Cary trustees reject $60,000 gift from anonymous donor

Couple sends a cashier’s check to replace signs

Trustees Kimberly Covelli (left), Jennifer Weinhammer and Christine Betz participate in a Cary Village Board meeting Aug. 22.
Trustees Kimberly Covelli (left), Jennifer Weinhammer and Christine Betz participate in a Cary Village Board meeting Aug. 22.

A philanthropist couple recently hand-delivered an envelope to Cary Mayor Mark Kownick.

Inside was a letter and cashier’s check: a $60,000 donation to replace the village’s entryway signs. The Cary residents said they wished to remain anonymous.

“We recently sold our business and would like to give back to our community, which continues to be an important part of our family’s lives,” the letter said. “We are interested in providing $60,000 for the entryway sign replacement project.”

But trustees rejected the anonymous donation Tuesday night by a 3-2 margin.

On one side, trustees said the village should accept the generous gift to buy new signs for the village with gratitude. The other side said there are dangers that come with government bodies accepting anonymous donations.

Trustee Kim Covelli spent the most time arguing against the donation and later abstained from the vote because she didn’t feel comfortable voting without information about the donors.

Although the couple might not have a criminal history, Covelli said, the donors’ “belief systems” could be a problem.

“There may be no criminal nature. There could be, you know, belief systems. There could be a lot of different things out there,” Covelli said. “Even advertisers will pull out a lot of times if people, you know, maybe make a statement that is not, you know, in line with their morals, their beliefs.”

Trustee Ellen McAlpine said it is absurd for public officials to grill donors on their beliefs or politics.

“We should be very excited that we have someone who is willing to donate to our village, and I feel we have done our due diligence,” McAlpine said. “Wherever they stand on a political issue, wherever they stand on a personal belief system is inconsequential to me. This is for the benefit of our village.”

Kownick read the couple’s letter aloud.

“We do ask that our donation remain anonymous, as my wife and I keep our philanthropy as private as possible,” Kownick read. “This is important to us. We hope that you and the board understand these wishes.”

Covelli and Trustee Jim Cosler did not accept those wishes.

“I don’t understand why the board isn’t trusted with the knowledge of the donor and [who] the attorney is,” Cosler said.

Cary’s attorney asked the couple a series of questions and learned they had no past, current or future business dealings in the village of Cary. They also said they are not involved in local politics and at no time did any board member tell them how to donate their money.

“I think the donation is great,” Covelli said. “But I also just want to say from my own personal self without having full information – and I respect that they don’t want to give the information – but then I just have to make my decision based off of that.”

It’s about preserving her reputation, Covelli said.

“I have to be comfortable putting my name on something, and I can’t just rubber stamp it without knowing if there are any possible implications,” she said.

Kownick argued that there’s no reason to reject the donation – the first gift that has been sent to the village, he said.

“We have to trust a long-term village resident that would just want to do something heartfelt and kind and give back to the village,” Kownick said. “There is nothing dreadful about this, there is nothing criminal about this. … This is something that they just want to [do to] better our community.”

Trustee Christine Betz and McAlpine voted in favor of accepting the donation, while Trustees Jeff Kraus, Jennifer Weinhammer and Cosler rejected it.

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