>Middletown Library’s $500,000 Forfeiture Is Not a Done Deal

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by guest blogger Linda Baum

By now you’ve probably heard that, under heavy pressure from the Town Committee, the Library Board agreed to give nearly $500,000 of Library funds to the Township. I attended the Board meeting on 4/13/11 and learned that there are still issues to be resolved before the money can be transferred. My meeting notes were included in Mike’s 4/15/11 post. Those notes tell you the “what and when”, but there was much more to what transpired.

As Mike mentioned, the $500K transfer cannot be finalized until the State Library approves the deal, and there are a number of specific requirements that must first be met. Among these is the formation of a strategic plan that includes focus group feedback. My understanding is that ordinarily a strategic plan doesn’t have to involve focus groups. However, they are required in this case.

The Library Board last did a strategic plan in 2004 for the 3-5 year period going forward. That plan is now outdated. Per Library Director Susan O’Neal, work toward a new strategic plan began in 2009 but was not completed for lack of time and resources to devote to it. She feels strongly that a meaningful strategic plan is necessary and she expressed that opinion to the Board.

Committeeman Settembrino, who was clearly planted on the Board to see to the Town’s interests and not the Library’s, pressed for a quick finish. He insisted on a hurried approach that uses outdated data and places the burden of running focus groups on Library staff. With a quick switch of hats, he outright rejected a suggestion that the Town pay for an outside consultant to run the focus groups. (And why shouldn’t the Town pay? After all, the Town benefits because the work is for the sole purpose of finalizing the transfer.) I was stunned that Settembrino was allowed to unilaterally dismiss such a reasonable idea. I feel the Board should have required that the suggestion be presented to the Town Committee before any decision was made.

Ms. O’Neal stated that it would be inappropriate for Library staff to be involved in the focus group surveys because the standards established by the State Library specifically direct Library staff to offer guidance, but not to formulate the plan. Staffers’ involvement would also affect the quality of results, compromising the Board’s own standards. Add to the list that Susan’s time and that of other Library staff is stretched too thin already. She made a strong point that the failure to complete work started in 2009 is evidence that the help of an outside professional is needed.

Just as soon as Susan finished speaking, Settembrino made a motion for her to oversee all work.

Unfortunately, he got his way. A resolution was passed to handle the work internally, and a completion date of May 30th was set.

As part of that whole discussion, there was heated back and forth about the timing of the transfer. Kevin grilled Susan about what she was told by CFO Nick Trasente and Administrator Tony Mercantante about when they wanted the money. She told him that it was out of her hands, that the Board was required to meet the terms of the State Librarian, not the time table of the Town Committee. (The Town Committee should be well aware of that because the transfer requirements are clearly spelled out in official documents.)

In a comment to Mike’s 4/15/11 post, it was mentioned that the money doesn‘t have to be transferred right away to be included in the Town’s 2011 budget(Anon 4/16/11@8:51 pm). That makes sense. So if the delay won’t affect budget finalization, why the push to get the cash now versus at the end of the summer? That’s a question we should be asking.

Mr. Settembrino again appeared to be acting on the Town’s behalf when he pushed for early preparation of the Library’s 2012 draft budget, which already is done many months ahead of the Town’s. (In fact, if history is any indicator, the Town’s 2012 draft budget won’t be done ‘till well into 2012.) Ms. O’Neal and the other Board members pointed out that the usual October preparation of the Library’s budget has never presented a problem before – there has always been plenty of time for review. But Settembrino wanted it done sooner. He appeared to be setting the stage for the next raid. As I listened, my mouth fell open.

In the days following the meeting, I came by some additional information. Did you know that Town Committee members Pam Brightbill and Gerry Scharfenberger attended Library Board meetings in 2010 to lay the groundwork for the current grab? On the sideline, the Town’s attorney, Brian Nelson, lobbied for the law change that would allow them to move forward with their attack.

In response to those early overtures, last year the Library Board formally requested information from the Township. They received no reply.

You may have heard recently that the State Department of Community Affairs has required the Township to complete a corrective action plan for disparities found in its 2009 audit. I feel this is something we should be looking at much more closely.

There are a lot of questions that still need to be answered.

16 Comments

Filed under Board of Trustees, Kevin Settembrino, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Middletown Township Committee, State Librarian, strategic plan, surplus funds, Susan O'Neal

16 responses to “>Middletown Library’s $500,000 Forfeiture Is Not a Done Deal

  1. >As per the usual conduct of this TC,their conduct is always suspect and they are appearing in a panic now in their money grabbing tactics.Every taxpayer in this town should look closely at where their municipal taxes will be at.472 per hundred and realize if they fall below the current average assessment of 380,000 they are probably going to experience a greater increase than those above the average.Again figures don't lie but liars figure.Is this current panic to get money before the legal process plays out aneed for funds to pay those bonuses to the Tax Assessor and his deputy and possibly the retired employee from that office brought back to facilitate work in that office? Just what do their salaries pay them for anyway??Middletown,now lead by a bunch of little men with napolean complexes, is surely becoming a town where the people's supposed representatives are clearly void of ethics and integrity.Wonder if intellect should also be added to that list as the stupidity continues and the rule of law is flaunted.

  2. >I am ashamed to say I voted for these scheming and unethical clowns especially after hearing about Scharfenberger's behind the scenes deals for his mother-in-law's farm paid by us taxpayers and where he currently resides. How the heck do these people sleep at night? Settembrino is a modern day ignorant gangster who uses intimidation to get his way-he's an embarassment to our town. He must have been unable to cut it in North Jersey politics though he fits right in with all the bennies with his obnoxious behavior. Brightbill is spineless-again, what an embarassment. We should impeach them all! Let's put that up for referendum vote!

  3. >Anon 7:48How about a few more details about Scharfenberger and his mother-in-laws farm, it sounds very interesting. Please tell more.

  4. >Could it be the McCormick farm on Tindall Rd?I think the town paid the about a million to preserve it as a farm, not sure if that is what the other post refers to.

  5. >Anon 11:38,not sure about McCormick Farm, I first thought of that also, but given that the town did not want to preserve it at the time and only did because they were embarassed into doing it, I don't think there would be a connection between the farm and Scharfenberger. But I could be wrong.

  6. >It's McCormack Farm and I understand Scharfenberger is living their with his family as it is his mother-on-law's farm. Another shady deal and I ehar it was for more than one million. How about checking it out for us all. This might be another thing he "forgot" to tell the taxpayers. How about that referendum vote to boot them out?

  7. >Check out the Mrs. on some of the social network sites and then trace back her family name and it should reveal something pertinent, if there's anything to this story.When it comes to ole "Slippery"….anything is possible …….. and usually is !

  8. >Food for Thought Today:Brightbill voted against preserving the Mc Cormick Farm.She said she could not vote for something we could not have use of!That's what was reported anyway.Never stopped these republicans from buying swampland from the politically connected.

  9. >http://www.facebook.com/gerry.scharfenberger?ref=ts#!/profile.php?id=1657734971&sk=friends good suggestion. I found Gran McCormack on facebook with her friends being the scharfenberger's. How nice!

  10. >Isn't the Mc Cormack Farm off of Tindall Road and ole slippery lives on King's Court which is west of Hwy 35 off Kings Highway.Must be another farm. Should be interesting whatever the connection is and so far nothing seems too low for this character's involvement.

  11. >Gerry voted to approve the purchase of the development rights to McCormack Farm. If he is related to this family there is a clear conflict of interest for he should have recused himself from all discussions regarding this. This could be a serious ethical issue, if not illegal. The Committee went into a special executive session that night to discuss this purchase. People waited until after midnight to get the Committee's decision. Pam was the only one to vote against the ordinance.

  12. >Gran McCormack is Geraldine Scharfenberger's mother.I had heard that he and his family were living there. I am aware of King's Court residence. Perhaps it was sa temporary thing for construction or something. Regardless, the whole payoff thing sounds fishy.

  13. >According to Middletown's open public tax records there is an address on King's Court currently for him.Check the Data Universe/New Jersy property owners for current update on the info/Interesting but just true to form regarding the situation if true.

  14. >Intellus indicates Margaret Mac Cormack is a relative to the TC member's wife. Seems that clearly does point a finger at his actions. Since when did ethics,honesty,integrity or anything else ever play a role in decisions this man makes ?

  15. >This latest scandal involving Scharfy continues to make me wonder about the intelligence of the voters in this town.I'm not a big fan of Brightbill, but I believe she is honest. No wonder she decided to quit.All of those who say they regret voting Scharfy in again should try and redeem themselves. Don't vote for another Republican until Scharfy is gone. The man is intellectually dishonest and morally corrupt.

  16. >It's about time for the republicans in this town to do something about Sharfenberger unless they are all corrupt and dishonest and morally bankrupt.Actions speak louder than words so prove what you are Peter & Co.. You are either part of the solution or YOU ALL ARE THE PROBLEM !!

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