By Rich Bockmann
At night Bell Boulevard shines under the Bayside Village Business Improvement District’s holiday lights, but behind the scenes what was described as a “toxic” environment led the BID to oust its energetic executive director last week.
Gregg Sullivan had served as executive director for nearly a year and a half, and during that time he received much praise for stirring up excitement for Bell Boulevard, but he had apparently been too outspoken in his criticisms of its board of directors.
Chairman Jim Riso said the strained relationship led the board to write a stipulation into Sullivan’s contract, warning him that further insubordination would result in his termination.
“The reason we put it in there is because he was speaking ill of the board six or seven months ago,” Riso said. “We said, ‘If you don’t stop, it’s grounds for dismissal.’”
Sullivan apparently continued to publicly criticize board members, and after holding a vote — seven in favor, three abstentions — the board sent Sullivan a letter of termination Dec. 19.
“It’s exactly the same reason he was fired. He continued to speak ill of the board, who employs him,” Riso said.
Sullivan, who earned a salary of $30,000, called his termination a misunderstanding and said he was working to smooth the situation over.
“As in any family, there are some disagreements and we’re trying to work it out,” he said. “Any difficulties we’re having now — they’re small, internal things we’re working through.”
Riso, however, said he had already begun working with the city’s Small Business Services to find a replacement.
As the BID’s executive director, Sullivan oversaw many projects to make Bell Boulevard an attractive destination. He organized several high-profile street events, worked with the city Department of Transportation to expedite the repaving of Bell Boulevard and decorated the street with flags and holiday lights.
Riso said he believed Sullivan was doing well publicly in his position.
“I did feel he was doing good. He had great energy and great ideas,” Riso said. “Admittedly, he walked up and down Bell and schmoozed elected officials. They like him, but behind the scenes it was toxic.”
The chairman said he already has a lot of interest in the open executive director position and that he would begin interviewing after the holidays.
City Councilman Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), who has an advisory role on the BID board, said he abstained from the vote because he believes it was a matter for the board to decide.
“The behind the scenes stuff, the day-to-day management, Gregg and Jim have different ideas of how to do that. That was sort of the crux of the problem,” he said.
Just before being notified of his termination, Sullivan released the BID’s annual report, in which he summarized the last year’s achievements and laid out his plans for the year to come, which include forming a number of committees and raising the BID’s assessment.
The BID currently has an assessment of $81,000 — the second lowest in the city — and is requesting an increase to $155,000.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.