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Shocking CB15 exit

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Community Board 15 will again have to search for new leadership. To the surprise of many, District Manager Ben Akselrod is stepping down after two years on the job. Announcing his decision at Tuesday night’s CB 15 meeting, Akselrod thanked community board members and area residents for their support. Akselrod later told reporters he has accepted a position as executive director of the Queens-based social services provider Jackson Heights-Elmhurst Kehillah, Inc. Asked about his motivation for leaving local government for a non-profit, Akselrod simply stated, “I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse.” Responding to the news, Ed Eisenberg described Akselrod as a “breath of fresh air,” while community board member Sheila Nelson told Akselrod, “We will definitely miss you.” While full of praise for Akselrod, community board members say they were caught off guard by the announcement. “I was very surprised, extremely surprised,” said CB 15 Chair Theresa Scavo responding to the news Wednesday. “I did not expect this at all.” Akselrod informed the community board chair about his decision to leave just hours before last week’s meeting was set to convene, according to Scavo. While he may have been a breath of fresh air, Eisenberg later said that Akselrod left like “Katrina.” “He left a lot of unfinished work behind,” Eisenberg complained. “He was supposed to let us down gradually.” Akselrod said Tuesday he would first take two months of annual leave, after which he would formally tender his resignation. “Technically, the job is still his,” Scavo explained. “He’s on vacation.” The appointment of Akselrod as district manager two-and-a-half years ago ended an embarrassing chapter in the history of Community Board 15 in which ugly in-fighting among the membership made the appointment of a successor to then-district manager Paula Lupka virtually impossible. Longtime board members like the late Roland Hill chastised other board members for being nothing more than the pawns of local elected officials. Department of Buildings liaison and community favorite Ken Lazar accepted the district manager spot at one point, only to back out soon after. The stalemate went on for over a year, until finally a frustrated Borough President Marty Markowitz called for the resignation of all 50 board members. That threatened purge was averted, however, when Akselrod, a former community coordinator with the Department of Transportation and member of the influential Democratic Highway Club, accepted the district manager post. Scavo vowed this week that the board would not repeat the same mistakes in its search for a new district manager this time out. “It will not happen,” she told the Bay News. “I think we’re beyond that.” The borough president has already informed Scavo that his office stands at the ready to aid the board should the need arise. When reached by telephone, the CB 15 chair said that she was preparing to form a selection committee to review job applications. “Resumes will be sorted out by qualifications and interviews will be open,” Scavo said. According to the chair, candidates could begin being interviewed for the lucrative post as early as next month. Scavo described the ideal candidate to succeed Akselrod as a “people person” who has the ability to sit down and listen to complaints.” “An understanding ear is the most important thing,” Scavo said. No interim manager will be appointed while the selection process proceeds. Scavo said she and the district staff would share Akselrod’s responsibilities until a replacement is appointed. “We’re not going to rush,” the chair person said. “We’re struggling, but we’re doing it.”

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