A Million Dollars

Dear David,

Last week I wrote to you about one of the many reasons that cause me to encourage my neighbors in Wainscott to vote against incorporation should it ever come to that. I mentioned in that letter that the proponents of incorporation have oddly skipped over the fact that when another hamlet on Long Island tried the same maneuver, it wound up facing economic ruin with property tax bills threatening to increase by 400 percent and a Moody’s bond rating that would have made it outlandishly expensive just to run the village. Of course, the citizens of that failed attempt to see benefit from a village incorporation soon reversed their decision when they grasped they’d been sold a simply untrue promise for who knows what reasons.

Gee, I haven’t been able to find that fact in the mailings and website of the Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott. Is it because it doesn’t fit their narrative and might make the rest of us wonder why they are spending such huge sums on public relations and lawyers and why were they for the longest time so difficult to identify? What’s with the glossing over of difficult truths? And what’s with the secrecy?

So, that’s another reason I began to reconsider my position and go public with my opposition to the incorporation of Wainscott (I have other objections as well). I found the C.P.W. and what was driving it to be wanting in “transparency,” as we like to say nowadays.

I had to undertake focused research and spend a lot of time trying to find out who, precisely, were these Citizens for the Preservation of Wainscott. Is this a grassroots organization, a local group that represents a cross-section of the population, demographics, and opinions of people who live here in our hamlet? Why wasn’t I, a voter and taxpayer here in Wainscott, invited to their meetings? Who was?

What I learned in this research led me to suspect that my letter that appeared in last week’s Star might well have sparked the proponents of incorporation to rev up their costly, Washington D.C.-based P.R. machine. In fact, there might well be a number of letters in this very Letters section this week which purport to refute any truths that might call into question the rash and unnecessary drive to incorporate and to provide only the facts and figures that tell the story they wish to tell, rather than the full story. As you read them, full of the “sky is falling” drama, you might wish to wonder if their real source is a big P.R. company that has benefited from a massive expenditure of the C.P.W..

Let me explain. You can find online the C.P.W.’s 990 form. It’s an elegant, public document that shows the C.P.W. has in fact come out and stated who they are and where they are spending their money. That’s good, but of course it’s required by law and there are questions.

Whenever there is an organization that wants to think of itself as nonprofit or educational, it can gather in contributions and grants a large amount of money and then form itself into a tax-exempt entity such as a 501(c)(4) and submit said 990 form to the I.R.S. Some people I have known are very fond of these well-funded tax-exempt entities. In the 990, the C.P.W. must disclose to the public who’s involved at a certain level how much income they got, and where the largest chunks of their expenses went.

The most recent 990 for the C.P.W. I could find online (and feel free to use Google to search this information yourself) was for the period ending September 2019 and submitted in October 2020. It shows just how important our hamlet is, and how much money it seems to be worth to some people.

The “contributions and grants” line shows $920,250. That’s right — nearly a million dollars was contributed or granted to the organization, but where that money came from isn’t identified. Was it civic-minded individuals who didn’t mind giving that much? I hope the C.P.W. steps forward and tells the rest of us, their neighbors who also own in Wainscott, how the coffers were funded at such an impressive level by what or by whom. Why not tell us?

What is identified in this public document is that Gouri Edlich is listed as chair/treasurer; Carol T. Finley is listed as secretary; Brooke Garber Neidich is listed as director; Vanessa Cornell is listed as director, and Alexander Edlich is listed as former chair. All of that, then, is just fine and aboveboard, though many people I know in Wainscott could never before figure out who these citizens were. Now we know. (To be continued next week.)

Wainscott, NY

a letter to the editor of the East Hampton Star