Update: 02/03/2021 (To read the original story please scroll down below.)
I reached out to the Town again to try and get them to sit down and settle our dispute.
They replied last night and said that they're not interested in doing that.
That's really unfortunate.
Back to court.
October 1st, 2020
To: My Neighbors
From: Mike Gaynor, 8 Cobbetts Lane, Shelter Island, NY
Re: Unequal Treatment
My name is Mike Gaynor. I'm your neighbor and I'm suing the Town of Shelter Island. I just wanted to let you all know why.
As some of you will recall, I bought the old tree farm on Cobbetts Lane and cleared the pine trees there to make way for a house and some barns for my wife and I and our 3 horses. The clearing of those trees caused quite a bit of an uproar - to say the least - and for the last 2 years now my family has been the target of harassment by the Town of Shelter Island, The Shelter Island Reporter and a few of my far less-than-nice neighbors on the Island who simply won't let it go.
And now I've had enough. So last week I filed suit in New York State Supreme Court against the Town of Shelter Island. You can download a copy of the complaint by clicking the link at the bottom of this letter.
But the filing doesn't tell the whole story. Not by a long shot.
I've been watching this Town from the sidelines since I moved here, reading The Reporter and listening to folks talk, and I've noticed a far broader pattern on the Island where all sorts of people are being TREATED UNEQUALLY for a whole bunch reasons. None of them good.
I've seen Hispanic families get demeaned in public comments at Trustee meetings because they come to visit us and fish off our beaches. People running from the City to escape COVID with their families who are getting their asses handed to them by SOME angry locals - just because they're from the City. Longtime homeowners here that need extra income to stay afloat who are being denied their right to property by the Town's insane Short Term Rental Law that was written by a bunch of guys that want to turn this place into their own personal retirement community. Important and wildly necessary institutions like The Shelter Island Reporter that are running side agendas for their friends. And even the venerable Sylvester Manor Educational Farm is doing some pretty shitty things that the Town lets them get away with and that they absolutely need to be called out on.
This story is just starting to unfold in court right now but the cast includes....:
The Town of Shelter Island, of course, and our elected officials. The Walt Disney Corporation. A global slave trader and total a-hole named Nathaniel Sylvester. All the super nice and hard working women who run The Islander Restaurant. Hugh Grant. My next-door-neighbor-lady. Beyoncé. Our 3 super awesome Clydesdales: Mike, Ike and Sam. Nicole Kidman. El Chapo. HBO Films. The entire Manhasset Indian tribe. Money. LOTS AND LOTS OF MONEY. The global white shoe law firm Mayer Brown. The Sylvester Manor Educational Farm - its entire Board of Directors and Management Team. The Shelter Island Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board. A guy named Ambrose. The Shelter Island Reporter. And 200+ enslaved African peoples and Manhasset Indians that are buried in unmarked and unkept graves on The Manor's land.
Oh, and me.
But the long and the short of it is this: I've had enough. And in the absence of anybody else doing anything about it I'm putting the Town on notice that this seemingly engrained pattern of UNEQUAL TREATMENT is not going to go on unchecked any longer. If I see it happen, I'm calling you out. Publicly. And if I have to file suit AGAIN after I'm done with this one, I'll do that, too.
The Town of Shelter Island is going to grow up and get it's collective shit together. And the tiny fraction of the population that thinks it owns the place is going to start acting it's age or, I promise you, I will move heaven and earth to see to it that anyone who is doing anything other than exactly what they are supposed to be doing gets punished financially and to the fullest extent of the law. If I have to spend a $1000 bucks to cost the Town $1 in court ordered penalties and fines, then so be it. I promise you I won't miss it from my bank account.
The BS pattern of UNEQUAL TREATMENT of any one living on or visiting our wonderful Island stops now. Effective immediately, by executive order #1, from here on out everybody at the Town and everywhere else on this Island are going to treat everyone else EQUALLY: Be Nice. Be Honest. Be Fair.
The longer story behind what's going on is all laid out below.
Thanks for reading.
8 Cobbetts Lane
Shelter Island, NY
This all started back in the Spring of 2019 when the Editor of the Shelter Island Reporter, Ambrose Clancy, thought it was appropriate to publish this "Letter To The Editor" about my family's soon to be home:
“To the Editor: For 40 years I have driven past the lot on Cobbetts Lane with the stately pine trees. I have often dreamed of winning the lottery and buying that lot to live in a cottage under those tall pines. It always seemed an enchanted place and one of my favorite spots on the island. A recent buyer has chopped down all the pine trees, leaving not one left. I am all for a property owner’s right to do whatever is legally allowed with their property. But why buy that lot and remove all those beautiful, irreplaceable trees? That’s what made it so special. I just don’t understand. But then again, I live in a state where it is now okay to kill a baby right before it is born. Something I will never understand, and a greater reason to be heartbroken. DONNA MOLIN, Shelter Island”
So that was a nice welcome to Town. It's not everyday that my house gets an honorable mention right next to a horrific statement about late term abortions.
The Reporter followed up that Letter with this cartoon shortly after depicting my lot in what I think we can all agree is a less than favorable light, and so, Ambrose, The Reporter and I have been sparring ever since.
Cheap shots aside, I want to go on record and say that I support the Shelter Island Reporter through my paid subscription and I think everyone on the Island should, too. Small newspapers are folding all across America right now and our Town desperately needs The Reporter. If only to keep tabs on Town Hall, and to make certain that everyone is being treated EQUALLY.
So if you haven't done so, please click here to sign up for your paid subscription to The Reporter now.
A bunch of Town elected officials and employees picked up the baton to beat me with soon after the trees came down and those things ran in The Reporter and I've been dealing with their BS ever since.
The Town Clerk has refused to speak with me or even answer the most basic questions I have about Town services. I've had to send my attorney in there on multiple occasions to get one sentence answers to simple questions from the Town Attorney. The Town Supervisor has refused to meet with me when I've tried to bring this crap to a halt. I've been cited for Short Term Rental violations on my house that's not even built. I've had my taxes doubled for a project that is in no way anywhere even close to finished. And on. And on. And on.
For the record, I'm definitely not a thin skinned guy. I grew up in Chicago in a 4 bedroom house with 9 other perfectly horrible Irish Catholic kids. My dad was a building inspector for the City and my mom was an angel. I didn't graduate from high school ( I got my G.E.D in the the A.R.M.Y.) and I've actually dealt with this type of crap for a living when I was still going into the office.
I'm here to tell you that in my 30 years of working with municipalities', from New York to San Francisco and everywhere in between, I've never seen such childish BS behavior like I've seen go on in this Town. Anywhere or ever before.
All of this may all sound pretty mundane to you. But if that's the case I think it's because we've all just become so numb to this kind of treatment. It's this day in and day out government crap that can wear a community down. It exacts a toll. It makes our community angrier, more contentious, wildly less efficient and hobbles every single person living here. With all the crap going on in the world right now the last thing this Island needs to be doing is giving ANYONE a hard time for no good reason at all.
This is not small stuff, folks. Every one of us has to get up and go to work and do our job well or our families don't eat. The Town of Shelter Island needs to be held to that same standard. Our elected officials and Town employees need to get to work early, stay late and treat everyone on this Island fairly and EQUALLY- or they need to go find another job.
SYLVESTER MANOR EDUCATIONAL FARM
Up until a few months ago I was a very big supporter of The Manor. In the last year I gave them $30,000.00 bucks just to help keep their lights on. If I'm not mistaken I think that puts me personally on par with the Andrew Mellon Foundation and so I think I have standing to speak out here.
I've worked with them on some master planning matters and I've tried to share my ideas for getting that place cash flow positive and off the public dole, which I actually think is a totally achievable goal.
The Sylvester Manor Educational Farm is a financial mess, folks, and they are definitely an UNEQUAL drain on the Town's resources. I've been supporting conservation initiatives and historic preservation projects on the East End since I moved here 20 years ago, and so nothing pains me more than having to say any of this.
The Sylvester Manor Educational Farm is designated by the IRS as a 501(c) (3) charitable organization. So what that means is that they don't pay one dime in federal taxes, as they shouldn't. The reason for this though is that by their own designation they are 100% preordained and dedicated to conserving the 240 acres of farm land that they were gifted.
THAT'S THE WHOLE REASON THEY EXIST. THAT'S WHY THEY DON'T PAY TAXES. BECAUSE THEY'VE PROMISED THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT THAT THEY WILL NOT DEVELOP THEIR LAND. EVER.
But between 2009 and 2019 the Town, through it's Community Preservation fund (CPF) and other government funding sources, the Manor has received what is quickly approaching nearly $20,000,000.00 in public funds. Do you understand how much money that is? It's adds up to about several years of the entire Town budget or about what it would cost to build a new indoor Olympic sized pool for the High School.
Those tax dollars that the Town keeps handing them, year after year, are supposed to be set aside to protect land that is AT RISK OF BEING DEVELOPED. The 240 acres that the Manor is sitting on is at NO WAY facing that risk. Ever. Period. So why do we keep on tripping over ourselves every year to hand them more and more of the Town's money???
Why is the Sylvester Manor Educational Farm being treated so UNEQUALLY?
Here is a copy of their most recent tax returns that I was able to get ahold of from the 2017 tax year.
Jump to line 15. These guys have a $939,858 dollar payroll line. What the hell is up with that??? Have you been to The Manor recently? If you haven't, please go visit. They are open to the public. If you have gone, can you please tell me where MILLIONS OF DOLLARS of tax payer money is evident? And how, what amounts to be a glorified farm stand at this point, could possibly be burning through $1M of our donation dollars in payroll every year?
How is any of that that even possible? I mean, the place is quite literally falling down around itself.
Honestly, I just don't understand it. Not even maybe. And all of this - and ESPECIALLY the Town's involvement in it - has me more than a little concerned.
"BLACK IS KING"
From 1651 on, Sylvester Manor, and every square inch of Shelter Island, was the global HQ for the transatlantic slavering operations of Nathaniel Sylvester, the top a-hole and CEO of a worldwide slave hunting and trading operation. There is simply no other way to describe that guy.
And so I was deeply offended when I learned that The Manor took money from Disney to allow the film "Black Is King" starring Beyoncé to be secretly filmed on what is without argument wholly sacred ground.
If you are not aware, please know that there are AT LEAST 200+ enslaved Africans and Manhasset Indians buried on their land and so that's just not a place where you film a dance-off. I'm sorry, it's just not done. I'll spare you the web research - because I've done it - and nobody has ever filmed a music video at Auschwitz or Arlington National Cemetery, either.
What Sylvester Manor and Disney did with their production was illegal - and everybody involved knows it, especially the Town. In addition to the Town's own laws that require a permits to film here, there are about a half dozen other federal, state and now even local laws that protect sacred grave sites like the one at Sylvester Manor from being exploited like this. Again (and I actually can't believe I'm having to lecture anyone on this...let alone my own Town): IT'S JUST NOT DONE.
Ethical reasons aside for a moment and to illustrate just how top of mind this film permit process is in the Town, please note the collection of stories written in The Reporter about HBO Films interest in filming a mini-series starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant titled "The Undoing" just months before Disney's secret "Black Is King" project. The Town gave HBO & Co. their walking papers on this permit request because a lot of people were legitimately concerned about all the disruption the film would have during the summer season.
So is there any reason to believe that The Manor or Disney would possibly expect all of us to allow them to film a music video at that place if they had asked us the way they were supposed to?
If there are still any questions lingering around in your head as to what happened here, please know that every single person at The Manor were required to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements ( NDA's) from Disney so they could keep this film hush-hush as Hollywood is prone to do with productions of this scale - so they can make more money. Period.
Please also know that it's universally accepted by all parties involved that Disney NDA's and Shelter Island Town public bitch sessions that define our open permit process for these filming events are not super compatible bed fellows.
Filming on Shelter Island, just like pretty much every other municipality in the country requires a permit and there's a BIG FAT PERMIT FORM right on our little Town's website just for that purpose. There are a whole host of reasons for this. On a fully pedestrian level, filming a movie is an inherently dangerous activity. It involves lights and camera's and action and combining all of that with The Manor's felled forest and a bunch of wood framed buildings that are all listed on the National Register of Historic Places is just a really bad idea.
I guarantee you everyone of those Disney NDA's would have been violated in a hurry had that place gone up in flames. The Manor staff would have been calling for the Hook & Ladder guys so fast it would make your head spin. And then what?
The Manor and Disney put our First Responders in harms way with this stunt. The fact that nothing happend...AS BEST WE KNOW...has nothing to do with it. This entire thing borders on criminal if you ask me and somebody ought to be punished.
Had I been given the courtesy to comment on any of this in a public permit process as the Town Code requires, I'd have said all of this and more.
The Town has now confirmed two facts in their responses to our legal filings:
1. Nobody got a permit for this film. Not the Manor. Not Disney. Nobody.
2. The Town has not taken ANY enforcement action against anyone. Not the Manor. Not Disney. Nobody.
How is this in anyway EQUAL TREATMENT?
If you or I rent our house out on a short term basis, the Town is going to take enforcement action against us. If you or I build without a permit, the Town is going to take enforcement action against us. Very soon, if you or I want to have a garage sale and we do it with out their permission, the Town is going to take enforcement action against us.
So how do all of these folks get to film what the Town code defines as a "MEGA FILM" and nobody gets busted for that?
That's as UNEQUAL as it gets, folks. And it's going to stop.
How many lawyers did Disney have assigned to this film? 10? 20? And yet we're supposed to believe that you guys missed this? That this was all just a big mix up?
Honestly, that's just insulting. You guys along with The Manor and the Town Trustees seriously owe our Island residents a BIG apology.
Shelter Island and Sylvester Manor does not deserve to be pimped out as a cheap back drop so that Disney+ can ramp up it's subscriber base by a few million people at $6.99 a pop / mo.
In Disney's Q3 earnings call their CEO, Bob Chapek, credited "Black Is King" for getting Disney+ to hit their 5 year subscriber goal in just 8 months, tacking on an additional 3M users to their service. Congrats, Bob. Well played, player.
Now, all of the sudden though it sounds like Bob's folks have a sudden case of memory loss about just who was supposed to deal with those pesky burial ground film permits. What a joke.
Sylvester Manor is not some side show or a movie set. It's not just a Shelter Island landmark or even a State of New York landmark. It represents part of America's original and most evil sins and it should have never been shown in any form of an entertaining light.
Seriously guys, I want an honest answer to my simple question: How the hell did this ever happen? I had my attorney fire off a subpoena to you guys so we can ask you that question under oath and we've gotten zero response.
Now I've had to go bother Beyoncé with the very same move and I just don't see how that is going to help. I seriously doubt anyone told her about any of this, either.
I'd like an answer and an apology for my Town, guys. Please. And soon.
SIDEBAR: THE LAWYERS
Just after we filed the complaint against the Town my attorney, Alex Kriegsman, took a call from a partner at the global-white-shoe law firm, Mayer Brown, whom is apparently now representing the Board of Directors at Sylvester Manor.
Please allow me to introduce you to Ms. Gina Parlovecchio, a member of Mayer Brown's "...global White Collar Defense & Compliance and Regulatory & Investigation Practices..." and former federal prosecutor who just finished up putting the former Mexican drug lord, "El Chapo" in the tank.
I'm sorry for seeming dumb struck here, but could somebody please tell me.....WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON AT SYLVESTER MANOR?????
Admittedly, I don't have any experience with white collar crime. But wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that the only people who would hire white collar criminal defense attorney's would tend to be folks who actually NEED to hire white collar criminal defense attorney's?
WOW. Ok, well, if those folks over there signed you up in an attempt scare me, lady, please let them know it worked. HOLY SHIT.
Oh well. I guess I'm going to have to just bumble along here with my little country attorney, Alex. But know this: My guy sits on the the school board (TAKE THAT!). He thinks cammo is a color. Runs his practice out of a white clapboard farm house on Main Street in Sag Harbor. Open carries a folding Buck pocket knife in his front right suit pants pocket. Hunts deer with a bow. Fish's porgy with his sons. I've seen him in both cowboy boots and a Kippa. And he's the best lawyer I've ever had. And I've had dozens of them.
In the last few years, on my behalf, Alex has taken on the global private equity giant, Warburg Pincus, and won. The significantly-less-than-global private equity runt, Genstar Capital, and won. And the very much global $40B technology conglomerate, Roper Technologies (NYSE:ROP), and won.
And I expect no less of a result this time around. So if it's all the same to you ma'am, I guess I'll just have to steel myself for the wrath of the 800 lb. legal gorilla that is Mayer, Brown & Gina...and just see you folks in court.
NICE, HARDWORKING PEOPLE
Since I've moved to the Island I've met some of the nicest, hardest working people I've ever known. There's all the women at The Islander who know my egg order by heart now. Mike at Jack's Marine who's running his store like Fauci would. The guys at Picozzi's fuel who keep everyone gassed up. The guys at Shelter Island Wines who keep ME gassed up. The crew at Stars Cafe that are doing the best they can to make us all feel like there's nothing-to-see-here. The sailors that work the umbilical cords that are our north and south ferries, the super nice cops that checked on my house when I was stuck down in Mexico and gave me the "all-clear", the "geese-police" lady at animal control who helped tame a daffy duck on my dirt...and on and on.
And so why is it that all these people can do their jobs and do it with a smile - even behind a mask - and yet we all have to act like our elected officials are doing us some sort of favor for being asked to provide that same sort of nice, customer service orientated EQUAL TREATMENT to everyone on this Island?
I'm sorry, but your attitude sucks, folks. And I'm not putting up with it any longer. If you don't want to do your job and do it with a smile, please, do us all a big favor and move on.
MY NEIGHBOR LADY
At some point in time, my next door neighbor-lady grabbed a few hundred feet of my dirt - before it was my dirt - to expand her privet line and pool area. It was after all essentially abandoned land forever and if I were in her shoes I probably would have done the same thing. But when I started building I asked her if she could please move her trees back (which were about 6' on to my property and about 150' long) back on to her own land. About a year later she finally relented and moved them, but not without a parting shot. Never afraid of getting in the last word she told me that my new-comer behavior and "can-you-please-cut-me-a-break-here-I'm-really-having-a-bad-year" attitude was not consistent with what she described as "The Shelter Island Way".
To this day I literally have no idea what that was supposed to mean.
Stay tuned, folks. Much more to come.