Greenport Village Board rejects payment to ‘Dances’ volunteer

(Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)
(Credit: Katharine Schroeder, file)

Should a volunteer who spends weeks each year helping to set up Greenport events be compensated? Or would that open the door for other volunteers across the Village to get paid?

That was the question at the heart of a split vote decision at the Greenport Village Board meeting Thursday night.

In a 3-2 vote, the board rejected a motion proposed by Trustee Doug Roberts to pay longtime ‘Dances in the Park’ volunteer Diane Mulvaney $1,200 to fill a new events coordinator position created for the weekly event. 

Mayor George Hubbard and Village Trustees Julia Robins and Mary Bess Phillips all voted against the proposal, while Mr. Roberts and Trustee Jack Martilotta supported the idea.

Ms. Robins and Ms. Phillips said that while Ms. Mulvaney’s work is appreciated, the move would signal to other village volunteers that they too could be paid someday.

“I do feel this is setting a precedent of paying a volunteer,” Ms. Phillips said, noting that other committees like the tree committee devote equally large amounts of time to their village functions without compensation.

But Mr. Roberts, who serves as a board liaison to the Dances in the Park committee, said the village needed to “invest” in the event, and claimed paying Ms. Mulvaney would be the best way to do it.

“What became clear to me is it’s a ton of work,” he said. “It’s become an event, a destination for folks on the North Fork.”

Mr. Roberts noted that Ms. Mulvaney was the only person who responded to a job opening for the position; the job opening had been created after an earlier attempt by Mr. Roberts to compensate Ms. Mulvaney, as state law requires proper posting of any job listings.

Mr. Martilotta said the event benefits residents and local businesses who get foot traffic on Mondays.

In the face of criticism from Ms. Phillips and Ms. Robins, Mr. Roberts attacked the funding of the upcoming Tall Ships festival, a common theme since his election campaign earlier this year. He questioned why the Village Board would pay for a Tall Ships coordinator but not a Dances in the Park coordinator and said the board should “invest in this [event] over festivals for tourists.”

But Ms. Phillips said Dances in the Park started years ago as a volunteer operation. Tall Ships festival, she said, is magnitudes more complex than Dances.

Mr. Hubbard said he appreciated the effort Ms. Mulvaney puts into the event, and would honor her with a proclamation. But he worried that choosing to pay her now might upset some sponsors of the event, who were not informed when they paid the village that their sponsorships would go toward Ms. Mulvaney’s salary.

“They didn’t know they were going to be paying somebody,” he said. “I want to be honest and upfront with them.”

Mr. Roberts replied that “two-thirds of donors measured by dollars” supported paying Ms. Mulvaney, but Mr. Hubbard stood by his decision. The Village Board may revisit the idea in the winter when planning next year’s events, Mr. Hubbard said.

“Hopefully we can revisit this and put together a package deal,” Mr. Hubbard said. “One way or another we’ll honor her.”

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