Edgartown Library Foundation remains mum

Site of the new Edgartown Public Library.
File photo by Michelle Gross

Site of the new Edgartown Public Library.

Even as plans to build a new Edgartown Library move forward, the battle between town and library officials and leaders of the Edgartown Library Foundation (ELF) appears to be a cold war. There has been little communication and much mystery.

Library Foundation members were not present on Monday, January 6, when Edgartown selectmen voted to accept a $7.3 million bid from Maron Construction for the construction of the new Edgartown Library, to the applause of library trustees, building committee members, and members of the general public in the room.

Reached Monday by telephone, foundation president Susan Cahoon said she would not comment on the views of the Edgartown Library Foundation or its dealings with the the Edgartown Library. Ms. Cahoon did say a press release would be issued soon, but she gave no hint of what it would contain.

ELF lawyer Jeff Hurwit of Hurwit & Associates in Boston could not be reached for comment.

At the center of the controversy is $452,365 in donations that the foundation raised for the library project but has so far been unwilling to transfer to the town to help with costs of the building project.

Chris Scott, vice chairman of the Edgartown Library building committee, said that it is time to tap the money the Edgartown Library Foundation has raised for the project.

“It’s just been, for everyone concerned, a frustrating and mysterious process,” Mr. Scott told The Times. “The school is demolished, we’ve been moving forward with this project, received a grant from the state, and I don’t know what they’re waiting for. It would be a lot easier for them [ELF] to release the funds and stop fighting.”

The Edgartown Library Foundation is required to file a tax return to verify that it qualifies for a tax-exempt status. In its latest filing, for the calendar year 2012, the foundation reported it held $452,365 in net assets or fund balances on December 31, 2012. The foundation also reported $32,160 in gross income from fundraising events and $4,156 in contributions, gifts, and grants for the year.

The foundation also reported $36,617 in direct expenses from fundraising events and $1,750 paid to independent contractors. After subtracting expenses, the foundation reported $10,444 in net income for 2012.

The ELF website lists nine officers and board members, including foundation president Susan Cahoon, treasurer Janet Aldeborgh, vice-chairman Heather Cohan, corresponding secretary Pat Rose, and recording secretary Ann Tyra.

In 2006, library supporters created the Edgartown Library Foundation (ELF), a nonprofit organization founded to raise public support and funds to be used for the renovation, expansion, enrichment, maintenance, and benefit of the Edgartown Free Public Library, including the structural preservation and expansion of historic buildings to be used as and in connection with the Edgartown Free Public Library.

As the library project evolved and moved away from the current library site to the former Edgartown School site, ELF members expressed concern that the project would cost more than anticipated and refused to relinquish money for the project until all the funding for the project was in place.

Selectmen and the town’s library building committee have clashed repeatedly with the ELF over funds the town believed the foundation had raised in support of the new library but had retained.

The Edgartown Library trustees voted unanimously last May to completely and permanently sever its relationship with the private Edgartown Library Foundation (ELF), to ask the foundation to stop raising money for the library, and to ask the foundation to transfer to the town all the money it has raised so far, to support the new town library.

Library trustees voted to establish a town account through which donations may be made to the new library building project. Selectmen expressed support and voted unanimously to ask town counsel Ron Rappaport to look into the legal issues surrounding fundraising by the foundation.

In a recent telephone conversation with The Times, Mr. Rappaport said he has been in touch with Attorney General (AG) Martha Coakley in an effort to resolve outstanding issues with ELF.

“We wrote a letter to the AG about the regulation of not-for-profits and just bringing the matter to her attention,” he said. “We’ve had subsequent conversations with ELF and continue to remain hopeful that things will work out as they should.”