CROWN HEIGHTS — Following a contentious, months-long search for a new district manager, Brooklyn Community Board 9 has chosen a candidate for the job — over protests from critics who say she was hand-picked for the position by Borough Hall and has a record of using a previous city job for personal gain.
Longtime area resident and CB9 member Carmen Martinez was voted in by the board in a closed-door vote in the Crown Heights board's administrative office Tuesday night. She was picked over two other candidates to replace ousted former manager Pearl Miles, CB9 Chairman Demetrius Lawrence said.
A total of 39 board members voted for their choice in the private executive session — closed to the public in accordance with CB9 by-laws regarding personnel matters, Lawrence said — with eight members choosing a second, outside candidate and two abstentions.
Martinez will start as district manager as soon as possible, pending her acceptance of an offer letter for the job, Lawrence said. Sources told DNAinfo New York the district manager job comes with an annual salary of up to $100,000.
Martinez previously served as the Director of the Community Action Center for the City Comptroller's office — until the agency discovered she had been repeatedly abusing her position to benefit her Sterling Street block association and other nonprofits, spending "excessive" amounts of taxpayer-funded time to conduct personal business for more than a decade, according to Conflict of Interest Board records.
During her time at the Community Action Center — where she was responsible for helping constituents resolve complaints about inadequate municipal services — Martinez admitted to contacting the Parks, Health and Buildings departments as well as the NYPD regarding block association issues, according to the COIB documents.
The COIB worked out a disciplinary agreement that required Martinez to admit wrongdoing, forfeit vacation time and retire from her position by August 2014, the settlement said.
Martinez did not immediately comment on the COIB settlement, but speaking after the vote Tuesday, she said she was “encouraged” by the board's support, chalking up criticism of her selection to “a few who have problems.”
“They have problems with the previous manager, they have problems with the chairman, they have a problem with everybody because they have a personal agenda,” she said.
Martinez's track record prompted an earlier CB9 search committee to pass her over as part of their 2015 hunt to replace Miles, who was voted out of her position last year following a firestorm of controversy over her handling of a contentious rezoning debate, including revelations that she miscounted and changed the outcome of a key vote.
Avi Lesches, who was a member of the first search committee formed to find a replacement for Miles, told DNAinfo New York that when Martinez applied in late 2015, the group "didn’t feel comfortable recommending her” because “there were issues that weren’t addressed” about her previous job.
Sources on the board also said the committee also had concerns about Martinez's connections to ex-Assemblyman Clarence Norman Jr., for whom she worked as treasurer before he was convicted of violating campaign finance laws.
Martinez testified against Norman Jr. in his 2005 trial in exchange for immunity, according to an account from the New York Times. But the two remain close; as an employee of then-Comptroller John Liu in 2011, Martinez organized Norman Jr.'s 60th birthday party, according to Politico.
Norman Jr. has made himself a familiar face at CB9 meetings in recent months, frequently sitting in on full board proceedings, as the former Brooklyn party leader did before Tuesday night's vote.
After the first search committee gave their list of seven candidates — sans Martinez — to the full board in March, chairman Lawrence told the board the hunt for a new district manager would have to be redone. His reasoning: low attendance at committee meetings by members of the first group.
“We need to get a new committee ... to review those resumes and have the proper resumes come before the full board,” Lawrence said at the March CB9 meeting. “We need to have a search committee who will be at every meeting.”
At the time, the first search committee’s chair, Hector Robertson, protested the move, telling Lawrence and the board that the group “worked very hard” and “did what we needed to” at more than a dozen meetings.
Robertson did not speak with DNAinfo about the job search process. But sources on the board said he had been contacted by members of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams’ staff — including senior aide Ingrid Lewis-Martin — during the search process to make sure Martinez made the list of final candidates for the job.
In an email obtained by DNAinfo from Robertson to the board written before the vote this week, he said the committee “worked diligently and without meddling from any outside sources while performing their duties.”
“It was disbanded because outside sources did not like the outcome,” he wrote.
Rabbi Chanina Sperlin, a CB9 member and participant in the first search committee, put it more plainly.
“I see corruption here,” he said after Tuesday night’s vote.
“I feel that the politics over here is all coming from Borough Hall. Forget about Demetrius. He’s only a puppet of Borough Hall. Borough Hall tells him 'yes,' it’s yes. They tell him 'no,' it’s no,” he added.
A spokesman for Adams, Stefan Ringel, denied all accusations of interference, saying CB9 “engaged in an independent and self-directed voting process to select their next district manager."
“Borough President Adams does not get involved in the management or operation of community boards, an important point that stands in contrast to misguided grievances or divisive rhetoric from the handful of individuals that have claimed otherwise,” he said in a statement.
He added that Borough Hall “looks forward to working with District Manager Martinez.”
Lawrence and the chair of the second search committee, Dr. Zorina Frederick, also rejected the suggestion that Adams or Lewis-Martin influenced the decision in any way.
“Borough Hall had no say in the election. They had no input at all,” Lawrence said after the vote.
“Let’s put it this way: 29 out of 39 members voted for the new district manager. That speaks for itself,” Frederick said. “I don’t even know who [Adams' advisor] Ingrid is … Nobody from Borough Hall spoke to me. I spoke to no one.”
In the absence of CB9 staff since Miles’ departure, Martinez has been volunteering at the board office since April, a big help according to Lawrence who said her work “outweighs all her past,” including her history at the Comptroller’s office.
Even vocal critics of the district manager selection process admit Martinez may be the best person for the job.
“I think she has issues, but can she do the job? Very well,” Sperlin said.
Search committee member Lesches echoed the sentiment, saying Martinez was “extremely qualified” for the job. But, still, he still stands by reservations he and the committee had about her use of city time for personal matters.
“The main question we couldn’t answer was, how can we ensure that if she is going to work in the board office, she will not be distracted by other things in the future?” he said.