From the Daily News:
The city is setting up increasingly cozy relationships with nonprofit parks boosters - even paying some of their staffers a second salary out of the public till, a Daily News review found.
Critics say the entwined arrangements with conservancies - nonprofits that support individual parks - mean that a handful of well-connected parks are ending up with more attention and money than the rest.
"New York is creating a two-tier system," said Geoffrey Croft of New York City Park Advocates, a frequent critic of the Parks Department.
"The nightmare is that all these deals are going on behind closed doors and that people are taking city dollars away from other parks," Croft said.
The situation is unusual. Although it is not uncommon for the city and nonprofits to hire from the same pool of advocates and experts, it is extremely rare for people to work for both at the same time.
No other agency has as many employees who have been cleared to work for nonprofits while simultaneously collecting a city salary, according to the Conflicts of Interest Board.
The News found seven top-salary city employees working on nonprofits that support specific parks, including four who got money from both.
Estelle Cooper got $101,507 as assistant commissioner of Queens parks in 2009, while she also ran Unisphere, a nonprofit that supports Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Unisphere did not list a salary for her and did not return calls.
In 2008, Stephanie Thayer became director of the Open Space Alliance for North Brooklyn - and the Parks Department's director of North Brooklyn Parks.
Records show Thayer got $86,528 from the city. She said her work for the nonprofit is voluntary.
"I'm still fighting the good fight," she said. "I'm just doing it in a different way."
Figuring out which hat Thayer is wearing has created frustration among some park advocates.
Laura Hofmann, a member of Open Space's steering committee, said Thayer spurned her when she tried to find out how many trees would be planted in a new park.
"She basically told me you have to trust the Parks Department and you have no business asking for this kind of information," Hofmann said.
New York has more than 1,700 city parks - but only 58 registered conservancies, which support specific parks by recruiting volunteers, creating programming and funding upkeep with a mixture of public and private cash.
Half of them - 24 - are in Manhattan and most are connected with parks in affluent neighborhoods.