Issue of Anonymous Donations Arises with Gift of E-Bikes to Greenwich Police

At Monday’s RTM meeting, Greenwich Police Chief Heavey proposed a resolution requesting the Town approve a gift of four fully outfitted Interceptor Power Bicycles, plus two trailers and hitch haulers gifted from a private donor.

The issue over the donation was the donor’s wish to remain anonymous.

While the donor had requested to be anonymous, the concerns about transparency continued, and ultimately, Police Chief Heavey shared the name of the donor during the meeting.

Richard Neuman, from the Town Services Committee, said the RECON E-Bikes were “top of the line” and the gift included lights and sirens, carrying bag, extra batteries, two hitch haulers for the back of patrol cars, and trailers to attach to bikes to carry gear.

According to the RECON E Bikes website, the bikes have a price tag of $4,163, not including the accessories.

Slide from Dec 14, 2020 RTM meeting.

Neuman said the bikes would enable officers to patrol the beach and public events such as fireworks, as well as the hilly area of Greenwich Ave.

Molly Saleeby of District 8 said the town had no policy about anonymous gifts.

“”Perhaps, moving forward, as the BET has requested, perhaps the First Selectman and the BOE Superintendent put together some type of public-private partnership policy,” she said.

Moderator Tom Byrne said the donor requested anonymity to avoid solicitations from other sources.

Mr. Byrne said Chief Heavey spoke to the donor who was willing to have himself identified, and the police chief did identify the donor to RTM members who asked.

Byrne noted the First Selectman did not want to discourage gifts.

“I think what happened here was trying to accommodate a donor to the extent we could, understanding that if people insist on knowing who it is, then that will happen,” Byrne said. “There is no attempt to cover anything up.”

Joanna Swomley from district 10 said the RTM’s approval was important to protect the town from unforeseen issues.

“The reason approval is so important is that gifts to public officials, towns and their departments are riddled with potential pitfalls,” Swomley said. “As we all know, gifts can come with strings – implicit or explicit – be the subject of ulterior motives or conflicts of interest, or result in favoritism, even unintentional to the donee.”

She said it was the duty of the RTM to ensure every transaction was above reproach.

“If the gift were truly anonymous I, personally, would not be rising to speak tonight. The problem for me comes because the donor is not anonymous to the donee,” Swomley said.

She suggested the Town create a way that anonymous gifts could be made so as to ensure complete anonymity.

“I think it does help that the Chief was willing to identify the donor, and that the donor was willing to be identified,” she continued. However, she added, “I’m concerned we’ve not done all we should because we’re so eager to have a gift.”

Mary Flynn from district 12 said she thought the bikes would be wonderful for the police department, but opposed anonymous donors.

“You need transparency in government, and there’s just too much room for terrible things to happen,” she said. “I think it’s unfortunate, but I think we can’t take gifts unless people are willing to say where they’re from.”

Moderator Tom Byrne said since the donor’s name had been identified by those who had asked that the gift was no longer anonymous.

“The Chief has identified the donor,” he said. “We can take up the general issue later.”

Chief Heavey said he had shared the identify of the donor to anyone who asked.

“This person has no pending criminal case or civil case, or criminal record,” Heavey said. “I’ve always tried to be transparent.”

Heavey said the donor would not receive any special treatment.

“If we weren’t projecting such a negative conception that there was something being done wrong. I try not to take something personal, or not to take it as something the department would ever consider quid pro quo. We try to be fair and neutral when we deal with the public.”

“I hope the RTM would consider that, and if there was any concern about the individual we could transmit that information to any member of the body who needs to know,” he added.

Candace Garthwaite a member of district 6 had asked why the name of the donor was not announced at the RTM meeting.

At that point Chief Heavey announced the name of the donor.

Heavey said the donor was a Greenwich resident, that he’d not met him in person, and that he was not aware of the donor having a criminal history or pending civil or criminal or civil case against anyone in the town of Greenwich.

The vote on the gift was combined with several other votes.

The vote was 218 in favor, 2 opposed, and one abstention.