Community Board 9 adjourned for the summer Tuesday night, but not until after a two-hour, high-drama debate over the future of its longtime district manager, Mary Ann Carey.
Responding to complaints from some board members over her efficiency as district manager, CB 9’s Executive Committee put forward a motion to remove Carey from her position, which she has held for 30 years — the longest serving district manager among Queens’ 14 community boards. The motion sent CB 9 into a rarely called executive session at Tuesday night’s meeting at the Majestic Marquee in Ozone Park.
At least a dozen people came to the meeting’s public forum to express their support for Carey, including City Council candidate John Torodash and former CB 9 chairman Paul Sapienza.
“The amount of institutional knowledge Mary Ann has is irreplaceable,” Sapienza, who led the board from 2001 to 2004, said. “In the 10 years I worked with Mary Ann, she was a tireless worker.”
He praised Carey for the work she did with him while he was chairman on zoning and other community issues.
“Mary Ann has experience in many areas of city government,” said Nancy Di Croce, a former member of adjacent Community Board 10 and a longtime friend of Carey. “To ask for her retirement is a disservice to the community.”
Critics of Carey’s performance, such as Woodhaven member Joel Kuzsai, said that she had offered to retire, but reneged on that agreement. He also gave her everyday work a low grade.
Carey denies that she ever decided to retire and said she pondered the possibility after speaking with then-Chairwoman Andrea Crawford and Vice Chairman Rabbi Daniel Pollock last September. Ultimately, she decided against retiring.
“It came as a shock,” Carey said. “I told them I’d think about it. In the end, I decided I’m not going to let anyone put me out.”
Carey’s Howard Beach home was badly damaged in Hurricane Sandy last October.
But Carey’s retirement came up again after Jim Cocovillo took over from Crawford as the board’s chairman in March. Carey said she was told by Cocovillo a few weeks ago that she would be let go and that set Tuesday’s events into motion.
Talk of the potential ousting of Carey created an awkward environment for Lisa Gomes, one of the two assistants who works in CB 9’s Borough Hall office and has worked with Carey as her assistant for 15 years.
“It made me really uncomfortable,” Gomes said.
The rare executive session was closed to the public. For nearly an hour and a half, members debated Carey’s future behind closed doors before inviting the public back into the hall for a final vote. The motion to remove Carey was withdrawn during the session and never voted on. Instead, board member Ralph Gonzalez offered a motion to give Carey a six-month probationary period after which her performance will be evaluated and if need be, another executive session will be called to discuss further options.
The motion passed with only four dissenting votes — Kuzsai, Maria Thomson, Regina Santoro and Richard Davis. Another vocal critic of Carey, Alexander Blenkinsopp of Woodhaven, said he had decided to vote in favor of a probationary period only after hearing some of CB 9’s longest serving members argue in favor of Carey.
“We had a frank, open, good discussion,” he said. “It was really helpful to hear what they had to say.”
Blenkinsopp said he supported the probationary period after he took into consideration a suggestion that the process was not fair to Carey and that a probationary period would put her and the entire board on the same page.
“My feeling is we’ve come 30 years with Mary Ann,” he said. “We can go another six months.”
One longtime member, who did not want to be identified, said she was taken by surprise by the move against Carey.
“I didn’t think it would go this far,” she said, noting that she was conflicted on how to vote. “I’m not sure I could’ve voted to remove her this way. She deserves a more dignified exit. I do agree, however, that new leadership is a good thing.”
The board member noted that CB 9 has term limits on its chairpersons.
“We, as a board, have always believed in bringing in new blood,” she said. “I’m not convinced it’s warranted in Mary Ann’s case. We will have to replace her eventually.”
Before the vote, Carey said she would not hold a grudge against board members who supported her ousting if she was retained.
The board also voted unanimously to give its two full-time assistants, Gomes and Irina Barayeva, a 5 percent raise. Cocovillo said the money for the raise was available in the board’s budget and the two women were deserving of it.
“We have the money for that,” he said. “They really haven’t had a raise in a while and they are doing a lot of work for just two people. They deserve it.”