Unlike NYC’s privatized parks, Washington Square Park continues to be run by the city Parks Department, and has been for years, but park is at risk of undue private influence
Updated 7:30 p.m. – There is such a “murky” back story to the formation and very existence of private Washington Square Park Conservancy and it needs to be told. They would rather we all forget this back story. This private group, which does not run or manage Washington Square Park, is consistently pushing to gain more turf, asserting itself into areas that the founders swore up and down they would not. Documents uncovered by this blog show manipulations that went on for two years behind closed doors prior to the group coming before the public.
The four affluent founding members proclaimed in June 2013 – to gain their Community Board 2 “approval” – that they only used the word “conservancy” in their name because every other name they considered was “taken.” They aimed, they said, to just be a “little friends [of the park] group.” Clearly that was not the intention, ever. The little they revealed initially was to get beyond public scrutiny. Programming plans, meetings with NYU, discussion about license agreement, interference with banning and relocating the “hot dog” cart vendors, all omitted (see uncovered, hidden documents and emails); the most they would own up to was maybe they’d form “a book club.” (A book club!)
Now, things – events, procedures, activities – that the city Parks Department has done just fine on its own, thank you very much, for over 20 years, are being credited to this private organization. So that’s a problem.
And if you are concerned about recent actions at the park, then you should be at the upcoming meeting June 6th.
Private influence always changes the tenor of public parks which is why the surrounding community and park users worked so hard to keep Washington Square Park private conservancy-free for years.
I will write more on this – got a bit backlogged** – but for now, mark your calendar to attend their next appearance before the public on Wednesday, June 6th.
“The Mean Blog”
With George Vellonakis, controversial park redesigner, now Park Administrator (paid by the city Parks Department) and also Executive Directory of this conservancy (receiving no salary, potentially a small stipend), the lines continue to be blurred. (By the way, this – what is termed a “dual role” – should be considered a conflict of interest.) This is partly because he is not attempting to keep the lines unblurred, as his predecessor, Sarah Neilson, somewhat attempted to.
Neilson, who had also never managed a park before, helped usher in the conservancy with Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro as architect. She referred to this blog in an email to the conservancy founders as “the mean blog,” all while she and her cohorts were intentionally misleading the public. Ironic?
Although the (original) “conservancy ladies” – [l-to-r above: Justine Leguizamo, Veronica Bulgari, Gwen Evans, Betsey Ely] who formed this private group behind closed doors without public input – rarely make an appearance at meetings anymore, rest assured, they are pulling strings behind the scenes, as they do.
Community Board Meeting Addressing Private Conservancy Wed. June 6th
Community Board 2 Parks Committee Meeting on Washington Square Park Conservancy
Wednesday, June 6th, 6:30 p.m.
Some history of this Private Organization
“Bill,” referenced in the email above obtained by Washington Square Park Blog from Betsey Ely to Sarah Neilson, is Manhattan Parks Commissioner Bill Castro. The actions that took place had Bloomberg Administration nefarious tactics written all over them. Castro remains in this position under Mayor Bill de Blasio. De Blasio as Public Advocate questioned the way this conservancy was formed with regards to lack of “transparency” and community input.
The email above from Betsey Ely was sent prior to the Community Board (CB) one “public hearing” addressing Washington Square Park Conservancy’s “formation;” in reality, they were already “formed.” Just one of many evasions and misrepresentations. At the meeting Ely requested in advance with Bill Castro to get past the “many murky areas” which she felt would not “satisfy public inquiry” when coming before the Community Board, Castro coached her on what she and the others should say – and more specifically not say – in order to get her private group approved.
We are now dealing with the fallout from these actions.
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Previously at Washington Square Park Blog:
Part I: Report-back: Community Board 2 Parks Committee Meets On WSP Private Conservancy
Part II: Community Board 2 Parks Committee Votes in Favor of WSP Private Conservancy Based on Limited Information Offered, Ignoring Public Input
Documentation: What was Concealed in Public Statements by Washington Square Park Private Conservancy Founders
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** It takes a lot of work, time, effort, research to write this blog; please consider showing your support by donating towards this work today.