Selectmen Vote 2-1 on Naming Rights Policy

On Thursday the three member Greenwich Board of Selectmen had a second read of a proposed naming rights policy for accepting gifts in exchange for naming rights on town owned facilities.

The policy comes after the town accepted a $5 million donation from the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation to go toward a new $25 million Eastern Greenwich Civic Center slated to start later this year.

That donation came with conditions. The agreement between the foundation and the town stipulated that the $5 million will be paid in four installments between 2021 and 2025.

The agreement, which was drafted by the foundation, stated, “The foundation shall not be required to make any installment payments if there is any controversy around the naming of the building in honor of the Cohens that reflects negatively on the Cohens or the Foundation.”

Also, per the agreement with the Cohens’ foundation, the town agreed to discuss the design, size and placement of the name on the civic center, and not to modify or remove it without their consent any earlier than 15 years if the town needed to make substantial changes to the civic center to upgrade its physical infrastructure.

The new policy will only apply to donations in the future.

With the new policy, any proposal for naming rights would first go to the First Selectman’s office for administrative review, then have a first and second read by the Board of Selectmen – with advisory comments from the appropriate RTM committees in between.

Then if there is a gift attached, the proposal would go before the RTM for review and approval.

If there is no gift attached, the proposal would not go to the RTM since it is a Selectmen policy and not an ordinance.

Dan Carlsen, senior policy analyst for the town, presented the policy. He said naming rights won’t confer any other rights to a donor, and by accepting of a gift or contribution was not an endorsement by the town.

“Officially named municipal buildings and facilities are eligible to be renamed after 15-years, unless otherwise stipulated in an agreement between the Named Party and the Town,” the policy says.

Also, the town can terminate naming rights in the event of any default of payment or “if the Board of Selectmen determines in its reasonable and good faith opinion that the name associated with the Naming Right would adversely impact the public trust, image, or the reputation of the Town, including acts of moral turpitude.”

Democratic Selectwoman Janet Stone McGuigan expressed concern about the wording of the policy, which says that naming rights could be granted in exchange for a “substantial gift,” but did not specify a threshold.

She said typically a threshold would be 50% of a project’s cost, and if a donor knows that up front, it would remove negotiation from the process.

“Naming is an honor that should be done with great consideration,” she said. “As a funding strategy, it should be pursued with balance. Because with time, the cost of projects increases, and holding out for private gifts may mean that the town’s share of a project’s costs become greater than if it elected to publicly fund the project in its entirety at an earlier date, and thereby allowed the town to enjoy the benefit of the project that much earlier.”

Camillo disagreed and said that in the past, naming rights had been given for much less than 50%.

Further he said a 50% threshold would have disqualified the recent $5 million gift toward the civic center. He said he would prefer to have flexibility to assess each proposal individually.

On his radio show Friday before the Selectmen meeting, Camillo talked about “cancel culture” when WGCH host Tony Savino asked what would happen if a person named in exchange for a donation were to do something that altered the town’s perception.

“One of the interesting things of course is – we mentioned when we were talking with Selectwoman Lauren Rabin – is that somebody who gets honored today, 20 years from now, you find out something is going on and you might have to change it,” Savino said.

“I’m really concerned about cancel culture, which I hope is starting to die down a little bit,” Camillo said. “Your history is your history, you can’t erase it. Once you start canceling and taking down things, where does that end? I’m a huge opponent of that.”

Just before the vote during Friday’s Selectmen meeting, Camillo said the policy could be revisited after a couple years.

“Especially as we’re going to be looking at a new skating rink and we’ll be looking for significant contributions there,” he said. “It’s critical that we get something in place…and then see if we have to adjust it.”

Ms Stone McGuigan voted against the policy, while Republicans Camillo and Rabin voted in favor. The motion to approve the policy passed 2-1.