Updated June 15
State and local police are investigating issues with community preservation committee funding requests made by the Vineyard Trust for restoration work at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown and Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs.
Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty and Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee both confirmed the investigation with state police
“We are conducting a joint investigation,” McNamee said. “I reached out to them last week and they assigned an investigator with Detective Curtis Chandler.
Oak Bluffs Police Lt. Tim Williamson told The Times in an email that state police are handling the case.
A spokesperson for the state police could not immediately be reached for comment.
Oak Bluffs began investigating a community preservation committee (CPC) grant application from the Vineyard Trust for restoration work on the Flying Horses carousel after issues arose with two contracting bids in the Trust’s application.
The investigation in Oak Bluffs is the latest in a string of probes related to the Trust’s applications for community preservation funds. When the irregularities were reported, the Trust board investigated, resulting in the resignation of president and CEO Funi Burdick on Wednesday. A statement from the organization confirmed that “errors” were made in grant applications to Oak Bluffs and in Edgartown for restoration work on the Old Whaling Church.
Issues began on June 4 when The Times reported that a construction quote for work to be done on the Whaling Church had been altered before being submitted as an article on the town meeting warrant requesting $175,751 in CPC funding. Those documents can be found here.
The Trust is a private nonprofit that oversees the maintenance of 20 historic properties on the Island such as Flying Horses, the Old Whaling Church, and Alley’s General Store.
Burdick joined the Trust in 2017 and oversaw a transition for The Carnegie in Edgartown into a heritage center among other projects. According to the Trust’s 990 tax form in 2019, Burdick was paid $195,000 with additional compensation of $9,000 a year.
Before her Island tenure, Burdick served as the executive director and CEO of the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire for nine years, and the executive director of the American Independence Museum in Exeter, N.H., for six years before that.
At the May 15 annual town meeting, Oak Bluffs voters approved $72,300 for restoration of the carousel platform, organ, and drivetrain, replacing the exterior doors, and repairs to the roof.
Unlike Edgartown, which indefinitely postponed the Trust’s CPC request for the Whaling Church at their May 22 annual town meeting, Oak Bluffs leaders were not aware of the issue until after their town meeting. Speaking to The Times by phone, select board chair Brian Packish said while the funds were approved there was a substantive claim of fraudulent activity so the funds won’t be released.
“That’s obviously going to be frozen,” Packish said of the funds approved at town meeting. “With monies having been approved we have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure they’re vetted.”
Through a public records request, The Times received email communications between Oak Bluffs town counsel Ron Rappaport and Burdick concerning issues with the Flying Horses application.
In a June 1 email, Rappaport sent four documents to Burdick.
The first was an October 1 email from Myles Thurlow to the Trust detailing a $55,000 estimate for restoration work at Flying Horses.
“Hope this makes sense,” Thurlow’s email reads. “Let me know if you need more details. One variable could be if we get into more of a rebuild on the carriages when we take the platform apart. I have been meaning to get over there and take a closer look, but haven’t had the chance.”
The second was a separate undated letter under letterhead from M.E. Thurlow Rigging, LLC. The letter detailed $64,750 for the same restoration work at Flying Horses.
“Hi Funi, this project is a long time coming,” the letter reads. “We first discussed the deterioration of the rounding boards and base of the platform in 2017. In my opinion, we cannot wait any longer. Here are the figures I prepared. Let me know if you have questions. One variable could be if we get into more of a rebuild on the carriages when we take the platform apart. Unforeseen rot or rigging issues will be billed on a time and materials basis.”
The second set of documents were quotes for painting the historic carousel from John C. Anderson. Both quotes are dated September 14, 2020, but the quote submitted to the Trust by Anderson is for $5,850 and the quote submitted to the town by the Trust is for $14,900 and includes replacement and painting of some exterior doors.
Rappaport’s email asks Burdick to explain who wrote the application to the town, who came up with the revised figures, and whether Thurlow and Anderson were aware of the changes and stand behind them.
In a reply to Rappaport on June 4, Burdick said the Trust was reviewing Rappaport’s request.
“We are in the process of researching the answer to the questions you posed to me in your June 3, 2021 email to me. I intend to fully respond by the time that you return from your vacation the week after next.”
Speaking to The Times by phone Friday, Trust chairman Patrick Ahearn said the organization is working on a response to Rappaport’s email, but could not comment further.
Anderson and Thurlow have both declined to confirm with the Times whether the bids were altered, despite the admissions by the Trust in a statement announcing Burdick’s resignation.
In a June 8 letter to the Edgartown select board, Burdick apologized for “miscommunications that have arisen as part of our application” and explained her resignation from the Trust.
“When Mr. Anderson submitted his quote, it included painting, but not all of the work necessary to complete the project according to these Department of the Interior guidelines. I acknowledge that I should have picked up the phone to clarify directly with Mr. Anderson whether he was taking into account the full scope of the work at hand and asking him to refine his estimate if necessary. Again, I sincerely apologize for the error,” her letter said in part.
“I do not want my honest mistakes to cloud an otherwise outstanding organization or its leadership. As president, I am taking full responsibility and accountability for these actions and hope you now fully understand that they were made with the trust’s best interest at heart and not out of malice or disregard to the process.”
Updated to include police investigation. — Ed.