By Harry Keaney
The bulk of the more than $1.2 million collected by Tara Circle from the Irish-American community was spent on payments to lawyers, planning and traffic consultants, and to engineers and architects for their services in connection with preparing environmental impact statements for Tara’s ill-fated attempt to establish a cultural, educational and sporting center in Briarcliff Manor, according to figures provided by Tara to the Irish Echo.
The figures show that from 1992 to 1996, a total of $373,551 was incurred for legal payments, mainly to the firm of Carrato, Sweeney and Cohen, and to the firm of Wilkie, Farr.
Included in the $373,551 was a payment of about $7,000 to the firm of Dorfman, Lynch and Knoebel for work on Tara’s $250 million civil rights case against the Village of Briarcliff Manor, according to lawyer Dennis Lynch. Tara is still pursuing that case.
A sum of $271,554 was incurred in fees to planning consultants Sacardi and Schiff. A total of $107,687 was incurred for the engineering and architectural firms of Inside Engineering, Carnell Engineering and Richard Datner. $85,407 was incurred in fees to Adler Consulting for traffic studies. A total of $24,933 was incurred for appraisals and land surveys to Albert and Sterling, and to Design Landscaping.
Tara also paid $166,520 to the Village of Briarcliff for fees and permits.
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These amounts come to a grand total of $1,029,652.
Tara also lost $200,000 of its $700,000 downpayment for the proposed purchase of King’s College in Briarcliff Manor after the college went bankrupt in 1997. The downpayment was made in 1992. An amount of $500,000 had been refunded to Tara during 1993 and 1995 and was used to provide the Town of Briarcliff with environmental impact studies.
The King’s College is now to be the site of a retirement community.
Tara Circle subvention certificates payable Dec. 31, 1996 — which Tara’s charter members received for investments of $5,000 each — amounted to $1,345,665.
Tara board member and former treasurer Martin Gleeson said that the certificates have all the characteristics of a bond, with both an interest rate (6 percent) and a maturity date. Gleeson said the maturity date would be “15 years from the day we own a headquarters.”
“If we succeed in acquiring Alder Manor in Yonkers, we are going to establish a ‘sinking fund’ to fund the future repayment of subventions,” Gleeson said.
As to whether the $5,000 charter members paid for subvention certificates was an investment or a contribution, Gleeson said it was an investment. “Otherwise it wouldn’t be a liability for Tara Circle,” he said. He added that some charter members might wish, after 15 years, to roll over their investment into a contribution to Tara.
Gleeson, a certified public accountant, and Eddie Kirk, a businessman and Tara’s current chairman, recently agreed to discuss details of Tara’s figures with the Irish Echo as a result of questions raised about Tara’s finances in the wake of the Oct. 1977 bankruptcy of Tara’s former president Ed Sheeran.
Sheeran’s bankruptcy came about as a result of an unrelated, unsuccessful business venture in Ireland.
Revenue and expenses
Gleeson and Kirk also outlined details of Tara’s other revenue and expenses from the end of July 1992 to 1996. That revenue and support came to $701,077. This included 1996 revenue of $329,236 from the A Day in Old Ireland Festival and a “Riverdance” fund-raiser in Radio City Music Hall.
Revenue is listed under headings of contributions and special events ($466,260), Elderhostel ($60,862), Irish studies ($10,120), contributed services ($67,650), education ($76,090), and interest income ($19,276).
Total expenses from the end of July 1992 to 1996 came to $1,247,652, leaving a cumulative excess of expenses over revenue for those years of $546,575.
Expenses are listed under the headings of program expenses ($134,144), development ($157,146), general and administrative ($187,800), special events costs ($244,482), a bad debt write-off of $200,000 (the downpayment on King’s College), donated professional services ($67,650) and depreciation ($1,000).
The expenses also show consulting fees totaling $255,430 paid to Sheeran and former Tara secretary-administrator Kate Cunningham.
Tara’s figures show that $10,000 was paid during the period between July 31, 1992 to March 31, 1993. A total of $70,830 was paid in 1993, $94,850 was paid in 1994, $52,700 in 1995 and $27,050 in 1996.
In breaking down those figures, Gleeson said that the $10,000 paid between July 31, 1992 and March 31, 1993 went to Sheeran. Of the $70,830 paid in 1993, Gleeson said about $51,000 went to Sheeran and $19,000 to Cunningham. In 1994, about $56,000 went to Sheeran and $38,000 to Cunningham.
Of the $52,700 paid in 1995, Gleeson said $17,000 went to Sheeran and $35,700 to Cunningham. The $27,050 in 1996 was paid to Cunningham.
In an interview with the Echo, both Gleeson and Kirk, whose family is the largest single investor in Tara, strongly defended the payments to Sheeran and Cunningham, saying they were approved by Tara’s charter members. “It was approved in October 1992,” Gleeson said.
Kirk added that there were times when he was with Sheeran for 20 hours a day working for Tara. “Our wives were widows for nearly four years,” Kirk said.
“I can not reiterate enough the amount of time that people put into this, and that’s why it frustrates us so much. Nobody knows the human cost or the human effect here,” Gleeson said. He added that Sheeran spent 15 hours a day for the better part of four years working on the Tara project, and he had no doubt that his project in Ireland suffered because of this.
“In terms of the intensity and the hours that were put in, there is no question that Eddie put in more than above what was required,” Gleeson added. “Nobody will know that except the people who were involved. It’s such an injustice for Eddie to be categorized here as the bad guy.”
Gleeson also said that Cunningham “put in long hours” working for Tara Circle.
Cunningham herself said she started as a volunteer with Tara Circle. After a couple of months, an office was established at King’s College and Tara needed somebody to support that office.
“To me, the Tara Circle was always a labor of love,” she said, adding that the money she made at Tara “was less than half” what she made in the field of telecommunications management.
When Tara set its sights on King’s College almost seven years ago, it entered into a contract to purchase the 57-acre property for $14 million. “It was a viable project at that time,” Kirk still insists.
Both Kirk and Gleeson said that had Tara succeeded in acquiring that property, Sheeran, grand marshal of the New York St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 1990, would now be a hero in the Irish-American community.
“Had we picked any place other then Briarcliff, we would have our center up and running by now and it would be a success,” Gleeson said.
Asked if Tara had not at the outset weighed the chances of succeeding in Briarcliff, Gleeson said that Tara had been kept informed on a confidential basis by residents in Briarcliff of what was happening in the village in relation to Tara’s plans, both on the local political level and among the Tara’s opponents.
“The opposition started slowly,” Gleeson said, “but over time it grew, they had more powerful people on their committee, they had more money than we had and in time they wore us down.”
Gleeson, Kirk and others in Tara firmly believe that part of the strategy of Tara’s opponents was to force Tara into obtaining an array of expensive reports and studies in an effort to frustrate Tara’s effort to locate in Briarcliff.
Gleeson and Kirk said this was the reason that Tara refused in the past to discuss details of its financial situation with people other than charter members. “We didn’t want our opposition to know,” Gleeson said.
In fact, for every year of Tara’s existence, there has been an excess of expenses over revenues, ranging for a low figure of $27,139 in 1995 to $195,806 in 1996.
Tara’s 1997 figures are unavailable because they are currently being audited, according to Gleeson.
Future in Yonkers
After six years and more than $1.2 million the poorer, Tara does not yet have a center or headquarters of its own. However, it still organizes an array of classes and courses. And although the organization is now debt-ridden — at the end of 1996, it owed a total of $286,866 — Gleeson and Kirk say Tara’s future lies in Tara’s proposed new $1.2 million home, Alder Manor, on part of the former Elizabeth Seton College property in North Broadway, in Yonkers.
Tara initially intends to rent Alder Manor for two years at $100,000 a year. It would then pay $1 million to complete the purchase of the property.
“The funding for the first year’s rent has been committed by a supporter,” Gleeson said. Kirk and Gleeson declined to name the supporter.
Gleeson added that contractors have volunteered to renovate part of the six-acre property in Yonkers. “A lot of people are still interested in this project. We have people who have volunteered to come up to this building and work for us gratis,” Gleeson said, adding that he knew that to get all the support of the Irish community back would take time. “We will have to prove that we can make this a success,” he said.
He also said that grants are available for renovating the Yonkers property because of its historic Alder Manor building. He added that the Yonkers headquarters could eventually be used as collateral to raise further funds.
“It will also help people get their money back,” Gleeson said, referring to holders of the more than $1.3 million worth of subvention certificates.
Meanwhile, Tara officials are expected to soon complete their deliberations on the group’s finances with charter member Eleanor McDonald. At one time, McDonald was among Tara’s strongest supporters, but now she has questions about the management of the organization and she has demanded a full accounting of Tara’s finances. What she has to say after she sees the figures will be watched with interest; she has more than 32 years experience in municipal finance and is currently comptroller of the Town of Harrison.