SEATS OF POWER

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Summer is here, but the city welfare agency’s top bosses are keeping cool–at least, their hindquarters are.

City records show the Human Resources Administration recently spent half a million dollars with the Herman Miller corporation, makers of the coveted Aeron chair. And City Limits has verified that the agency’s 25th floor conference room, down the hall from Commissioner Jason Turner’s office, boasts several dozen. (We were not able to determine whether the Commissioner himself is cushioned by one.)

The Aeron chair retails for $800 a pop, almost one-and-a-half times as much as the maximum monthly welfare grant for a family of two. The top-of-the-line executive throne, named “Design of the Decade” by an industrial design expert, is a marvel of ergonomics. It uses something called “the Kinemat tilt” to automatically adjust to the sitter’s movement and another thing alled “anthropometrics” to accommodate nearly any size, shape or body type.

The chairs also sport a patented mesh that moderates the body temperature of the sitter. According to the chair’s makers, a recent study showed that “buttock skin temperature,” which heats up by 6 degrees after 40 minutes in an ordinary foam rubber chair, “remained essentially unchanged in the Aeron chair.”

While HRA failed to return repeated phone calls from City Limits about the chairs, one thing is certain: It isn’t just your average city drone that gets a refreshing ride in the Aeron.

According to Bill Blaber, regional sales director for Herman Miller, the city reserves the seats for top staff. “They call it a management chair,” he said. “They have different standards for commissioner’s offices, and administrator’s offices.” Blaber also reports that the city gets a 60 percent discount.

At the welfare agency, these temperature-controlled thrones are reserved for elite visitors from the business world, part of Turner’s corporatization of HRA HQ. “They have a lot of important people coming in from the outside, and they want them to be in an environment that’s more like a business than a government office,” confided one faceless factotum from the bowels of 180 Water St.

“They’re very elite chairs,” added the mole, who was loath to be named. All the same, he didn’t resent his lowly seat. “I can’t complain too much, because my chair’s pretty comfortable. Tempers go up, but not temperatures.”