Backstory: The Party That Should Never Have Happened

Two weeks ago in this newspaper, I wrote about this high-volume music-filled party that landed in a very inappropriate location in the Hamptons. It came down and blew out the neighborhood at Fresh Pond and the Albert’s Landing Beaches on August 10, a Saturday, between 4 p.m. and midnight.

These are quiet beaches, frequented by local families and their friends. There are picnic tables, barbecue grills, etc. But on that day, in the early afternoon, trucks, vans and cars began to arrive, bringing in lighting people, beer delivery people and sound systems, and workmen began to set up a stage. Huge speakers were stacked 10 feet high. And soon after that, the members of the three bands arrived and the DJs arrived. By 5 p.m., party goers had begun to arrive and reached about 200, according to accounts published in The East Hampton Star. According to Police Chief Eddie Ecker, the complaints soon began to come in from neighbors. There would be nine complaints by the time it all ended at midnight. And though the police did come, they issued no summonses. Those in charge showed them permits issued by the town. As a result, the police just asked that the party organizers turn the volume down, then went away.

This event at “Electric Beach,” as the bucolic park was renamed for the evening on the internet, was promoted online, with a web page asking $154–$174 to get in. Come listen to Strange Talk from Australia, the Chainsmokers and the reggae group See-I and various DJs playing from a stage while those in attendance, surrounded by beverage tents, rocked on, according to The East Hampton Star, until midnight. Photos taken at the event show a blue glow from all the lighting in the trees. There were also searchlights in the sky occasionally, guiding people to the venue and, of course, the sound, coming from giant stacked speakers alongside the stage 10 feet high, could be heard for miles.

What was so strange about all of this, I said in my article two weeks ago, was that although I love concerts, when done right, this event was not one that belonged on this rocky bay beach where families traditionally take their children. How in the world had they been given a permit? I wondered if they had broken any laws. And I said that if they did not, then maybe we ought to tighten up the laws that regulate this sort of thing.

Well, guess what? I looked into the law regulating Mass Gathering Permits and I found that nobody is allowed to get a Mass Gathering permit on these sweet local bay beaches.

A prior administration, when looking at where something like this sort of party should be allowed to take place, wrote into the law that they could not take place at the bay beaches. The permit applicant, John Rayner Turley, might not have known it. Turns out the Town Supervisor who voted to approve the permit didn’t know it, more about which later.

The exemption is in Section 151-4-A5. And these bay beaches are mentioned by name.

At the beginning of this section of the Town Code, the law deals with what is or is not considered a “gathering.” If the event in question meets this definition, then it can proceed to apply for a permit. You must obtain a permit for an assemblage of this size. This application said it would take place in Fresh Pond Park. Here’s what the law says about Fresh Pond Park.

“GATHERING DEFINED. A “gathering” shall be defined as set forth in this section.

“A. GATHERING. An assembly of more than 50 persons for social, civic, charitable, religious, patriotic, amusement, entertainment, recreational, educational, athletic, sporting or similar purposes, at which one or more of the following conditions is expected to occur or does in fact occur.

“A5. USE OF TOWN PROPERTY. The assembly takes place on land owned by the Town of East Hampton…except that picnics or other assemblies at Fresh Pond Park, (including the picnic grounds at Little Albert’s Landing) or at Maidstone Park shall not constitute “gatherings” hereunder and shall be regulated by the Town Parks and Recreation Department.”

So then I went to the section on regulations for Town Parks and Recreation. Indeed, they do have a sub-section for MASS GATHERINGS. It says “refer to Section 151,” where permits for such events at these parks are not permitted. Well, maybe there was a way to get a Mass Gathering Permit through the Parks Department another way.

So I called the Parks Department and asked if they could issue a permit for a mass gathering of 200 people for dancing and music and fun purposes at the park when it was forbidden in this other section. The lady I talked to at the Parks Department, Mandy, told me they do not issue mass gathering permits. That you get from the Town Clerk.

So if she could not issue a Mass Gathering Permit, I asked her, and if the Town will not define assemblies of more than 50 people as a “gathering,” in these parks, then how could such a party be approved?

“I don’t know,” she said. “But I do know that the Town issued a Mass Gathering Permit for this event.”

I tried to read her 151-4-A5 granting her department full jurisdiction, and she referred to the Town Clerk’s office again.

“I only do what I’m told,” she said.

So I called the Town Clerk. And the Town Clerk referred me to the woman who is in charge of Mass Gathering Permits, Bethany, and I had to go around the block once again. This time I got a slight variation on the earlier story.

“I think they are about to change the law,” she said. “That’s what I was told. Look, I only do what I’m told.”

Finally, I put in a call to the Town Attorney’s office. I wanted to ask them how come the town seemed to break its own law. This was at 2 p.m. A woman answered the phone and told me nobody was there, that the legal people would have to get back to me. I asked that they call me. I told her I was working on a story. I left her my number. No call came back. I called a second time the next day. Still no call back.

At this point, I looked through the permit application of this event for further information. Here was a large party given a permit for where one was not supposed to be. Among the things promised to be abided by (I have the full nine-page approved permit in my possession), were that there would be one band, outdoor music would go off at 9 p.m. and indoor music at 11 p.m. Also there was a charity mentioned that could collect money. And this would be a social, not-for-profit and not a commercial, venture. (If it were a commercial venture, it would NEVER get a Mass Gathering Permit. It would have to be a whole other big deal to get permission.) But no, this was just a “summer social” for family and friends. And there would be no lighting visible to the neighbors.

At the event, according to The East Hampton Star, they sold approximately 200 tickets for $174 each, $154 for early birds. They had three bands. They had busses transporting people to the party. They made lots of noise and lit up the area. And then, going back to the code, I found this.

151-22. PROHIBITED GATHERINGS. The following gatherings are prohibited in the Town of East Hampton…. Notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter, no permit shall be issued which would authorize these gatherings.

(Sections A and B list things that are not relevant to this event. Here is C. These are also prohibited.)

“Carnivals, festivals or similar events which include mechanical rides unless the event is sponsored by a local not-for-profit entity based within the boundaries of the Town, such as, but not limited to, local chambers of commerce, recognized emergency organizations or emergency services organizations (i.e. a local Fire Department)….”

I agree this passage is iffy as it might apply to a festival or concert. It can be read one of two ways. It either means festivals and concerts are prohibited unless a charitable organization in town is sponsoring it, or it means that festivals and concerts which contain mechanical rides are prohibited unless a charitable organization sponsors it. I think back in the day this was an attempt to keep the town high-falutin, with no low-class carnivals allowed unless for charity.

In any case, the applicant for this event on this forbidden territory listed a charity. But it is not a local charity. The applicant, where asked in the application to list the “sponsor” named the Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership. But then on the bottom of the page the applicant put an asterisk and wrote “the HLL Organization is not a direct sponsor of the gathering; we simply allow them to set up a table. The organization collected roughly $1,000 last year!”

In other words, this Lacrosse organization would be there and the Town should take it into consideration.

This past Monday, I went to see Supervisor Wilkinson about all this. We discussed the application and the giving of the permit. An important part, the Supervisor said, was that the sponsor was listing a charity. He said the Town looks more kindly about an application with a charity involved, and as a case in point showed me an annual event approved for these beaches involving a swim to raise money for cancer research. He also showed me that accompanying the application for the party in question was a sheet about the charity. He handed it to me.

“HARLEM LACROSSE & LEADERSHIP” it read at the top. “We use a winning lacrosse program to inspire institutional pride and cohesion among students in Harlem. Lacrosse offers students the discipline, work ethic and leadership skills necessary to gain admission to and succeed at top academic institutions.”

The leaflet talked about academic results and character development. “50 children a day attend daily team study halls,” it continued.

I then asked the Supervisor how the Town Board could approve a Mass Gathering Permit at a place where the town forbids them to be issued. He looked puzzled.

“It’s in your Town Code,” I told him. “These specific parks are mentioned by name.”

I named the section of the code and showed it to him. There it was. Little Albert’s Landing, Fresh Pond and Maidstone Park. He looked up at me.

“I knew nothing about this,” he said. “You got me. Are you going to write about this?”

I told him I had stumbled on this, but that I would. He then challenged the wording of the section, saying it doesn’t say that the parks department couldn’t issue a permit, so then I told him that in the parks regulations, it defers back to this section, so no they can’t. He had nothing further to say.

I count Bill Wilkinson as a friend. “Nobody’s perfect,” I said. I also apologized, saying that I had come upon this by accident. It was nothing I was seeking out. Honestly, when I saw it, I told him, I was fearful he had known about it and, with or without legal opinion, had simply decided to do it anyway.

We talked some more, about the appropriateness of having big affairs at these little local parks, and we pretty much agreed about everything. Wedding affairs under a tent would not be allowed, for example, but actual wedding ceremonies would. And big loud events like this should not happen, especially events that were for-profit.

“But we do look differently on something that raises money for charity,” he said, repeating what he had said earlier.

I wondered about the charity in this case. The Supervisor said they had not looked into the application as closely as they could have. They get so many applications, they can’t look into every detail.

So I left. But then I looked into it for them.

I called Simon Cataldo, the Founder and President of Harlem Lacrosse and Leadership. He was astonished and angry that the name of his charity was on this application. He had never given approval for the use of the charity’s name, did not know the man who signed the application, and he said he would look into this matter and would then write me a letter. Here it is.

Dear Dan,

Harlem Lacrosse & Leadership (HLL) is a non-profit organization that provides academic intervention, mentoring, and lacrosse coaching for at-risk youth. Someone who volunteers with HLL was invited to set up a table to collect donations at the event. No one on our end was ever told that we were a sponsor, nor were we told that our name was being used to secure the permit (or less stringent standards for a permit) to use space in East Hampton. Additionally, no one at HLL was told that we would be receiving any portion of the revenue collected from the ticket sales for the event. No one connected to HLL has ever even spoken to John Turley, the gentleman who apparently submitted the permit application. I have confirmed that HLL has not received any funds from the Electronic Beach organizers as of 8/27/2013. We emphatically do not condone any disruption that the party might have inflicted upon the East Hampton community. As such, should we ever receive a check from the organizers of the party, it will not be deposited.

Respectfully,

Simon Cataldo

The man applying for this permit, which I got, is a Manhattan resident named John Rayner Turley. I got his phone number and email, and tried to contact him, telling him I wanted to know who at Harlem Lacrosse & Leadership knew about this. I left detailed messages. He has not so far returned my calls.

Bottom line is that the Town has the tools to protect the bay beaches for the local families and taxpayers. In this instance, they did not do so. They were unaware of their own ordinances. The promoters did not get a local charity involved, and the people in charge of the one they said was involved had no idea they were and, to date, had received no money.

But what about this odd reference in the 2013 application to a similar party in 2012 where “the organization collected
roughly $1,000?”

Turns out Mr. Turley received a Mass Gathering Permit for what must have been a less disruptive “summer social” at Fresh Pond on 8/11/2012 (since there were no complaints about it). I got a copy of it. It reports “WHEREAS, the original application was for 250 attendees, however, per the applicant, less than 150 people have RSVP’d for the event, therefore approximately 150 people are expected to attend this event;…” and this about the charity:

“…WHEREAS, the applicant is teaming up with a local charity for this event, and the local charity will have a table set up at this event provide information about the charity…RESOLVED, provided that all laws, rules and regulations for the Town of East Hampton are followed, this application is
hereby approved.”

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