The city comptroller said this week that he is “very concerned” about no-bid contracts that Borough President Markowitz made on behalf of his own charity, Best of Brooklyn.
Bill Thompson, the city’s fiscal watchdog and a possible mayoral rival against Markowitz in 2009, lambasted the Beep on Wednesday for sidestepping city oversight by inking four contracts in 2005 for $24,999 each — one dollar below the threshold to trigger a review by Thompson. (After this year’s City Council slush fund scandal, the amount initiating a review was lowered to $5,000.)
“The Comptroller’s Office is very concerned about the contracts, which were clearly meant to circumvent the transparency [of] the contract registration process,” Thompson’s spokeswoman Laura Rivera said in a statement.
The four allocations — made on the same day in 2005 — were part of $680,496 in taxpayer money that Markowitz directed to Best of Brooklyn, a Markowitz-controlled charity that was set up to send children to summer camp, promote tourism and sponsor special events like last weekend’s Brooklyn Book Festival.
Markowitz’s secretive use of taxpayer money, which was first reported in the Daily News on Tuesday, gave at least the appearance of impropriety because he controls the non-profit that receives the public money.
But Markowitz said he obeyed the letter of the law regarding his Best of Brooklyn charity.
“Borough presidents have the absolute right to contract funds … in the manner of Best of Brooklyn, and these contracts, as per the [city’s] rules, are not required to be bid out,” he said in a statement.
Markowitz said Best of Brooklyn enhances the work he does as borough president because private individuals and companies can supplement government funds in support of such programs as the annual Dine in Brooklyn event.
“I am proud to support these efforts and openly and vigorously advocate for funding from public and private sources to make its programs possible,” he said.
But the line between government responsibilities and charity work is blurry. Markowitz, a longtime supporter of Bruce Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project, received $200,000–$350,000 from Ratner’s company last year for his concert series. And Markowitz’s Best of Brooklyn also received contributions of $15,000–$60,000 from Forest City Ratner Companies, a Ratner executive and a subsidiary.
The contributions give, at the very least, the appearance of a payback, watchdogs said.
“It certainly raises some serious ethical questions,” Dick Dadey of the Citizens Union told the Daily News.
In addition, three members of the borough president’s office are paid employees of Best of Brooklyn.
The city Conflicts of Interest Board had to sign off on the moonlighting. It granted Carolyn Greer, the director of public events in Borough Hall, a waiver to serve as Best of Brooklyn’s executive director and earn up to $20,000 a year for her side gig on top of her city salary — and do so during her regular work hours.
Any suggestion that Best of Brooklyn is not wholly a Markowitz-controlled pool of taxpayer cash evaporated when Markowitz’s Borough Hall spokeswoman said she did not know if the Beep would continue with the charity after leaving office at the end of 2009. She also said it had not been decided whether the charity would continue after Markowitz leaves office.