Two of the biggest dance parties of the summer of 2013 used the names of legitimate charities improperly in order to help secure East Hampton Town permits. In July, the Shark Attack Sounds gathering claimed to be a benefit for the Montauk Playhouse Foundation, and in August, a for-profit bash at Albert’s Landing in Amagansett, billed as Electronic Beach, salted its town application with references to a New York organization. Neither charity was asked whether its name could be used. Moreover, when the Albert’s Landing party violated the terms of its improperly granted approval, there was no official mechanism to shut it down or hold its organizers responsible.
These two parties are examples of an event-permit review process in East Hampton Town Hall that is badly in need of an overhaul. Applications are rushed through without adequate staff review or time to make sure they are on the up and up. And so many large assemblies are being held in the summer that it has become almost impossible for police and ordinance enforcers to keep up.
After the fact, the promoters of Shark Attack Sounds gave $8,000 to the Montauk Playhouse. This sounds like a nice sum until you learn that tickets to the sold-out event netted about $175,000.
It is not clear how much, if anything, the charity named in the Albert’s Landing event’s permit application received. And, while the Montauk event took place on private property in the evening, the Amagansett bash got going in early afternoon and by nightfall made even swimming in the bay there unbearable for residents.
Looking into the latter incident recently, Dan Rattiner, the publisher of Dan’s Papers, was able to get in touch with the founder of Harlem Leadership and Lacrosse, who said he had not been asked by the Electronic Beach organizers for permission to use his organization’s name. In a letter he sent to Mr. Rattiner, Simon Cataldo explained that he was able to learn that someone who volunteers for the group had been invited to set up a table to seek donations while the party was going on. Mr. Cataldo said he did not condone any disruption that the party may have created, and “. . . should we ever receive a check from the organizers of the party, it will not be deposited.” It would not have been all that difficult for someone in Town Hall to have made a similar inquiry.
Officials may protest that they have neither the time nor the authority to check the claims made on mass-gathering applications. While that may or may not be true, additional steps must be taken to assure that permits for large-scale events are no longer handed out based on fraudulent assertions — and that community concerns are taken into consideration.
A start would be for the town to ask for statements on letterhead from the beneficiary organizations of for-profit parties and those on public property, including parks and beaches. Next, officials need to improve how application paperwork is routed among relevant departments, including getting a draft to the town board, which votes on such applications, earlier in the process. Also key will be at least doubling the minimum lead time between when a permit is submitted and when it is taken to the board.
Mass-gathering permits have been handled in far too easy-going a manner heretofore, but the disruptions they can create for those who expect to be able to use and enjoy public property or their own backyards are anything but casual. Reform must begin now.