DISCLAIMER: The subject of this column is the FOI complaint Wallingford Town Councilor Fishbein has lodged against Wallingford Center Inc. I am named in the complaint, along with others, and I serve as WCI’s Board vice president. However, the comments that follow do not reflect in any way, shape, or form those of any other Board member, the Executive Director, or of WCI’s position in this matter. They represent my opinions alone. As any opinion column does, this one is merely a discussion of how I alone arrived at my conclusion that there is no requirement that WCI submit agendas and minutes of its meetings to Town of Wallingford officials. Period.
Okay, with that said, I will proceed to outline these two points that readers should keep in mind as they follow this thrill-packed, dramatic and world-altering altercation: 1) WCI is an independent organization, and 2) there are other similarly-structured organizations in the community that do not have this requirement put upon them.
First of all, it should be understood that Wallingford Center Inc. is organized as a non-profit organization recognized by the federal government as a 501(C)4. Yes, it receives a majority of its funding — note: most of, not all of — from the Town of Wallingford. WCI has its own volunteer Board of Directors, governed by its own properly constructed bylaws. Its Executive Director reports to its Board of Directors, which meets monthly to provide oversight of and participate in the organization’s activities.
The assumption is being made that, because this independent organization receives funds from municipal government, officials from that government may demand obeisance to it. Put another way, WCI, in accepting those funds, therefore relinquishes its independence and becomes nothing more than an extension of that government.
Councilor Fishbein states that he is only performing his role of overseer of town funds, to which I would answer: that oversight is already being provided by WCI’s Board of Directors. He is also claiming that this Board is “operating in secrecy.” Hogwash. What is at issue is not that we refuse to divulge what is discussed in our meetings, but that, as a non-profit, independent agency, we are not statutorily obligated to submit to his demands involuntarily. As an entity incorporated under the law, WCI has rights, too. We run an open and transparent organization, and he would be provided with information if a specific request were to be made.
But it is not an entitlement. As someone known to be a libertarian, suspicious of the overuse and misuse of government authority, Councilor Fishbein should be the first one to understand the principle from which this opinion originates.
Secondly, there are a multitude of organizations receiving Town of Wallingford funds structured identically to Wallingford Center Inc. The library, senior center and SCOW are but three. Each of these organizations has a strong, effective Board of Directors overseeing the operation of each, seeing to it that the contributions from the taxpayer are being properly and honestly spent. When requested, they provide any and all information required, but not meeting agendas or minutes of each and every board meeting.
There are thousands of non-profit organizations in our state receiving substantial grants of money from the State of Connecticut. All are required to periodically report to Hartford to insure that the funds are being used for their intended purpose. But in no case that I know of are these organizations required to provide Board meeting agendas or Board meeting minutes to every single member of the state legislature.
There are hundreds of volunteers who spend countless hours of their own time serving on boards of organizations receiving money from the Town of Wallingford. They do not need to be micro-managed by nine part-time legislators in order for these tax dollars to be effectively spent. Let them do their work.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford Town Councilor.