The final chapter of an anonymous couple’s effort to gift the village of Cary a $60,000 donation has come to a bitter close.
After meeting resistance in an 11th-hour attempt to work with The Community Foundation for McHenry County to reveal their identities to a divided Village Board in exchange for a “yes” vote supporting the donation, the donors walked away.
“The donors have rescinded their donation of $60,000,” Mayor Mark Kownick wrote in an email to the board Sept. 25. “They will find other opportunities to invest this donation.”
In an interview with the Northwest Herald, Kownick, the only official who knows the identities of the donors, said the chain of events leading to their exit was a “shame,” but village leaders who refused to accept the donation without knowing the people behind it said the process was flawed and immoral.
“The whole thing has been mishandled,” said Trustee Jim Cosler, an opponent of accepting the money without knowing the donors. “It has become larger than it needed to be. I can see why it led to a lot of frustration for donors.”
On Sept. 14, Village Administrator Jacob Rife sent the board an email letting trustees know he spoke with Robin Doeden, executive director of The Community Foundation for McHenry County, which funnels millions of dollars from donors to recipients every year.
The donors told Doeden they were willing to be identified and meet with board members if they were willing to sign a confidentiality agreement.
“Donors respectfully request a unanimous vote approval of the donation following these meetings,” Rife wrote.
Trustee Jennifer Weinhammer wrote Kownick an email to let him know she was fine with the deal. Trustees Ellen McAlpine and Christine Betz had no interest in meeting the couple and were willing to accept the money on the account that they trust Kownick’s judgment.
The offer was unsettling for other village trustees.
“The board said thanks but no thanks months ago, but [Kownick] continued to lead on the donors,” Trustee Jeffrey Kraus said.
In June, trustees rejected the anonymous donation by a 3-2 margin. Betz and McAlpine voted in favor of accepting the donation, while Weinhammer, Cosler and Kraus rejected it. Trustee Kim Covelli abstained.
“I made up my mind on the night that we voted on it,” said Kraus, who was unwilling to sign the confidentiality agreement.
The agreement asked for full support of the donation in exchange for the couple’s identifies, according to documents obtained by the Northwest Herald.
“In exchange for the disclosure of the confidential information, it is understood that the village council action to accept the funds indicated above will result in a unanimous vote to approve the acceptance of such funds,” the agreement said.
Cosler was fine with signing the agreement as long as he maintained his right to vote against the donation.
“It’s totally unethical to guarantee a vote in exchange for some information,” Cosler said.
The Northwest Herald reached out to Doeden, who revealed that the couple rescinded their offer based on her recommendation.
“I’ve never had so much trouble giving money away,” Doeden said.
She characterized the board’s conflicts as political.
“No donor should go through this,” Doeden said.
In an Oct. 5 email to the board, McAlpine shared her disappointment with the outcome.
“In my humble opinion, to turn away $60K is negligent to our residents,” she wrote.