment of Mendez’s tax accountant did not rise to the level of a conflict. “Maybe it’s a conflict and maybe it isn’t,” said Mendez, but “if there’s an appearance of a conflict, that’s just as bad, and I wasn’t comfortable with it.” She added that it’s always been her practice to “over-share” and “over-disclose” information relevant to her public service.
Johnson only found out about the problem last Wednesday, the same day the appointments were announced. Mendez said she regrets not having spoken with Johnson about the issue in advance (Mendez was traveling to Puerto Rico on family business during the time period). Mendez said she hopes there’s a way to reappoint Johnson to CB3 in the future. She’s spoken with the borough president about it. Down the road, Mendez might have someone else handle her taxes. The Council member, finishing up her third and final term, mentioned that her successor could reappointment Johnson to the board.
In an interview, Johnson said she would have fought the decision if she’d known in advance about it. She’ll wait until January and then, “make a big effort to get back on the board.” Johnson has no interest in displacing any board member, but there are often vacancies. She hopes to rejoin the board when a vacancy occurs.
Johnson was first appointed to CB3 in 1982. She was off the board for about a five-year period, but has served continuously for many years. She was board president from 1988-1990.
A spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer declined to comment, saying it is her policy not to speak publicly about specific community board appointees.