Friday, March 27, 2009

Behind Hunley-Adossa's campaign, treasurer Nimmons heads another dubious nonprofit, with Ratner funding

In her challenge to Council Member Letitia James in the 35th District race, Delia Hunley-Adossa relies significantly on her campaign treasurer, Charlene Nimmons, who also heads a questionable fledgling nonprofit organization that signed the Atlantic Yards Community Benefits Agreement (CBA).

As with Hunley-Adossa’s Brooklyn Endeavor Experience (BEE), Nimmons’s Public Housing Communities (PHC) likely relies on the largess of developer Forest City Ratner.

(Neither would confirm or deny that most funding comes from FCR, though Hunley-Adossa has acknowledged that FCR supported one program and Nimmons has cited an FCR-supported event sponsored by her organization.)

If so, given the light workload of both nonprofits, the salaries Nimmons and Hunley-Adossa both draw from their nonprofits give them leave to work on the campaign--which suggests that the developer is supporting the challenge to James even without direct contributions.

Nimmons was on the dais last December at the MetroTech tree lighting ceremony, and later posed (at right) for pictures with Bruce Ratner, developer of both MetroTech and Atlantic Yards.

(At left in the photo are City Council Member Darlene Mealy and CBA signatory Joseph Coello. Photo by Jonathan Barkey. Click on images to enlarge.)

Questions about PHC

In fact, as described below, the Internal Revenue Service Form 990 (PDF) required of nonprofit organizations suggests that Nimmons’s PHC makes Hunley-Adossa’s BEE look like Common Cause.

According to its 2007 Form 990, PHC has one board member, apparently Nimmons. It has no fundraising expenses. It has no program expenses. It spends a large majority of its money on salaries. It has no stated functions. Its one officer is described as “Soul Watcher,” which is either Nimmons's nickname or an alias.

It even fails to report, as the graphic indicates, where the organization's books are kept.

Nimmons is both executive director of PHC, one of eight CBA signatories, and also the treasurer of the CBA Executive Committee, a group Hunley-Adossa heads.

(Though I sent questions to Nimmons via the PHC email, called the PHC office, and also alerted Hunley-Adossa, I did not get any answers to my queries, which, among other things, concerned the sources of PHC funds and the absence of a board.)

Role in campaign

Nimmons, along with Hunley-Adossa’s daughter Saadia, was the host of Hunley-Adossa’s campaign kickoff fundraiser March 19. (Nimmons, who lives in the 33rd Council district, has a respected record of volunteer service that predates her involvement in the Atlantic Yards project.)

According to the audio published on The Local, the New York Times’s new blog, Hunley-Adossa, with about 5:17 left, declared, “For those who don’t know Charlene Nimmons, I have to give her a round of applause. She’s the treasurer of the campaign. She’s my business partner, she’s a friend.... And I really appreciate, because this is a scary venture for her, as well. Campaign finance, board of election, and all of this stuff, they have us on pins and needles. We will be challenged.”

“You can tell we’re amateurs, we’re new at this stuff,” Hunley-Adossa said on the audio, as well as the transcript published on The Local. “We picked up this week, some fantastic endorsements... Just this last week Charlene and I were able to pick up 23 endorsements from 23 local labor unions.”

Nimmons background

According to the PHC web site (which could use a little proofreading):
Charlene Nimmons is the Executive Director of Public Housing Communities Inc. She has lived in the community over 18 years and served in many capacties. Beginning with the New York City Board of Education parent teacher association, where she volunteered as a parent Advisory member. She was elected president and then second vice president on the district level. She also worked for five years for the same system as a child and teacher associate. In transition she began volunteering as the resident association president for Wyckoff Gardens Association. Recognizing the need to be pro-active and being a help to her neighbors.This encouraged her to branch out in the field of job development in the local area she reached out to other community leaders and developers to seek opportunities for the population that she is committed to serve.

When Nimmons was honored in March 2007 by the Kings County District Attorney’s Office (where, btw, Hunley-Adossa’s daughter works) as one of Brooklyn’s Extraordinary Women, the biography provided a longer description of her efforts at getting employment for her neighbors:
Ms. Nimmons was determined to address their concern. She contacted local developers and some additional community leaders in an effort to create more job opportunities. Ultimately, her efforts resulted in the formation of Public Housing Communities, Inc. (“PHC”), a consortium comprised of the presidents of various residents associations and others, all of whom are committed to establishing and promoting programs that promise to enhance small business development, job creation and referrals, community enrichment, community involvement and self-sufficiency in Brooklyn’s public housing communities.

(Photo from D.A.'s web site)

(Fun footnote. The person just after Nimmons in the Brooklyn’s Extraordinary Women list is Lumi Rolley, editor of No Land Grab, which is described rather euphemistically as a “sustainable development blog.”)
Boosting Atlantic Yards

At the epic 8/23/06 hearing on the AY Draft Environmental Statement, Nimmons delivered remarks boosting the project:
I'm here in support of Atlantic Yards for several reasons. I'm here today advocating for the jobs that are planned for minorities and women. I'm here to advocate for the environmental protections in place in the project under the environmental assurances section of the CBA. And I'm here because public housing residents, those most often invisible, forgotten and neglected, receive priority in the various aspects of the CBA.

She testified that PHC began as a reaction to expected cuts:
As part of the CBA, resources will be directed to help the area public housing communities. This push began for us at a Council of Tenant Association Presidents meeting in 2003 when a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) official briefed us on budget cuts and insisted that we seek out funds to close the gaps that we would be facing. Programs and resources were going to be eliminated and we were counseled that we had to solicit public and private dollars. The cuts hit us hard and we began to look at developments happening in the city and other companies.

...Because of the Community Benefits Agreement we will also be working with FCRC to sponsor annual job fairs serving the public housing complexes. There are job training resources in our community, there are jobs in the community and there are people needing employment. We plan to connect them.


(Screen shot from the PHC web site.)

Looking at PHC

The PHC web site states:
Our Mission is to promote the economic development of the community. To form a united network of local tenant association presidents who will coordinate programs or persons to assist tenants on how to most effectively operate and utilize their resources.

But the 2007 Form 1040 does not list any “Program Service Accomplishments,” a required section, nor describe its “primary exempt purpose.” So it's not clear if any such network of tenant association presidents has been formed.

As with BEE, originally the First Atlantic Terminal Housing Committee, PHC grew out of a resident association at one housing complex. Unlike BEE, whose officers are friends and neighbors of Hunley-Adossa, PHC lists no officers at all, other than “Soul Watcher,” apparently Nimmons. (“Soul Watcher” lives in 272 Wyckoff Street, as does Nimmons.)

In 2007, the organization raised $172,900, and spent $62,796 on management and general expenses, plus $44,009 on program services, leaving $66,095 in the bank.

However, a closer look shows that nearly all of the $106,805 spent went to compensation, including $48,439 to officers (“Soul Watcher”), $30,011 to other employees, and $8756 in employee benefits. Other large chunks of the budget went to supplies ($7300) unspecified “other cost” ($7776).

Where does the money come from? Nimmons wouldn’t answer my query, but, given that there were no fundraising expenses nor--to my knowledge--fundraising events or campaigns, it’s a good bet that the funding came from Forest City Ratner.


As noted below, a December 2007 article in the Courier-Life chain quoted Nimmons as crediting FCR for supporting an economic resource fair.

In the Courier-Life

Nimmons has also given good quote, no matter how nonsensical, to Stephen Witt, the Courier-Life reporter notorious for unskeptical reporting about the Atlantic Yards CBA. It shouldn't be big news that the head of a Ratner-supported group would be supporting Ratner, but the Courier-Life has treated it as such.

As I reported in December 2007, a Courier-Life article, headlined Yards proponents: Leave Bruce alone, began by casting Forest City Ratner and its partners as the underdog:
Local supporters of the Atlantic Yards project charged last week that the community is being choked out of any positive coverage occurring between developer Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC) and the local community.

It continued:
“It’s just a focus around the negative qualities of the Atlantic Yards project,” said Charlene Nimmons, who signed the CBA on behalf of the New York City Housing Authority Tenants Association.

(Actually, there is no citywide tenants association, and PHC is a very different organization.)

“We hear more about the opposition, but we don’t hear anything about the groups that are working to bring forth positive action in the community,” she added.

Nimmons said a case in point is the FCRC-sponsored Economic Resource Fair that her organization hosted last week at the Atlantic Terminal Community Center, 501 Carlton Avenue.

The event, which got 40 people registered for services, involved Long Island College Hospital, the New York City Housing Authority Resident Employment Services, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow, Health First and the Municipal Credit Union Program.


Those organizations overlap significantly with the list of partners on the PHC web site.

Last May, a bizarre Witt article headlined Yards foes called ‘real land-grabbers" quoted Nimmons:
"They are the real land grabbers, because they took the property first and turned back what was jobs into condos," chimed in Charlene Nimmons, sitting nearby and a signatory to the Atlantic Yards community benefits agreement (CBA) with developer Forest City Ratner Companies (FCRC).

Well, as I pointed out, the industrial buildings had closed, with no activity until housing developers came along.

In local politics

Nimmons is not only Resident Association president of Wyckoff Gardens, she also serves as Vice-Chair of the Executive Board of the Brooklyn West District of the NYCHA Citywide Council of Presidents.

That’s led her into the heart of local politics, beyond Atlantic Yards. As the New York Times reported 6/25/06, Nimmons was one of the prominent black supporters of David Yassky, the lone white candidate in the four-person race to succeed Rep. Major Owens, whose challenge, the Times observed, “has led to angry accusations of racial carpetbagging.”

The Times reported:
"We've had this seat for many years and nothing's been done with it," said Charlene Nimmons, who is with the Wyckoff Gardens Tenant Association. Referring to Mr. Yassky, Ms. Nimmons, who is black, said, "I know what he's done, and I can see him continuing that."

In an 8/5/06 article, the Times described how Yassky had run into trouble in his efforts to court black voters, given that Thelma Davis, the mother of the late Council Member James E. Davis, and her son Geoffrey Davis had rescinded their endorsement.

The article noted that, while no black elected officials had endorsed Yassky, his web site listed several black civic activists, among them Nimmons and James Caldwell, described as the president of the 77th Precinct Community Council. (He also heads another fledgling CBA signatory, Brooklyn United for Innovative Local Development, or BUILD.)

The Times reported:
“Whenever we needed him, he was there for us,” Ms. Nimmons said. “We have serious issues here, and he always addressed those issues. His work spoke for itself.”
Over the last three years, Ms. Nimmons said, Mr. Yassky has assisted the association in getting $150,000 from the city to refurbish its community room and $7,500 for its offices. She added that Mr. Yassky had helped put into place financing for $300,000 in new security cameras for the Wyckoff Gardens complex.


A 9/9/06 Brooklyn Paper article described how "Yassky had a donut hurled in his direction in a racially charged press conference with Mayor Bloomberg at the very housing project where he launched his campaign in May.”

The event at Wyckoff Gardens aimed “to publicize $600,000 Yassky had earmarked for long-sought security cameras there and in the neighboring Gowanus Houses. Nimmons was among those at the press conference.

A 4/1/08 article in the Daily News, headlined Moms take anti-gang fight to streets, pictured Nimmons along with two others opposing sports stores that sell “sports memorabilia in gang colors and styles.”

Nimmons clearly has a track record beyond Atlantic Yards. But she should be answering some obvious questions about her role as head of PHC.

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