Community Board 9 in Crown Heights ended its years-long search for its top bureaucrat on Feb. 23, when they voted to hire a new district manager after operating for six years without one.
The civic panel voted 32-to-one with four abstentions in favor of hiring Dante Arnwine for the position at an $85,000 salary — hoping the new leadership will make the infamously chaotic community board run more efficiently.
“I have a vision for the office, I really believe that this is a time for the community board to really take a step forward and change the way the people think about community boards,” Arnwine said. “I really want to figure out a way to use technology to make the office more efficient, more effective.”
Past district manager controversies
Arnwine’s hiring comes after years of contentious back-and-forth between community members over the district manager role — including lawsuits, scandals, and claims of “misconduct” against civic honchos.
In 2017, a judge voided the hiring of longtime resident Carmen Martinez for the post following a lawsuit, saying the board failed to follow its by-laws and denied community involvement in the hiring process. Adding to the controversy surrounding Martinez, community members also blasted her professional resume after discovering that she’d been forced into retirement by the city comptroller’s office for allegedly misusing city time.
Martinez is still a board member and was one of four abstentions during the district manager confirmation vote on Feb. 23.
Prior to Martinez’s brief stint, the district manager position was held by Pearl Miles, who was removed from the position in 2015 after board members found she engaged in a “pattern of misconduct” and “unprofessional behavior.”
Concerns about Arnwine’s hiring
Some neighborhood activists, who do not sit on the board, took issue with the selection of Arnwine to head the panel — arguing that his youth, lack of experience, and roots in Tennessee rather than Brooklyn made him unfit for the bureaucratic role, which involves scheduling the board’s meetings, keeping its records, and conducting business at its Nostrand Avenue district office.
“We realize that the young man is very, very young, he has very little experience, he has no experience in our community, he came from Tennessee,” said neighborhood activist Alicia Boyd during a January board meeting.
Boyd, a frequent critic of the board, even went as far as to bring up Arnwine’s Facebook profile during the January meeting and accused Arnwine, who is Black, of not having any Black people on his social media page — which drew accusations of hypocrisy from board members.
“That is so inappropriate and so offensive,” board member Rabbi Yaacov Behrman said during the contentious January meeting. “I’m completely taken aback and disturbed that we’re checking and seeing what demographic people’s friends are on Facebook.”
Other activists accused Arnwine of having political aspirations outside of leading the community board, citing his past run for District Leader in Queens as evidence.
“He has political aspirations,” said Maxine Barnes. “We’ve been down that road — we know it doesn’t work.”
A multi-year saga comes to an end
Despite the complaints from activists, Arnwine’s hiring was supported by board members, who voted overwhelmingly in his favor and offered him messages of congratulations.
During the January board meeting, the board’s chair Fred Baptiste went on the defensive regarding the board’s hiring process, which reviewed 142 applications before landing on Arnwine.
“This committee has worked really hard,” Baptiste said. “And it is something that is definitely disappointing in terms of afterward we hear a lot of members who want to take pot-shots in terms of the integrity of the committee and the integrity of the board and some of its officers in stating that we have some kind of agenda, and that we’re blind and that we just want to pick anyone who’s qualified.”