To the editor:
What the Croton Board of Trustees is doing at Gouveia Park should be of interest to all residents, even those who don’t have strong feelings about the development of the park.
The terms under which Croton took the land are set forth in Laurel Gouveia’s Will. The land is to be maintained “and its principal use shall be as a park which shall be open to the public.” Allowance is made for flexibility in the development and usage “provided that the park like setting is maintained for a public and park-like purpose.” In addition, $1 million was given to Croton “to be used for the care and upkeep of the park.”
The claim that there would be tens of thousands of dollars in revenue each year from concerts, poetry readings and other events was never realistic. None of the official financial projections developed by the village as to expenses and revenue has ever been seen during the lifetime of Gouveia Park. Nobody seriously believed the spreadsheets; they were lies designed to support an action the Board of Trustees had already decided to take.
Lack of candor in the acquisition of the park four years ago does not mean that it is now acceptable for the Board of Trustees to violate the terms of the bequest and wishes of the donor.
Originally, about a quarter of the endowment was used to put in a parking lot and driveway. That was entirely in keeping with the development and maintenance of the land for a “park-like purpose.” Now the Board of Trustees is going to blow the remainder of the million-dollar endowment by paving over the park in order to turn it into a government office campus for one of the municipal departments.
I have always been skeptical of the financial projections for Gouveia. The first citizen’s committee was deliberately hobbled by unrealistic constraints imposed by the Board of Trustees. The recent committee led by Ms. Horowitz was perhaps a bit optimistic, but they were certainly in line with the terms of the bequest. If Laurel Gouveia were alive today, my guess is that she would prefer her house being used as an artist studio and exhibition space rather than filled with desks and filing cabinets for government employees.
Croton’s Board of Trustees may be pragmatic in turning Gouveia Park into a secluded government office building. Arguably that is its best use. There is one small wrinkle: that is not what the donor intended, and it is not what the Board of Trustees agreed to when they took the land and the million dollars.
I doubt that the Gouveia heirs or any of the contingent beneficiaries want to go to court to get this land and money. Theoretically the Attorney General’s office could take action, but that is not going to happen given the political actors who are violating the terms of the charitable bequest.
The fact that the Croton Board of Trustees operates with impunity and hence feels free to disregard their own promise to Laurel Gouveia does not make their decision either legally or morally right. This is yet another example of the contempt which our trustees have for the citizens of Croton and the rules and laws which bind the rest of us. Turning Gouveia Park into a government office should trouble all of us, regardless of our view on the original acquisition.
--Paul Steinberg, Croton-on-Hudson