Broken trust? 

Altered construction quote for Old Whaling Church restoration concerns Edgartown officials.

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Funds requested through the community preservation committee for the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown have come under question.

A warrant article requesting Community Preservation committee (CPC) funds to do restoration work at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown was indefinitely postponed at the May 22 annual town meeting due to concerns about an altered construction quote submitted by the Vineyard Trust.

According to draft minutes from a June 3 CPC meeting, town administrator James Hagerty told committee members that less than 24 hours before town meeting, he received “troubling information regarding the accuracy of the Vineyard Trust quote.”

The article requested $175,751 to pay for 60 percent of the restoration of the Whaling Church’s front and back façades. The Trust is a private, nonprofit organization that owns and maintains historic buildings on Martha’s Vineyard including the church, Alley’s General Store, and the Flying Horses, among other things.

“The quote had been altered by the Trust to reflect a different number and wording than what was originally presented by the contractor. [Hagerty] then consulted with town counsel and CPC chair [and Edgartown select board member Margaret] Serpa, who agreed that considering they did not have all of the facts of the matter, and that town meeting was the next day, indefinite postponement was the right form of action.”

The Times obtained the three separate quotes under letterhead from John C. Anderson through a public records request.

The first set, dated Sept. 14, 2020, is a proposal submitted to the Vineyard Trust by Anderson for “the painting of the ‘Old Whaling Church.’ Front Pediment, Entablature, Complete Columns (6) and the complete back of church.” The total projected cost was estimated at $231,617.

The second set is a copy of the first with alterations made in pen that change the proposal to “the restoration work of the ‘Old Whaling Church.’ Front Pediment, Entablature, Complete Columns (6) and the complete back of church.” Changes to the prices for labor and materials are also written in pen, in raising the estimated project cost by $60,000 to $292,917— of which 60 percent, or $175,750, was requested at annual town meeting.

The third set, which was submitted to the CPC by the Trust, significantly changes the original quote submitted by Anderson, but keeps the same font and letterhead to appear like Anderson’s original quote. It changes language to explicitly state all painting will be part of restoration work, and sets the total cost of the project at $292,917.

The minutes state that Hagerty met with Anderson, who said he was not aware of changes to his quote. Hagerty also felt that two meetings with the Vineyard Trust to bring the issue to light did not provide adequate answers, and therefore felt the issue should be brought to a public CPC meeting.

Town counsel Ron Rappaport said certain types of painting were not eligible for CPC funds.

“Mr. Rappaport stated that painting is not eligible for CPC funding as maintenance, and the changes to say restoration instead, which is eligible, was concerning,” according to the minutes.

The minutes also state that Serpa was “very disappointed,” and that the money “could’ve gone toward other projects.”

Community Preservation funds are gathered through a surcharge on property taxes. The funds can be used to purchase open space, affordable housing, and for historic preservation.

Hagerty suggested looking back at all Trust invoices and reconciling them with contractor invoices.

Speaking to The Times by phone Friday, Hagerty said the town receives a significant amount of CPC applications each year, and only a certain amount of funds the town can spend. “The town took action as soon as they knew about this situation, and it’s unfortunate,” Hagerty said.

Trust president and CEO Funi Burdick and board of trustees chair Patrick Ahearn could not immediately be reached for comment.

6 COMMENTS

  1. What a tangled web we weave when first we try to deceive. Is this the start of the unraveling of the shenanigans that is going on at Vineyard trust. It would be nice if some reporting was done about their actions for instance they evict a much needed marine hardware store out of one of their buildings to install a real estate office for one of their board members. How’s that for conflict of interest. and we all know downtown Edgartown needed another real estate office. No need for a marine hardware store on the water that’s crazy thinking.

    • If only Bob Murphy would volunteer his talent to the Vineyard Trust, he knows exactly how everything on the Islands should be run. He should start by showing the SSA how to run a boat line.

  2. I appreciate your confidence in me but I can assure you I do not have all the answers. But I do know falsifying a legal document to get more money and it looks like unjustified money from the taxpayers to help my Organization is not some thing I would do. I am also not a lawyer but it seems to me there was something criminal here. If the board of this once proud organization has any backbone and is not part of the cabal to deceive the town heads should roll and it should be quick.

  3. Community Preservation Funds can not be used for maintenance, like painting. Period. Their Application should’ve been deemed ineligible from the get go.

  4. The Preservation Trust is a 501(c)(3) organization and is tax-exempt in order to encourage the public to support it. Government entities should not be giving our tax-payer monies to private nonprofits except under extraordinary circumstances…if you respect the work of the organization, you will give to it out of your own pocket. But taxpayers can’t be forced to support private groups, especially one that is now under the direction of what appears to be an unethical person or persons (plural). No executive director can sign anything of any significance without the Chair of the Board or a Committee overseeing the document first.

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