YMCA: Time To Set The Record Straight

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By Reginald Spinello, Mayor of Glen Cove

The Problem

One thing I’ve learned from being in public office is that all too often, there will inevitably be someone out there seeking to blame the mayor for the failure of others. The most recent illustration of this phenomenon involves the current brouhaha over lease negotiations between the YMCA of Long Island  and the Glen Cove Neighborhood Association, Inc. The time has come to set the record straight on what’s really going on with the Glen Cove YMCA.

The Players

The LI-Y is the parent entity of the Glen Cove Y. The Glen Cove Neighborhood Association is a not-for-profit corporation that owns the property on Dosoris Lane which is used by the Glen Cove Y. The Neighborhood Association was created in the early 1900s as a charitable organization to serve the local community. The Advisory Board of the Glen Cove Y  was, until recently, an organization made up of local residents who gave freely of their time to the running of the Glen Cove Y.

Unfortunately, the advisory board was recently dismissed by the LI-Y when 13 of its members signed a letter to the LI-Y detailing a number of problems that were putting the continued operation of the Glen Cove Y at risk. Ultimately, the LI-Y has the power to dictate the terms and conditions under which the Glen Cove Y runs its business with or without regard to local input by the Advisory Board. It responded to the letter by ending the board’s existence.

The Lease Dispute

There is an existing lease agreement between the Neighborhood Association, as landlord, and the LI-Y, as tenant. That lease is due to expire and a dispute has arisen between the local, long-time supporters of the Glen Cove Y and the people who run the LI-Y. Essentially, the current dispute involves a number of issues concerning the operation of the Glen Cove Y which were raised by the Advisory Board before it was summarily disbanded by the LI-Y.

Because the landlord, the Neighborhood Association, is also made up of local people, the issues didn’t get resolved when the LI-Y effectively fired the advisory board. The people who are in charge of the Neighborhood Association want the LI-Y to address the issues that were raised by the advisory board before it agrees to give the LI-Y a long-term lease.

Other Relevant Background

Until recently, I was a member of the local advisory board. I served for15 years in an assortment of capacities, including Treasurer and Vice Chairman until I resigned after being elected mayor of Glen Cove in order to avoid any appearance of conflict or impropriety. For as many years as I can remember, the advisory board has been a major component in the successful operation of the Glen Cove Y.

During all those years, the Neighborhood Association has given the LI-Y a sweetheart lease so that our community could have full enjoyment of this wonderful facility. Besides the facility in Glen Cove, the LI-Y operates a number of other YMCA facilities on Long Island. The Glen Cove Y is a critical part of the group of YMCAs on Long Island because its profitability helps to offset losses at other facilities. So, instead of reinvesting all of the profits from our Glen Cove Y in the Glen Cove facility, the LI-Y has decided to use a substantial part of our local money for non-local purposes.

Thus, when 13 members of the advisory board signed the letter objecting to this and what they perceived to be other unfair policies, the advisory board was unceremoniously dissolved by the LI-Y and its members were tossed out of their positions. Until very recently, attorney John Chase was the president of the Neighborhood Association. He was the person in charge of signing any lease extension with the LI-Y. It happens that Mr. Chase is also the attorney for Glen Cove’s Planning and Zoning Board, having taken that position in 2014 with the unanimous approval of the City Council. He is still a member of the Neighborhood Association’s Board, but is no longer its president.

The False Claims

For reasons that make no sense to me, some of my political opponents decided to conflate Mr. Chase’s position on the Planning Board with his position in the Neighborhood Association, and they declared that since Mr. Chase was appointed to the Planning Board by me with approval from the council, I somehow had the power to dictate to him how he should conduct himself in the affairs of the Neighborhood Association. Worse, some of my opponents even made public statements that I exercise so much control over Mr. Chase’s activities in the Neighborhood Association that I am interfering with the lease negotiations because it is my intention to take over the Y.

These claims are not just untrue, they are downright irresponsible. I have never had any authority to tell Mr. Chase how he should fulfill his duties when he was president of the Neighborhood Association, nor have I ever had any authority to determine what should be done with the property on which the Glen Cove Y is situated, for the very simple reason that the City of Glen Cove does not own that property.

 Where the Buck Stops

As Mayor of Glen Cove, I understand that the buck stops at my desk. Not only do I understand that, I totally embrace it. But that doesn’t mean that anyone who can’t manage their own affairs should have the right to pass the buck to the mayor’s office. My position has always been that I will endeavor to do whatever is right for Glen Cove. I’m not afraid to make tough decisions for the betterment of our city. I’ve proven that, for example, by replacing the Animal Lovers League with Cove Animal Rescue, a decision which I fully stand behind.

However, the fundamental difference between what happened at the animal shelter and what’s going on at the Glen Cove Y is that the City of Glen Cove owns the property on which the animal shelter sits and the city was contributing tens of thousands of dollars yearly to the operations of that shelter. As a result, the city had the absolute right to decide who should run that facility. It does not have the same rights regarding the Glen Cove Y.

Political Bully Tactics

Notwithstanding that distinction, however, there are still people out there who choose to engage in attempting to use scare tactics and political pressure in an attempt to falsely blame my administration for the failure of the LI-Y to successfully negotiate its lease extension with the Neighborhood Association.

This campaign of political bullying is not just childish; it’s a dangerous strategy that adversely affects the best interests of our city and our citizens. It serves no other purpose than to keep uninformed but determined troublemakers in the limelight so they can continue to hurl political invective at the current administration for someone else’s failure to reach an agreement on a simple lease extension. They persist in coming to City Council meetings to carry on a nonsensical attack on the sitting mayor for not resolving a conflict in which the city is just not involved.

The Proposed Short-Term Extension

The plain fact is that as a matter of goodwill, no one has made greater efforts to bring the disputing parties together more than I so that the matter could be resolved and the membership of the Glen Cove Y can continue to enjoy uninterrupted use of this wonderful facility. People should understand that both parties have issues they would like addressed and resolved before any long-term agreement can be signed. I have already explained on several occasions my understanding that the best the Neighborhood Association is willing to offer at this time is a short-term extension while discussions on outstanding issues continue. The reason for the short-term extension is simple.

Originally, when the lease extension talks began there were three members of its Board of Directors until one of our local elected officials chose to resign from the board, leaving Mr. Chase and only one other on the board. So Mr. Chase sought advice from legal counsel and it was recommended to him that the board be reconstituted and the Neighborhood Association’s by-laws updated, and then he should step aside as president when a decision is made on whether or not to award a long-term lease to the LI-Y. That way, he could not be accused of having any bias or a conflict in the situation because of his relationship with the city or anyone else involved in the dispute.

Other Facts

Other undeniable facts are that key local resident employees of the Glen Cove Y have been unceremoniously let go and statements have been made that most of the Glen Cove Y’s profits going forward will be used for non-Glen Cove purposes. Yet, in spite of these negative actions, the LI-Y is insisting on a long term lease renewal with no conditions and, as I said, some people have taken to blaming this entire dispute on the mayor of Glen Cove. It should be noted that the LI-Ys original request was for an extension of the lease or, in the alternative, an opportunity to respond to an RFP (request for proposals) if the Neighborhood Association preferred to give others a chance to run the facility.

The City’s Position

Let me state, once and for all, the city’s position. My administration wholeheartedly supports the continuation of a good, working relationship between the two parties at the table. However, if they cannot come to an agreement, I am sure there are others out there who will jump at the opportunity to take over this facility and run it in the private sector.

Under no circumstances will the City of Glen Cove be among those parties. Could the city run it? The answer is an absolutely, unqualified “Yes!” But do we intend to? The answer is an absolutely, unqualified “No!” I have run the numbers and performed the due diligence necessary to make that decision. The Glen Cove Y is not going to be taken over or run by the City of Glen Cove.

The naysayers, troublemakers and mischief-makers who have been causing so much disruption by their efforts to spread falsehoods on this matter would do the community a service if they will begin to conduct themselves like adults in the room and address their complaints to the real parties in interest rather than trying to turn the dispute into a political firestorm for whatever serves their own political purposes.

By doing what they’re doing, they’ve accomplished nothing except to make it even more difficult for the parties involved to reach an agreement. And I will repeat again what I have said since the negotiations began. I will remain available at any time the parties request to sit down and assist in any way I can to help them find common ground.

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