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Harlem Community Board Abused Government Resources, Borough President Says

By Gustavo Solis | October 31, 2017 9:30am
 The Community Board said it was a mistake to include a campaign fundraising event in their list of weekend events.
The Community Board said it was a mistake to include a campaign fundraising event in their list of weekend events.
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DNAinfo/Gustavo Solis

HARLEM — Community Board 10 abused government resources and violated the City Charter by promoting the campaign fundraiser of a Supreme Court judge candidate on its weekend events email blast, officials said.

The weekly email, sent to dozens of contacts throughout the city, highlights community events. The Oct. 26 email promoted a "Sip & Chat" fundraiser with Judge Verna Saunders, who is currently the presiding judge at the Harlem Community Justice Center and is running for a position in the State Supreme Court.

The flier included suggested contributions of $50, $100, $250, $500, and $1,000.

“This was a mistake and should have not been sent out,” Community Board 10 District Manager Andrew Lassalle said. “It is not appropriate and should never happen. We do not usually list campaign events or fundraising events. In fact, we try to avoid anything with a price and prefer to send free events to the community.”

The Manhattan Borough President's Office, which appoints people to community boards, said it will hold more ethics training sessions to prevent this from happening again.

"Circulating a political fundraiser invitation is an obviously inappropriate use of government resources," Gale Brewer's spokesman, Andrew Goldston, said. "Our office is scheduling additional ethics and conflict-of-interest trainings for community board staff, and will be re-sending clear guidance to each community board on what should and shouldn't be included in emails like this one."

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Saunders' fundraiser took place at the Harlem's Cove Lounge on Saturday. Her campaign representative, Arthur Greig, said the campaign did not provide the community board with any information to be distributed.

The fundraiser's host committee included Victoria Horsford, who is a member of Community Board 10.

Rules in the City Charter prohibit city employees and elected officials from using city time and resources for political activities. This includes the use of emails, according to an advisory opinion published by the Conflict of Interests Board earlier this year.

“Chapter 68 prohibits the use of City-owned wireless networks of internet connections for non-City purposes,” the opinion states. “While Chapter 68 does not prevent a de minimis amount of internet use for personal activates, such as reaching the news or making personal dinner reservations, the use of a City wireless network or internet connection for any business or political purpose is strictly prohibited.”

While community board members are not paid by the city, district managers and assistance district managers are paid for their work.

Using the community board's official email list to advertise campaign event raises questions about their independence, said Alex Camarda, senior policy adviser for Reinvent Albany.

“From a perception standpoint, it certainly raises questions when a community board that is part of the political establishment is advertising a candidate’s campaign fundraiser,” he said.