Jack A. Brown has committed an unpardonable sin in the eyes of the New York Times and the de Blasio Administration: He has revealed himself to be a businessman who is providing vital government services.
That apparently cannot stand.
Brown runs a nonprofit that has been paid millions of dollars by New York City to operate various homeless facilities. Contracting out these services is a necessity, as the city has proven itself incapable of running such things with any semblance of efficiency–especially under Bill de Blasio, who seems to revel in the shambolic management style and rank incompetence that has marked his tenure.
The nonprofit also owns and operates a number of businesses that provide the nonprofit food, security and other services needed to run a shelter. The businesses provide such services to other nonprofits as well. A vertically-integrated business model in this realm is neither unique nor illegal, and in fact was being done with the city’s knowledge and agreement, but it is apparently offensive none the less.
Through these businesses–and the nonprofit that runs the homeless shelters–Brown received nearly $1 million in compensation last year, and that is clearly the most egregious sin of all. It’s a figure that clearly rankles the mayor and his advisors, who–the Times dutifully reports– want the people who run their homeless shelters to be motivated solely by altruism. They responded to Brown’s offensive income by leaking various documents to the Times showing complaints that have been filed against some of the shelters Brown manages.
They complain that, besides employing the for-profit businesses, CORE has also hired relatives of Brown (a total of five in an organization with more than 1,100 employees) and also bought and remodeled a couple of buildings to be used as a homeless shelter. What’s more, the Times indignantly notes, CORE paid for gym memberships for some employees–something that the Times presumably would support in virtually any other context.
The New York Times piece is probably best read as a broad attack on the entire concept of the government contracting out the provision of services for a critical population to for-profit businesses, and Brown’s salary–hardly extravagant for someone running institutions of the size and complexity of his–made him the designated punching bag.
Just before Thanksgiving The Times reported that New York City will no longer contract with CORE: while the Administration said it was its decision to fire the company, Brown told the paper–which it did not dispute–that it decided to pull out of its New York City operations itself, and that the city still owes it millions in payments.
The entire thing–both the Times’ piece and the clumsy administration attack–is both offensive and banal. The city has a homelessness problem that is metastasizing, a legal obligation to provide critical services to this population, and no clue how to do so without relying on outside vendors. The notion that the injection of commerce into this transaction somehow sullies and impinges upon the quality of care provided is self-righteous and sophomoric.
Jack Brown set up an operation to help the city tackle a terrible social ill and also, in an effort to control the quality of these services, created several businesses to advance that effort. That he’s a minority business owner and that he’s managed to do a decent job in what is a complicated, socially fraught task–made worse by the current mayor–should be celebrated.
However, it is a perspective that the socialist mayor simply cannot countenance, so before he leaves office he’s apparently decided to hand his successor a bag of poop–a homeless problem made worse by his mismanagement and an environment that will make contractors reluctant to get involved.
With luck the next mayor will focus on solving problems first and not worry about the ideological motivations of those helping to do so.