As speculation continues on who might replace David Frankel as head of the scandal-plagued Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, more information has come to light about his year as CEO.
Although most people associated with Met Council’s partner agencies asked that their names not be used in order to protect their relationship with the Met Council, off-the-record discussions with nearly a dozen people closely involved with the anti-poverty group and the agencies it serves provide a fuller picture of what went on behind the scenes during the year that Frankel was at the helm.
Frankel was hired just a week after his predecessor, William Rapfogel, was fired on allegations that he was stealing millions from the organization as part of an insurance overpayment scam. In April he pleaded guilty to stealing $9 million during the two decades he was with the organization and is now serving a 3 1/3 to 10 years in prison.
Frankel, a former New York City finance commissioner, was hired to resuscitate the anti-poverty group’s reputation with donors and government agencies.
“He really was the right person for the right time; he had the credibility and he restored the contracts,” said one person closely associated with the Met Council.
But although he clearly tried to develop personal relationships with the community organizations that work with the Council — many praised his personal visits to agencies, his “pleasant” manner, and obvious desire to learn — some found his Frankel’s no-nonsense style off putting, giving them the impression that he cared more about the bottom line than the needs of the communities the nonprofit served.
“I think David would have done really well as the CFO, but he didn’t understand the moral imperative of the mission of the Met Council,” said one person with close knowledge of the situation.
In an interview with The Jewish Week in March, Frankel commented on his businesslike style, saying, “I’m not naïve enough to think relationships aren’t important. However I just came from government, so I know that it is much more focused on quality and efficiency of the services that you deliver than whose name is on the [office] door.”
A major sticking point came over increased oversight. For years, the Met Council has served as a “fiscal conduit” for seven of the smaller JCCs and community organizations, meaning that the Council handled financial operations such as payroll and bill paying. However, as part of an agreement with the Attorney General and the New York City Mayor’s Office of Contract Services, the Council agreed to put in writing the financial arrangements between it and those agencies in order to provide increased transparency.
However, several people with knowledge of the situation said that the heads of these agencies felt they didn’t have enough say in the new financial agreement and, in fact, didn’t even see a draft of it until two weeks before it was due at the AG’s office.
Several agency heads also felt that Frankel made the oversight more stringent, putting the JCCs on a “much tighter leash” than the AG was requiring.
“In the new agreement, every dollar had to go through the Met Council,” said one person with knowledge of the negotiations.
When the agency heads received the draft of the agreement they balked, refusing to sign it until they could meet with Frankel and discuss possible changes, according to multiple sources. In the end, Frankel did agree to some of the changes and nearly all the agencies signed on. The one exception was the JCC of the Rockaway Peninsula, which, sources said, was about ready to handle their finances on their own — a goal of many of the JCCs.
“They were poised to be independent anyway, so in the face of a stringent agreement, why go down that road?” one observer noted.
The executive director of the JCC of the Rockaway Peninsula declined to comment on the negotiations, and a Met Council spokesman declined to comment on the reason that the JCC of the Rockaway Peninsula did not sign the agreement. However, the spokesman did send a statement noting that in the past year the organization has “made critical improvements to our organization’s policies and procedures” that have “put us on solid footing to expand our programming.”
Due to the administrative changes, the statement says, “every single Met Council social service has undergone an expansion or transformation,” and the organization is able to meet its “clients’ needs more effectively, efficiently, and compassionately than ever before.”
It also noted that though Frankel “will be stepping out of the daily running of the organization” he will continue to help in “finalizing the governance and operational structures that will ensure Met Council’s long-term viability” as “executive chairman.”
As to why Frankel stepped down, in an email to agency heads obtained by The Jewish Week, Frankel suggested that he was doing so because he felt his work at the agency was done.
“I have come to feel very deeply about Met Council …” he wrote. “However, I also felt I have helped accomplish our primary goal, which was to put us on a path toward ensuring the future of Met Council…”
As for his replacement, several sources have confirmed the report by the Forward newspaper that Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener, who heads the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island, is under consideration for the post.
Those that know him describe Wiener as an “ideal choice” who can relate to all types.
“He’s a brilliant administrator. He’s well liked in the UJA circles, he’s well liked by everyone,” said one agency head.
“He’s the ultimate professional, his integrity is beyond question [and] … ability to reach out to people of all backgrounds is well proven,” said Ezra Friedlander, a consultant who works with Jewish nonprofits and political organizations.
However, several people who know Wiener well said they doubted he would actually take the job, with once source putting the chances at “less than 10 percent.”
“He’s a shy, quiet guy who doesn’t like to be in the limelight,” one source said, noting that he was extremely invested in the JCCs he’s run for 33 years. “It doesn’t make sense that would leave something so fulfilling,” he said.
As for criticism of Frankel, not one of the nearly dozen people who spoke to The Jewish Week on the subject said they thought it was a mistake to hire him following Rapfogel’s fall.
“He was dealt a very difficult hand and he did a very nice job negotiating with the government,” said one person who works closely with the agencies the organization serves.
But all also agreed that now that the ship was righted, it was time to hand the helm back to someone who had more experience with the work on the ground.
“I think that Frankel will be known as the person who stabilized the Met Council,” said Friedlander. “The Met Council is now on firm footing and now you need someone like Rabbi Wiener, who has been with [a Met Council-affiliated] organization and who can take it to the next level.”