Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Being paid for community development and the makeup of PLUS: a follow up

Last Thursday, I posted some details of the Prospect-Lefferts application for a city grant and what that would mean for staff funding. I'd urge everyone to check it out -- not to read the post itself, but to read the spirited responses left in the comments section.

One clarification: in raising the question of what appears to be a $50,000 annual payment to a salaried executive director (a post which current Prospect-Lefferts United (PLUS) for Services Mark Dicus nominated himself) I wasn't trying to pass any sort of judgment...I was just raising the question. I'm one of those 'sunlight is the best disinfectant' folks, and I'm hard-pressed to think of an example where more transparency in any kind of public or civic organization is a bad thing. Maybe $50,000 a year is way too little money; I really don't know. But it can't hurt to talk about it.

What does bother me is what feels like an attitude of secrecy within PLUS. There is currently no way for community members to communicate regularly with members of PLUS. I've received several reports from people who've tried to get information from current members -- in order to discuss various suggestions and to learn more about the application for the city grant -- and were told that was not information meant for the hoi polloi. And it seems as if there's still no information regarding what happened at last week's board meeting. (As it is, the only reason anyone outside of PLUS even knows about the application for city funds is because of an email snafu whereby Mark sent out what was meant to be an email to board members to the entire PLG Yahoo board.) I'm well aware of all the good work PLUS has done, just as I'm well aware of its passionate commitment to PLG. I'm also of the mind that if a group wants to speak for the community -- and get paid by the city for doing so -- we'd all be better off if more information was made available and more participation was encouraged.

That's my two cents. Anyone else want to weigh in?


Bob Marvin said...

I don't want to defend secrecy, but I don't think that PLUS is intended to speak for the entire community--perhaps PLGNA is, although I'm not too confident about the effectiveness of that organization's current incarnation.

BTW I'm NOT a member of the PLUS board and have no information about the current grant application other than what I read here.

Ed said...

Wow - I didn't realize that Mr. Dicus' salary was $50K PER YEAR. I truly believe that talent deserves compensation, but frankly, now I REALLY expect results. I bet Mr. Dicus is justifying his salary with some big plans that we don't know about.

If he's not, however, perhaps $50K would be better spent on rent subsidies for new businesses that expand the neighborhood's business diversity. Imagine a new bistro, wine store and whole foods shop. Imagine Mike's without neon lights and wrought iron.

Folks, $50K = $4167 per month!!! PLUS should set up a program that offers full rent for two new businesses for a term of one year, after which, each business would have to survive on their own. Each year, PLUS would offer grants to two NEW businesses. Pretty soon, we'd have all the "services" that "Prospect Lefferts United for Services" was established to enable.

Positive development will require sacrifices from everyone (landlords, entrepreneurs and residents/volunteers) for the ultimate betterment of the neighborhood. Landlords will need to offer reasonable rents to bring in businesses that will encourage more financially stable tenants to rent apartments in their buildings. Experienced restauranteurs and storeowners need incentives (like rent subsidies from PLUS) to deal with the risks (real or perceived) from setting up shop in PLG. Finally, the homeowners/volunteers who enable these deals will benefit by "quality of life" improvements and increases in the value of their real estate investments.

Hey PLUS Boardmembers - did any of this ever cross your minds, or should you be drafting Ed to your board?

I'm sure "Nativegal" (from "Across The Park") would love to sit next to me at the meetings...

AndyAce said...

Wow, it is amazing how fast fire spreads... Mr. Dicus's salary is NOT 50K... This is a grant, that would cover personnel expenses INCLUDING professional contractors, and a few hours of paid staff work for PLUS.

Mark said...

This posting here linking PLUS with “secrecy” concerns me as well as the volunteer Directors of the PLUS Board. I welcome this as an opportunity to clarify what PLUS is, the role it hopes to play in the neighborhood and how residents can be a part of the organization.

Who we are:

Established in 2004, the goal of PLUS (Prospect Lefferts United for Services) is to improve the appearance and success of existing retail establishments in our district and to recruit new retailers to the area that will support the needs of our community.

PLUS is a community based organization that relies heavily on the generosity of community volunteers. PLUS is guided by a Board of Directors (7 total), made up of local community members, to fulfill its mission. The Board is responsible for all PLUS activities and decisions, including issues of compensation for work done that greatly exceeds the expectations of a volunteer.

Anyone who lives in PLG, works in PLG or has children going to school in PLG is welcome to join PLUS. We have a $25 annual membership fee which we use to pay for small administrative expenses. We want, welcome and most importantly need the active input and participation of those who want to help us execute our vision.

What we do:

We recently hosted the Get Down and Dirty on Lincoln Rd., where over 30 neighborhood volunteers came together to mulch tree pits, plant two large flower beds and 5 flower barrels on Lincoln Road between Flatbush and Ocean Avenue. We had a table with literature about what we are doing in the community and a sign up sheet so we could stay in touch w/ our volunteers. Our work has focused initially on the Lincoln Rd./Flatbush Avenue corridor where we have worked to improve storefronts, work w/ property owners to remove graffiti and co-sponsored events like ArtMart 11225 to help raise the profile of PLG.

We’d like to do a lot more to help revitalize the commercial districts of PLG and we are working with existing businesses to help meet the demands of a changing market as well as encouraging new business to the area. One are we are considering evaluating is Empire Boulevard, where the closing of the Empire Skating Rink is a wakeup call to PLG and Crown Heights on what can happen if we aren’t paying attention. Any planning process for Empire Boulevard undertaken by PLUS would include community input, as this would be a vital part of the process.

How to get involved:

Our public general meetings are an opportunity to sign up new members, talk about what we are working on and learn about what others in the community would like to see with relation to commercial revitalization in PLG.

We have had 4 general meetings since our inception, and our last general meeting was in November. Given the recent interest in PLUS, it seems like a good time for us to have another general meeting. Please look out for postings for a general meeting coming soon!

We agree that a website will help us do a better job communicating with the community and is a priority. We are currently seeking funds to have a website developed, but we would welcome some volunteer assistance in making this happen sooner.

As the executive director and founder of PLUS, I’m a big fan of transparency and collaboration with as many community members as possible. Working collectively is how things get done. I hope this is a step toward getting more community members involved in PLUS. If you or any one of your readers would like to get in touch me, I can be reached at 347-244-2763 or by email, If you would like to join our public yahoo group:


Mark Dicus
Executive Director, acting President