Report-back Part II: Community Board 2 Votes on Washington Sq Park Conservancy


A trifecta of organizations with lack of reflective process & transparency for this landmark park: NYC Parks Dept., Wash Sq Conservancy, Community Board 2

My apologies for taking so long to post this report-back! So here goes…

For Part I, check it out here detailing public comment at the Community Board 2 full board meeting June 20,2013. Part II (below) covers the Community Board discussion and subsequent vote following the public comment.

Community Board 2’s Discussion & Vote on Washington Sq Park Conservancy at full board meeting June 20th, 2013:

Parks Committee Chair Rich Caccappolo, who was not at the June 5th Parks Committee meeting after which the first committee vote was taken, said the meeting was “well attended” with three members of the Parks Department there. He mentioned that there are 11 points under the “whereas” section and 7 points under the “therefore” of the committee’s final resolution presented (at the last minute) before the full Community Board.

Caccappolo points to the “Gerson-Quinn letter” and the fact that it mentions placing someone from the Community Board on a conservancy, if such a thing comes up at some point.

(I started to fade out at this point. I find it ironic that the board is now grasping onto “Gerson-Quinn” after ignoring it for so long, tho’ the “letter” was always a point of contention to begin with. The Mounds are mentioned in “Gerson-Quinn” too but no one is speaking out about the fact they are not six feet tall. Plus as I told Caccappolo, Alan Gerson himself told me that the “letter” mainly set out to deal with the redesign details, not what happened afterwards. Gerson said it was “absolutely clear” to the Parks Department – not outlined in “the letter” – that IF a Conservancy at Washington Square Park was to be discussed, it would be fully vetted by the community, subject to an “open and transparent process.”)

Caccappolo said that, at the Parks Committee meeting, speakers were limited to three minutes to speak. “Passions were high,” he noted, and there was a “full airing of the issue.”

Richard Stewart says, “I am on the board of the Washington Square Association. We have been meeting with these people [for the past year]. The point about transparency seems ridiculous. They are not being secretive. … Sarah Neilson is doing the best she can. If you [board] don’t want to vote on it right away that I can understand. [They are] not privatizing, not trying to create a corporate park.

Another board member (this is an unattributed but comment worth noting): “I endorse and support Deborah Glick’s statement. It is still too vague to vote for and support.”

Keen Berger said, “It does seem to me we have a dilemma. We want to support passion and concern… We want to support the park because we love it. [This conservancy has] raised a lot of questions. … It’s too soon to do it. Two metaphors come to mind – bait and switch and trojan horseSometimes [there are] attractive baits but they have hooks in them. Can’t see the hook until it’s too late and you’re a fried fish. Why we have to call it and [does] it have to be a Washington Square Park Conservancy? I don’t think we as a Community Board should endorse that now.”

Tobi Bergman says, “I know the Parks Department cannot maintain this park. The old bathroom was a place for people to have sex and do drugs. Once the new bathroom opens up, we are going to have a beautiful place for people to have sex and do drugs.I feel strongly that we need to do this. Why do we have to do this? … [This is an] organization of the community – [it will be] the way we make it. [It’s important] that we embrace it.  If we do that, we will be their strongest assets. [If we do not, it] will not be an organization of us and with us.

Arthur Schwartz:  I agree with everything Tobi said. This is not the Riverside Park Conservancy – [these are people who] want to raise money for the park. They came to the Community Board first. They didn’t have to come to us. This is no Trojan horse. We can examine 501(c)(3) documents. They are asking us to embrace them. I was chairing the Parks Committee when Washington Square reconstruction came up. I was opposed to the plan. … I was wrong. The park is beautiful – it hasn’t turned into anything other than what [we] wanted it to be.”

Board member Jo Hamilton said, “We are defining them [by] what resolution will and will not be. [We should] get [this] going as quickly as possible.” (Hamilton was previously Community Board 2 Chair sandwiched between Brad Hoylman’s two terms as chair. She also stated that she was against the Conservancy initially but, between the Parks Committee meeting and this meeting, she came around.)

Lois Rakoff said, “It’s a lock that certain people were put on the conservancy. Two people from the Washington Square Association [will be on] – they are interlocking. I [have] support[ed] the Washington Square Park Association [in the past and the way it is set up]. … [There has been a] big rush railroading [this in] right now. Rich [Caccappolo] and Dave [Gruber] met with them months ago. It wasn’t brought to the Community Board. We should really look at this very carefully. …. [Parks Department] spent $18 million on the park [and now have] run out of money [to support].” [WSP Blog note: Actually, Parks Department has spent $35 million on the park.]

Parks Committee Chair Rich Caccappolo, “When this was first introduced, I had no idea people would be against it. I was not on the board in 2005. [I found out about it] before I was chair. To think I met with them and buried it [is untrue]. To malign this group of people … is distasteful.”

Sean Sweeney, “What is their budget? [If it was] Purely donation [and that’s it, fine].” Asks what about possible NYU involvement.

Rich Caccappolo jumps in to respond, “People can create organizations like this. Parks Department can do whatever it wants.” (WSP Blog Ed. note: That’s not really true.)

Sean Sweeney continues, “[I am] sympathetic [to needs of the] park. The park is starting to fall apart. I am sympathetic to need to maintain this thing. [I would feel more comfortable with something] less formalized. There is a suspicion here.

Rich Caccappolo says, “[There could be] 3,5, 10 organizations [with same purpose].”

Robin Goldberg says,”Washington Square Park is not the park I knew a long time ago. I like Doris [Diether’s] idea to furthering this another month. … This conservancy will take away responsibility of Parks Department to maintain parks and support it. It takes the onus off parks department. … NYU has taken over the park in a spiritual way. [This topic should have] much greater symposium.”

Coral Dawson, “I wasn’t going to speak but I couldn’t believe all the debate. This is SO obvious. The Community Board’s role is to support civic minded organizations. Can you [make them] go through a zillion hoops here? It’s ABSURD. The bylaws have been filed with New York State. Anyone can get them. They are just trying to help.”

(WSP Blog Ed. note: If anyone can get the bylaws, how come the Community Board DID NOT?)

Unidentified person: “I am disappointed by the lack of information. [They] couldn’t even have [provide] a mission statement. [There has been] No detail – [need] more detail. I’m concerned that our resolution had more information than what they brought before us.

Community Board 2 Chair David Gruber stated, “Their intentions are great. The park does need help. [We could take a] month or two review. [The] documents are still being processed. [I would rather we offer] full support rather than conflicted unknowing.”

Robert Woodworth, ” [I understand concept of] having a formal organization to raise money. [Yet] over time non-profits can take on a life of their own. [We should] be clear what mechanics are going forward [and note that] change in bylaws requires approval by the Community Board. [What happens when] the founders of the Conservancy are no longer there? I support a pause. I would have liked to have seen packet with articles of incorporation and bylaws in it.

Susan Kent:  [We should hold off and review] “… out of respect for the people in the community who are upset about this [Conservancy], we need to address that. [This] got off to a rocky start. People need assurances about the future.”

Maria Derr, “I am on the board of the Washington Square Association. The proposed structure is nothing more than the Washington Square Association.  [We] raise money for the [Christmas] tree and music festival. [This is all] fear-based. … Betsey Ely has nothing but good intentions. [They used the word] Conservancy because there was no other word availability.”

Heather Anne Campbell, “I don’t know if there is anything else I could learn [that would make me not support this].”

Lisa Cannistraci: “… saying we have a conservancy [will] increase money to the park.”

Unnamed person (whose name I am so sorry I did not get), “[I would like to see] bylaws, charter, and [conservancy] relationship to park employee as executive director. There has been no explanation of it.”

Terri Cude, “Want to be clear that there is] no way this will mean park will stop getting money from [city]. [And be sure] You have that in writing. By laws [may] have best of intentions [but what about] successions in there? [With future members of] board – what happens? Over time, they will not be the [board]. What is the institution required to do going forward?

Sean Sweeney, “I don’t like this. – I am concerned about NYU. When you give money, you have control. What about NYU?”

At this point, a gentleman jumped in to say that he was knowledgeable in this area and there are rules with 501(c)(3) non-profits that once anyone gives more than a certain amount of money, say 90%, it triggers a review by the IRS. Sweeney asked what the amount is that triggers this review. The person who was so quick to respond to this did not know. Sweeney was concerned that NYU would give a certain amount of money and would therefore have control over the park.

Terri Cude said, “I would like to see everything we request immortalized in a document.”

*   *   *

That is the gist of the discussion. So, the resolution before the full board was the result of the Parks Committee’s vote to approve the Conservancy at their June 5th meeting. The committee then worked on drafting the resolution in the two weeks between their June 5th meeting and the June 20th full board meeting. Most of the Community Board only saw the full resolution the night of the meeting. The resolution (which I will post) was to approve the Conservancy “with stipulations.”

At the start of the board’s discussion this evening, Executive Committee board member Keen Berger had proposed tabling the conservancy topic until another day, which some seemed to interpret as tabling forever — this clearly made members on the board nervous. Someone then suggested a motion to postpone, thereby tabling the issue for another month or so (note: July’s meeting typically has light attendance and there is no September meeting) and coming back to address after further review at the September full board meeting. Berger accepted this.

However, in part, due to the way Berger had led up to this which was interpreted as wanting to table it forever — and by calling it “bait and switch” and a “trojan horse” — this made those who might have been open to further review nervous, seemingly causing concern that more time might defeat the motion entirely. And so they buckled down more intensely.

I’m not sure why some board members were quite so invested in the conservancy. A combination of conversations that surely went on behind-the-scenes and pure arrogance, as in “we know best… you community members don’t worry your pretty little heads about it,” seemed to be at the core of the problem.

The motion to postpone the vote was defeated 25-18.

The Parks Committee’s original resolution to support the Washington Sq Park Conservancy with stipulations passed 31-13.

Although that seems a solid margin, on the final vote (to approve), Deborah Glick’s Chief of Staff Matt Borden (who follows the board closely) noted that it was clear there was not a level of confidence in the vote “when you look at how the board voted.” He continued, “There were so many votes against it. That is something you don’t usually see.”


Previously at WSP Blog:

Report-back: Community Board 2 Vote on Washington Sq Park Conservancy (Part I) July 15, 2013

Timeline and Analysis of the Path that Led to Community Board 2’s Approval of the Washington Sq Park Conservancy June 27, 2013

All Washington Sq Park Blog posts on the private conservancy can be found here.

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