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The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Anonymous Donors & FOI: A Tough Issue

A nice look at a contentious issue:

With only so much taxpayer funds available to pay for a lengthy wish list of capital projects, the town is increasingly relying on the generosity of a wealthy citizenry to fund everything from a proposed Byram pool to improvements at the municipal golf course.

Some gifts have come with a catch, with the donors requesting their anonymity from the town. A number of elected officials acknowledge that the practice could raise questions about transparency and donors currying favors. Most say the benefits outweigh the risk with so many projects competing for funding and limited funds to go around, however.

"I think from my point of view there's a tremendous list of things that need to get done and we live in a community where there are so many generous citizens who are committed to making Greenwich better, and they deserve our gratitude and our respect," Selectman Lin Lavery said.

Lavery, who promised during her campaign to champion a new public swimming pool in Byram Park, received $100,000 in commitments from private donors for a site survey and for the project's initial design. The donors' names have been a tightly guarded secret by Lavery, an ardent supporter of public-private partnerships from her days as president of the nonprofit Junior League of Greenwich.

"For some people, they like anonymity because it protects them from excessive requests," said Lavery, who also doesn't want to release any names until the money is actually spent on the project. "So there's no point publicizing the donor who has made a commitment but has not yet made the donation."

Some in town government are discouraging the practice of withholding the names of donors and said it could set a bad precedent.

"My personal opinion is that it's preferred to know who the donor is, so there is no conflict of interest," said Pamela Frederick, chairman of the Representative Town Meeting's Finance Committee.

Frederick said she realized that in the nonprofit world it is customary to receive anonymous donations but feels it inappropriate for the town.

More here.

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