The Wellington Community Foundation, whose board consisted of the sitting Wellington Village Council, has disbanded and been recreated as a nonprofit with board members appointed by council members, or the village manager if a council member chooses not to appoint someone.
Two council members, Vice Mayor John Greene, who previously chaired the foundation, and Councilman Matt Willhite, chose not to appoint anyone.
The council has been discussing the makeup of the foundation for more than a year, with the goal of distancing it from village government, primarily because recent inspector general opinions have stated that council members cannot use their elected position to benefit any other entity to which they belong.
A former councilman, Dr. Carmine Priore, pushed to create the foundation in 2009 to assist organizations seeking village help in financing projects and activities, rather than have those organizations ask the council to donate village money to private projects. Sometimes, council members deemed those private groups inappropriate recipients of taxpayer money, even though they might be worthy of support.
At a meeting on Thursday, Sept. 10, Village Attorney Laurie Cohen passed out packets adding language that in the event a council member refuses to appoint a foundation board member, the village manager would fill that appointment. She offered another option: the foundation could appoint an executive director who would fill open positions if a council member declined.
“If you have other options, they are certainly within your prerogative to consider,” Cohen said. “In my opinion, this organization somehow needs to be removed from the village council. I think it’s in your best interests. I think that’s why we went down this path.”
Wellington Mayor Bob Margolis said that three council members had appointed board members, but Willhite countered that technically, no one had been appointed because the change in the composition had not yet been done.
Greene said that the foundation was created to do good things for the community, but that the purpose had become convoluted.
“I guess the spirit of this meeting tonight is to take politics out of everything we do, but unfortunately, we’re in politics, so it’s difficult to do,” he said.
Greene suggested simply dissolving the foundation and not forming another one.
“If there are people in the community who want to start a foundation, so be it,” he said. “Let’s not start picking people that we think represent a certain political faction and turn this into a political event.”
Greene made a motion that the foundation board take the remaining fund balance, a little over $5,000, and in remembrance of 9/11 allocate it to the Wellington Patriot Memorial. Willhite seconded that motion, but Councilwoman Anne Gerwig objected due to the work that had been put into forming a new nonprofit.
“If you had made that motion before we spent money and gone through this effort, I would have supported it,” she said. “I feel that we have put our feet on this path, and we should continue it.”
Gerwig added that she believed it was not political to appoint someone to a foundation who has knowledge of establishing foundations.
Willhite said that he didn’t want to create a foundation that could be in conflict with other charitable organizations. “There’s never a shortage of places to give money,” he said. “Anybody can go create this board tomorrow.”
Margolis favored keeping the foundation in its altered form. “I appreciate your opinions, but I disagree with them because I think this is a good foundation,” he said.
Councilman John McGovern said that since an independent 501(c)(3) organization had already been formed, he favored spinning the foundation off and urged Greene and Willhite to appoint board members.
“I think the $4,300 that has been spent to get [that] status to raise money for projects in the village should be done,” McGovern said. “That money should not just be wasted. If that board does nothing but choose to disband, then that decision is made by people who were there to give a run at making a go of it.”
Greene’s motion failed 3-2, with Gerwig, Margolis and McGovern opposed.
Margolis then made a motion to create the new foundation and stipulate that if a council member did not appoint a foundation board member, the village manager, acting as executive director, appoint members, which carried 3-2 with Greene and Willhite dissenting.
In forming the new board, Margolis appointed former Mayor Tom Wenham, McGovern appointed former Councilman Dr. Carmine Priore, and Gerwig appointed resident Joe Scarpa.