Category Archives: Board of Trustees

Letter: No Trustee Appointments

The following letter was received from Mr. Bob Latsch

A recent article in the Asbury Park Press stated that two appointees will be added to the Middletown Township Public Library’s Board of Trustees. Once before the Township Committee absconded with library funds to fill a hole in the township’s budget deficit. The voters as usual had nothing to say about this! Why?

Now with two trustee appointments along with the first current appointment, lets the mayor have voting control, control enough to take taxpayer funds as needed. These two appointees will not for the betterment of the Library, no they are there to control for Committee and Mayor not the Library or cardholders.
Trustees such as the last appointee are there at the behest of the mayor to do his bidding, appointments should not be. The right way is to have the library select the trustees then the public vote to accept or not.
The Middletown Public Library is just that, public for all. It is not a bank or cookie jar for the mayor to take from for holes in his budget. The appointed cronies have to go, let the voting public decide on trusteeship.
Bob Latsch
Belford, NJ

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Filed under Belford NJ, Board of Trustees, letter to the editor, Middletown Library, trustee appointments

Middletown Library Will Adhere To State Guidlines For The Selection Of Board Attorney

I think your readers should be aware that the Library follows the purchasing laws of the State for selecting all of its vendors and service providers. No one’s expressed “interest” in doing business with the library can supersede this process, or weigh the outcome.

The library puts out an annual Request for Proposal [RFP] for legal services, and the award is made to a firm/or individual within firm, based upon meeting the published criteria. The RFPs are available to the public via the library’s web page. http://www.mtpl.org This is the approved process, following the purchasing laws of the State of NJ.

It is unusual for the name of a prospective respondent to an RFP to be made public, as it was in the case of Linda Baum’s blog, but she had asked our Administrative Secretary a direct question about the identity of Mr. Leahy, and she received an accurate answer. Ms. Latona is not the “Library Administrator” as those responsibilities are mine alone.

The full body of the Board of Trustees will evaluate the responses to each RFP and make the decisions on the awards. It is not incorrect to use the words “appointed” for the legal counsel position, but the context should be that such appointment is made following the required legal process. It is possible that, due to timing issues, the selection of legal counsel for 2012 may be deferred to the February meeting, but I won’t know that for sure until I see how many responses we have, and how detailed they are, and, of course, what the will of the Board is in this regard.

Susan O’Neal, M.S.L.S.

Director
Middletown Township Public Library
55 New Monmouth Road
Middletown, NJ 07748

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Filed under Board of Trustees, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Request for Proposal (RFP), Richard Leahey, Susan O'Neal

Attorney representing TOMSA and the Township also seeks appointment as Library Attorney at the January 18th Meeting of the Library Board

by guest blogger Linda Baum

In my 12/19/11 post, “Middletown Sewerage Authority (TOMSA) Board Member Soon To Join The Library Board??”, I mentioned there was an attendee at the 12/14/11 Library Board meeting whom I recognized from the TOMSA Board meetings. I didn’t know his name and he wouldn’t provide it. I speculated that he was one of the new Library Board appointees.

That man was also in attendance at the January 1st Township Reorganization Meeting, and I heard someone call him “Rich”. I’ve learned he is Richard Leahey, TOMSA attorney. Mr. Leahey — spelled also as “Leahy” on some Township resolutions — received several Township appointments for 2012, including Workers Compensation Counsel and Tax Appeals Counsel. In addition, Mr. Leahey works for Bernard Reilly’s law firm, which was awarded a Township contract to provide legal services as Conflicts Counsel. Bernard Reilly’s name should be familiar. Mr. Reilly, a prominent member of the republican party, is former Township attorney and is currently representing the owners of the Avaya site.

As it turns out, Richard Leahey is not one of the four people appointed by the Township to the Library Board. The School Superintendent’s appointee is still unknown but I’m told that historically the person selected is an educator. The Township appointees are Committeewoman Stephanie Murray (the mayor’s alternate replacing Committeeman Kevin Settembrino), Brock Siebert, Larry Nelsen, and Michael Convery, all registered republicans.

In my December 19th post, I mentioned that Mr. Leahey, then un-named, had visited the Library the day before the 12/14 Library Board meeting to obtain a copy of a resolution. He didn’t provide his name, or his motive, to Library staff at that time. I telephoned the Library last week to find out which resolution he requested and to provide them his name. I spoke to Wendy Latona, Library Administrator, who said she already knew his name because Mr. Leahey had come in to the Library a second time after the 12/14 Board meeting to introduce himself and express his interest in being appointed Library attorney. The resolution he requested provided some specifications for that role.

That I didn’t see coming. The conflicts of interest are numerous, and I am amazed that Mr. Leahey is so ethically challenged as to overlook them or to expect that the Library trustees would. It is not a secret that the Township Committee and the Library Board have been placed in an adversarial position as a result of what transpired last year. If Mr. Leahey has an eye on retaining his coveted Township appointments, how can he be counted on to fairly represent the Library’s interests? And is it proper that Mr. Leahey should represent both the Library and TOMSA, whose funds are also of interest to the Township, when more monies transferred to the Township by one client may mean less required by the other?

Maybe Richard Leahey knows something that we don’t know about his chances for appointment. I think he must or he would not have applied for the job in the first place. My concern is that the newly re-configured Library Board will appoint Mr. Leahey, regardless. If they do, it adds a whole new dimension to the game plan by Township officials where Library money is concerned. The first move was appointing a sitting Township Committee member as a Library trustee – that person cannot act in the best interests of both the Township and the Library. The second was politicizing the Board by appointing close party ties and increasing the Board’s size in a bid to gain control. Now, if Mr. Leahey is appointed as Library attorney, we can add pocket-lining to the list of offenses.

I’m told that the resolution Mr. Leahey requested specifies that legal experience with library matters is a criteria for appointment. If he doesn’t have that experience, it is enough to prevent his appointment, the conflicts aside. But Mr. Leahey must feel he is qualified, or else he would not have visited the Library a second time to formally present himself.

The Library Board holds its annual reorganization at its regular meeting on Wednesday, January 18th at 7:00 p.m. If you can attend, please do. There should be a strong public presence there to watch how this all plays out.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Middletown NJ, Richard Leahey, TOMSA

Recommended Reading; APP: Exiting freeholder Amy Mallet pledges to stay involved, seeks seat on Brookdale board

If you haven’t read today’s edition of the Asbury Park Press jut yet, allow me to recommend the feature on the outgoing Monmouth County Freeholder Amy Mallet. After reading I think you’ll agree, Monmouth County is about to lose a wonderful public servant.

It’s a well written piece that highlights not only Amy Mallet’s accomplishments as a Freeholder, but shows also how respected she was by others on the board, there are a couple of very nice comments attributed to John Curly and Thomas Arnone towards her.
Freeholder Mallet stated in the article that she doesn’t have any plans to seek office again this November but expressed her desire to be appointed to the Brookdale Community College Board of Trustees, where there are 3 open seats waiting to be filled.
I think she would be terrific in that capacity and I hope that politics doesn’t come into play with 3 seats on the board needing to be filled, remeber how she was out in front last year calling for the resignations of those responsible for the scandal that rocked Brookdale and forced College President Peter Burnham to resign and other to step down from the board of trustees.
Whatever the future holds for Freeholder Mallet, I wish her nothing but the best of luck pursuing her endeavors. I feel privileged to have gotten to know her over the past 4 years and know that she will be successful in which ever path she chooses to stroll down.

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Filed under Asbury Park Press, Board of Trustees, Brookdale Community College, Freeholder Amy Mallet, reorganization

Quote Of The Day #2: “You can say it’s political…”

Our second quote of the day comes from newly reappointed Middletown Mayor Tony Fiore, from statements made to reporter Kevin Penton in todays Asbury Park Press concerning the appointments of members to (or lack thereof) the Middletown Human Rights Commission and its former Chairperson Carolyn Scwhebel.

“You can say it’s political, you can say it’s personal choice,” Fiore said. “She doesn’t work well with the town.”

Mrs. Scwhebel recently sent a letter to the editor, Middletown Human Rights Commission Being Abolished by Attrition, to local publication (this blog included) that expressed her concerns at not being reappointed to the commission.

And when you consider what went on during the last Township Committee meeting of 2011 back on Dec.19th, Fiore’s comments only reinforce what I wrote about in the post Political Affiliations Over Participation Matter More When It Comes To Board Appointments, when discussing an appointment to the Middletown Library Board (listen to the audio).

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Filed under Asbury Park Press, blog, Board of Trustees, Carolyn Schwebel, kevin penton, Middletown Human Rights Commission, Middletown Library, Quote of the day, Tony Fiore

Political Affiliations Over Participation Matter More When It Comes To Board Appointments

Due to my work schedule I can’t make as many Township Committee meeting as I would like, but when I do have to opportunity to attend a meeting I usually walk away enlightened, though usually not in a way that people would expect. I often walk away shaking my head because often those that sit up on the dais, both elected and appointed, show their contempt and arrogance for anyone that disagrees with them.

I have witnessed more than once, the shameful display of eye-rolling, sneers, snickering, laughter and outright contempt directed at those who express concerns that run contrary to what those on the dais feel or believe. Many times, instead of allowing a person to speak they are cut-off in mid-sentence and berated the likes of Tony Fiore or the Township Attorney Brian Nelson, and because an argument often ensues the speakers points go unaddressed.
During the Dec. 19th public hearing on Ordinance 2011-3048, the ordinance to expand the Middletown Library Board of Trustees, much of the same behavior was witnessed being directed at two who spoke against the expansion of the board of trustees. Only this time, Tony Fiore inadvertently admitted what many throughout Middletown already know,that is unless you are a loyal Republican you have no chance of having your concerns or opinions truly addressed or heard and unless you are someone that would have voted for him or others on the dais in an election, you have virtually no chance whatsoever of being able to participate on various boards or commissions that are sponsored by the Township.
Here’s the proof to back up my point; during the hearing Ms. Linda Baum, who has been very critical of the Township Committee, its members and their practices was addressing her concerns and disapproval of the ordinance. During much of this time, she was often interrupted by Tony Fiore and told that what she was saying was not relevant (even though it went to the heart of the matter for the reason for expanding the board of trustees) and when she reiterated the thoughts of another speaker, Melanie Elmiger, about politicizing the process for appointments, Ms. Baum stated how she had applied for one of the new appointments to the Library’s Board of Trustees but didn’t expect to get it because of her party affiliation (Ms.Baum is a register Democrat), at which point Fiore basically agreed. Ms. Baum continued her discussion by stating that active participation matters and that those that participate by going to meetings and paying attention to what goes on at said meetings, should have a higher priority for consideration when it come to appointments to the various boards that individuals take the time and interest to attend meetings for. She stated that those people would have a better understand of what goes on then those that have never attended a meeting before.
Somehow though, Tony Fiore disagreed with that logic and said that it wasn’t necessarily the case.
Below is an excerpt from the current edition of “It’s Your Town” newsletter that documented the exchange between Fiore and Baum along with a brief audio clip that captures some of the exchange between the two.
The audio is just enough to support my point about the arrogance of those that represent Middletown residents on the Township Committee and the blatant partisan politics that they play:

“…She said she wanted to repeat what Ms. Elmiger said earlier relating to the political appointments as a method of selection. She said she applied to be appointed to the Library Board but did not

expect to be appointed because of party affiliation. Mr. Fiore said that Ms. Baum had as much of a chance of being appointed to the Library Board as he had in having her vote for him in the election. Ms. Baum said that participation matters and they should think about who attends the Library meetings because they would be up on what is going on. Mr. Fiore said that is not always the case…”

http://www.archive.org/flow/flowplayer.commercial-3.2.1.swf

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Filed under Board of Trustees, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Middletown Township Committee, partisan politics, party affiliation, public hearing, Tony Fiore

Dec 19th Hearing on the Ordinance Adding Two Additional Trustees to the Library Board: M’town Patch & Independent articles contain inaccuracies

By guest blogger Linda Baum

If you are a regular to Mike’s blog, by now you are well informed about the Library’s $500,000 transfer to the Township this year and the Town Committee’s plan to increase the number of Library trustees from 7 to 9 in 2012.

A public hearing on the Ordinance increasing Board membership was held at the Town Committee meeting on Monday, December 19th. Several reporters were present at the hearing. Mike Davis’s article in the Independent and Sue Morgan’s in the Middletown Patch were posted within a day or two. While they get points for timeliness, they lose some for accuracy.

Sue Morgan misstates the amount of the Library’s annual budget as $700K – it is $3.7M – but that is a minor error compared to the second to last sentence of her article. She wrote:

“Under an agreement hammered out by both the board and the committee, the township is now carrying the debt service on the library’s parking lot which recently underwent extensive repairs, the mayor added.”

The statement is inaccurate in two ways. As far as I know, there was no major work done to the lot recently, and the Library did not proceed with its lot expansion. Further, per the agreement this year between the Library and the Township, the Library has only two options for covering the cost of its capital improvements – they can pay cash or they can make the debt service payments on bonds (or notes) issued by the Township.

I don’t recall Mayor Fiore making the statement as it reads in the Patch article, and I think it can be attributed to an intentionally misleading comment he made, as quoted in the Independent, about encompassing “some of [the Library’s] capital projects into [the Township’s] capital program, including their parking lot and solar projects.” That made it sound like the Township is paying, but there is no cost to the Township for either the lot expansion or the solar project, which is a power purchase arrangement that involves no capital outlay.

Both the Independent and Patch articles included comments made by both Melanie Elmiger and myself. Melanie presented her comments very well at the hearing and I think they were captured fairly accurately in the articles. However, I think some of what I said was misrepresented in the Independent.

I would like to set the record straight, so here is a recap of my comments at the hearing along with excerpts from the Independent where I feel Mike Davis missed the mark.

Mayor Fiore has been framing the increase in Library Board membership as just an increase in public participation, with no other motive. So if more participation is a good thing for the Library Board, I questioned why that isn’t also true for the Sewerage Authority (TOMSA) Board and for the Town Committee itself, both with just 5 members each controlling budgets of $9 million and $60 million, respectively. In contrast, the Library Board currently has 7 members, soon to be 9, overseeing a budget of $3.7 million.

My point was that the Town Committee’s stance about the need for more public participation on the Library Board runs counter to their stance about the participation levels on other boards & committees. (Keep in mind the Town Committee has resisted the formation of a finance committee that would increase public participation and oversight of its own activities.)

Mayor Fiore replied that TOMSA has 7 board members, and I was quick to correct him that it is a 5-member board with 2 alternates, where only 5 vote at any time. Fiore again insisted, incorrectly, that there are 7 members.

Besides the inconsistencies in board size, there are also inconsistencies in oversight. I compared the Township’s scrutiny of the Library’s budget and operations to its hands-off approach to TOMSA and said that a consistent policy was needed. Fiore said that they do oversee TOMSA and that the money TOMSA gave to the Township – $730K over the last two years – is proof of that. Ridiculous. As I see it, that handout could just as easily be interpreted as a concession to avoid scrutiny. Regardless, it certainly can’t be construed as proof of oversight.

(An aside: If the Town Committee is really overseeing TOMSA and is so gung ho about public participation, how is it the TOMSA Board was able to avoid the public’s eye recently by ignoring a legal mandate to publish notice of their budget hearing? And shouldn’t oversight of TOMSA’s budget entail elimination of unwarranted expenses, such as medical and pension benefits for Board members? The Township has sanctioned these costs!)

Mike Davis’s article contains some partial quotes, inaccuracies, and re-ordering of comments that, combined, miss the point I was trying to make. He describes my comments as follows:

“Public participation is a good thing. You see [that] nine members are needed to oversee a $3.8 million budget,” she said, also citing the seven members who make up the Township of Middletown Sewerage Authority.”

The Township Committee was not exempt, she said.

“Right now you have five people on the Township Committee controlling a $60 million budget. It seems to me you need a consistent policy here. If you’re going to watch one closely, watch them all closely,” Baum said.

I think that anyone reading that would have trouble following my logic. Also, he makes it sound like I’m arguing in favor of the two additional appointees to the Library Board, which I wasn’t. I’m against it given the current political environment, but I admit I may not have stated that outright. I didn’t organize my comments as well as Melanie did, so I can understand if there was confusion.

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Filed under Board of Directors, Board of Trustees, budget surplus, guest blogger, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Middletown NJ, Middletown Patch, public hearing, the Independent, TOMSA, Tony Fiore

The $500,000 Raid On The Middletown Library Won’t Be The Last

The Township Committee adds two additional Library Board members, sets the stage for majority control in 2012.

by guest blogger Linda Baum

A couple of months back, there was a rumor that the Township Committee intended to appoint two additional members to the Middletown Library Board, bringing the number of Board members from 7 to 9. (By comparison, keep in mind that the Township Committee consists of just 5 people.)

As it turns out, the rumor is true. At the Township Committee’s November 21, 2011 meeting, Ordinance 2011-3048 was introduced to add two new Library trustees. A public hearing on the Ordinance will be held at the Town Committee’s regular meeting on Monday, December 19, 2011 at 8:00 p.m.

Two of the existing Board members, Mr. Milne and Ms. Raymond, are up for re-appointment at year end, and another Board member was already booted and replaced with Committeeman Settembrino at the start of this year. Add to those three spots the two new ones, and that’s a 5-4 majority to do the Town Committee’s bidding. So it would seem our mayor and his fellow Town Committee members have no intention of stopping at half a million.

As many of you know, I regularly attend the Library Board meetings and have since February of this year. I’m the only member of the public who regularly attends. If the woman who frequented Board of Education meetings was seen as the natural pick for that Board, I figure that makes me the front runner for one of the two new spots on the Library Board, right??? So I am submitting to the Town my application for Library Board membership, a futile effort since I am not likely to be appointed. My guess is that the two new appointees, or likely four if Mr. Milne and Ms. Raymond are replaced, will be members of the Republican Party faithful who are already serving on one or more other boards or commissions. I guess we’ll find out on Township Reorganization Day.

To understand what these changes could mean, let me recap a little history. In a taxpayer-funded play in 2010, Township attorney Brian Nelson succeeded in having New Jersey law changed to require our municipal public library to relinquish to the Township a significant portion of its surplus. (Previously, the law allowed for the transfer of funds but there was no requirement.) Now, the Library can keep some surplus — an amount no more than 20% above the prior year’s budget — but has to fork over the rest, with some exceptions. Some Library monies are protected under the law and are not considered surplus, such as restricted reserves for capital projects.

You may recall that of the $500K taken from the Library this year, half was restricted reserves that the Township was not entitled to legally. That’s one of the reasons such a battle erupted. The Library trustees were out-maneuvered from the start and in the end most felt obligated to pay the full $500,000. It was not without recognizing the precarious financial condition it left the Library in.

Faced with the substantial reduction in funding, the combined result of the $500K raid and an overall revenue decline in line with lower assessments, the Library trustees have been diligent this year about reducing costs where feasible without disruption to services. However, success in reducing the operating budget also has the effect of reducing the amount of surplus that can be retained (20% of the budget), leaving more on the table to be taken by the Township. In addition, the trustees have had to balance the need to set aside reserves – for unexpected expenses or to compensate for annual fluctuations in revenue – against what they stand to lose. The greater the reserve, the more the Township can take.

At its November 16th meeting, the Library Board discussed moving $122,000 to the capital fund to save for the parking lot expansion. Restricting a portion of the reserves for capital projects is supposed to protect the money from seizure by the Township. It won’t. The Library Board need only vote to unrestrict the funds, as was done this year. While the current Board is not likely to do that a second time, the newly re-structured 9-member Board might, and the Town Committee can ensure that it will by appointing the “right” people to the Board.

Sadly, the result may be a Library Board that fails to act in the best interests of the Library.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, guest blogger, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Middletown NJ, reserved funds, resolutions and ordinances, surplus funds

Freeholder Amy Mallet; Brookdale Board of Trustees Needs Turnover

11/3/11 –

Today the Asbury Park Press printed an editorial titled “No New Terms for Two Trustees“. They were referring to the fact that two individuals on the Board of Trustees at Brookdale Community College have terms that are expiring soon. It is up to the Board of Chosen Freeholders to renew their terms for another four years or choose to replace them with other candidates.

It is my position to replace all members of the board who allowed the rubber stamping of contracts and budgets to pass with such minimal review. Freeholder Burry sees it differently… and her point of view is described by the APP as “mystifying”. Quoting directly from the press:
Burry said, “It’s so easy to get emotional and say, ‘throw all the bums out.’ That’s not emotion. That is simply common sense.”

Common sense also tells us that Freeholder Burry is not looking out for the best interests of Monmouth County. Until recently the attorney who represented Brookdale was, at the same time, Freeholder Burry’s campaign treasurer. It’s clear where her allegiance is… mine is to the people of Monmouth County.

I have been promoting term limits for Monmouth County’s seven autonomous boards, including Brookdale’s Board of Trustees. There are many organizations from churches to Girl Scouts to hospitals that have term limits for their boards. It promotes a healthy turnover and fresh ideas… it is simply common sense!

With the election coming this Tuesday, November 8, I hope you remember this when you go to the polls. Please cast your votes for my running mate, Bill Shea, and me so we can stand up for your needs. We put “People Before Politics”!

Sincerely,
Freeholder Amy Mallet

p.s. If you would like to see the editorial click here.

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Filed under Asbury Park Press, Board of Trustees, Brookdale Community College, Freeholder Amy Mallet, Lillian Burry, term limits

>What You Missed at the Middletown Library Board’s June 15th Meeting

>by guest blogger Linda Baum

It was just me again Wednesday night, a little discouraged that more people didn’t show up to support the library. Anyway, here’s what you missed in those 3 hours.

First, an update on the $500K transfer. Scheduled for this meeting was final review of the strategic plan and annual report to be submitted to the State Librarian, plus a required second vote by the Board as to whether or not to proceed with the transfer.

The Board’s review of the budget forecast began with Ms. O’Neal pointing out the obvious, that library funding would be painfully low for years to come. Ms. Miloscia asked, since they would be giving up a lot, if the town would recognize that gesture in the future when the library needs assistance as well. Initially, this struck me as a silly question because I think the town committee has made it clear in which direction they expect money to flow. But it has since occurred to me the Board has a perfect right to know what the arrangement with the town will be. Committeeman Settembrino gave a well rehearsed response free of promises. He said that he didn’t see why not, but mentioned non-starters like the tax cap and the changing leadership on the committee (which will still be republican-controlled next year, by the way). And as evidence of the town’s concern for the library, he pointed out that the town’s 2012 capital improvement plan already includes them (under this plan, the town issues the debt and the library pays the debt service). Ms. O’Neal asked if the Board would be forced to proceed, and she may have meant proceed with the lot construction, the funding arrangement, or both. No to all. The Board has the option to pay cash outright for the work, which presumably would allow them to make their own arrangements except for having to use T&M as engineer. Ms. Miloscia asked, “What if we don’t have the money to pay for it?” Kevin replied, “[That] will be a discussion for next year’s committee, but at this point I would say it doesn’t get accomplished unless it’s funded in accordance with the resolution.” Translation: The Board has 2 options, to make payments on the debt or pay cash for the work, but they should not expect the town to pay for it. For now, the parking lot expansion is a dead issue.

If you read my last post, you know that at the May Board meeting, Ms. O’Neal mentioned that the Board had not been satisfied with prior work done by T&M, who has been sanctioned by the town committee as the one-and-only engineer for all library capital improvements. I asked about that – i.e., what work was done by T&M and when was it done? Only Ms. O’Neal and Mr. Gabrielan spoke and they declined to discuss it, saying it was long ago and they have been assured that T&M would do a fine job. Needless to say, everyone seemed acutely aware that Committeeman Settembrino was in the room. Susan glanced often in his direction as she spoke. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see what kind of looks were being exchanged because my view of Kevin was blocked by the sound equipment.

Review of the Board’s strategic goals led to a discussion about the library in Charlotte, North Carolina, which was at one time among the best funded professional-level libraries in the country, but which had to close branches following a loss of funding and the leadership of its long-time director.

The plight of the Charlotte Library demonstrates why improving library volunteerism is an important goal. Public advocacy – our time and our money – becomes increasingly important when political advocacy and funding fall short. Got some free time? Or college-bound and looking for community service credit? Contact your local library.

The strategic plan and annual report were unanimously adopted by a vote of 7-0 (Resolution 2011-32).

When it came time to vote on the transfer itself (Resolution 2011-33), only Board president Randy Gabrielan took the opportunity to condemn the self-serving, deceptive tactics used by the town committee and to voice his frustration with his fellow trustees. It deserves repeat here:

“We saw the evolving fiscal condition of the library in March and it is here in clear black and white in the strategic plan. We would be imperiling the fiscal well being of this library over the next couple of years if we gave this money away. As far as I personally am concerned, the giveaway is tantamount to the township committee declaring war on its own library. The whole process as I see it is one of the mayor seeking to fulfill his short term political goals, the mayor and the committee not having done what they could have done with respect to cap exceptions and an exemption to meet their budgetary requirements, and they are putting their obligations on us. They did it by various threats, including holding hostage police jobs. Then after we passed our preliminary resolution in March, they’re going to other meetings still holding the same jobs at risk. I was against this in March. I’m against it now. I would have strongly counseled that we rescind our prior passage and vote this down, but unfortunately on the advice of counsel, it seems that our hands are tied. …but I insist that if we as a body don’t recognize what this is doing to the financial well being of the library, that at least the record demonstrates that.”

There was a full 15 seconds of silence after that. It felt like a memorial.

“It’s too much water under the bridge at this point to undo what’s been done.…This Board made a commitment to the township to do this,” said Mr. Milne. There was tacit agreement, and a roomful of downcast eyes. After hearing from Ms. O’Neal that even the Board’s lawyers thought that the Board did not have good legal standing at this point to back off, it was clear that the pending vote was little more than a formality. Resolution 2011-33 passed 6-1, with only Mr. Gabrielan dissenting.

I have to wonder if the town committee knew early on that the effect of railroading the Library Board into what was initially billed as non-binding negotiation would be to obligate them legally. Think back to the February Board meeting when Committeeman Settembrino pressed for a resolution to arrive at a number. The Board passed that resolution because they thought there was no harm in talking….

So now the matter will be passed along to the State Librarian, Norma Blake, for review. I heard somewhere that it could take up to 45 days for her decision. That doesn’t jive with the town committee’s plan to finalize their 2011 budget in early July. I asked Committeeman Settembrino how they expected to do that if the State Librarian hadn’t yet approved the transfer. The Board agreed with his assessment that all the documents were in order and that a quick response was expected from the State. Unfortunately, in line with regulations, the State Librarian reviews only the current year’s finances. Thus it is expected that the library’s budget shortfall for subsequent years will be ignored.

I asked Mr. Settembrino how the town would plug the $500K budget hole in the unlikely event the transfer was disapproved. He replied that the library board meeting wasn’t the right forum for that discussion, but he did clarify that the 2.99% tax hike (he said 2.99, not 2.9) reflects the 2% maximum increase within the cap.

Other business discussed at the meeting is as follows:

There was a slideshow presented by Dennis Kowal Architects, who recently completed a feasibility study for the renovation of the Lincroft branch, originally a 2-room schoolhouse built in 1906. The presentation was so packed with photos and sketches that if you’ve never been to the Lincroft branch, you’ll feel like you have. You can view the slideshow by clicking HERE

The good news is that the original structure is sound and can therefore be renovated. There is also ample parking since an overflow lot was added not long back. The renovation would include lots of energy efficiency upgrades while retaining existing wood floors and original hardware. A drawing of the architect’s proposed design is attached to this post. It includes a charming outdoor plaza-lounge created by sandwiching the front walkway between an existing structure and a new addition that would house new ADA-compliant bathrooms and an entry foyer. There is also a magazine lounge, a quiet study area, a contained children’s room (draft-free and no more runaways), and a fireside reading area complete with a gas-burning fireplace. If you live in Lincroft, you are probably filled with a sense of longing right now.

The project would cost roughly $650,000, not including new furniture, security and communication systems, architectural fees, or renovation to the basement storage area (filled with old municipal and police records). Add it all up, and the project budget would need to be in the range of $800 to $900K. And a caveat that the final design could change based on location of underground lines (the architect could not obtain a copy of the property survey).

The renovation probably won’t happen anytime soon because library funds are low for reasons we are all well aware of. The project might qualify for a matching New Jersey Historic Trust grant, but there is stiff competition for these grants, and Mr. Gabrielan, who is town historian in addition to being Library Board president, feels that the chance of getting the grant is slim. No decision has been made yet about how to proceed. The topic is slated for further discussion next month.

Ms. Cavalier asked if they knew how much financial support could be expected from the community. Susan said that $713K was donated for the 2004 renovation of the main branch, but only a small part of that was from Lincroft residents, who may be much more inclined to help fund their local branch. So be on the lookout for fundraisers!

If you are concerned about donating for fear your dollars will end up in the hands of the town, don’t worry. The Board was very clear that Library Foundation money is protected and is not part of the $500K transfer.

You may recall from a prior post that the Lincroft branch has termite damage in the entryway and is believed to have asbestos in the walls as well as lead-based paint. The architect didn’t test for hazardous materials and cautioned the board that if testing for hazmats is done, there is a legal requirement to remediate in line with test results. Susan advised that all paintable surfaces in the Lincroft branch were painted with latex paint in the last decade, so the lead-based paint poses no immediate concern. As for the termites, damage is supposedly concentrated in trim moulding rather than structural beams. The Board opted to wait and address these issues as part of the renovation.

Congratulations to Library Director Susan O’Neal, who is the NJ Library Association’s president-elect for coming fiscal year. “This is both a high honor and an awesome responsibility,” to quote Mr. Gabrielan. Susan’s name will be engraved on one of the silver-toned pages of a book-shaped locket to mark her achievement. The locket, a heavy piece made of gold and faience (tin-glazed ceramic), is the badge of office for NJLA presidents. Susan noted that the locket is actually too heavy to comfortably wear and reasoned that it was designed for a time when ladies wore much heavier clothing. A picture and history of the locket may soon appear on the library’s website.

In accordance with the Conover Whitol Scholarship guidelines, two graduate students enrolled in Rutgers’ library science program will receive $900 each toward the September term. Congratulations to recipients Debra Bodofsky and Elizabeth Edwards. (Resolution 2011-34, 7-0)

The Library welcomes back college student Stephanie Chadwick, who worked at the library last summer and is being re-hired part time for this year’s busy summer season. As a trained page, she is a valuable addition who can “hit the ground running”. (Resolution 2011-31, 7-0)

There was a first-time-ever theft of petty cash recently from the library’s Bayshore branch. The thief scored a negligible amount, and a lock-box will be added to deter future attempts. Yet another sign of the times.

Another topic concerned bill payments that have been held up by town administrator Tony Mercantante. In one instance, the requisition was for the payment of registration fees for a June conference that would provide training for five library assistants at a cost of $100 per person. The payment delay resulted in the registration deadline being missed, so the individuals couldn’t attend and will have to wait a year for the next conference. In another case, payment was denied for food expenses as part of conference attendance by a member of the library’s IT staff. Tony said the town doesn’t reimburse for food. However, the Library does. The Board felt this was unwarranted interference with Library operations. Mr. Gabrielan pointed out that the costs in question are normal outlays for staff development, benefit the library, and have been approved and budgeted for by the Board. Ms. Cavalier wondered if the problem was just ignorance (her word, not mine) on the part of the administrator.

In an effort to address the delays, Susan has contacted Mr. Mercantante, who feels he is within his authority. About a year ago, per Susan, Tony began asking for a written explanation for requisitions over $1000, but Susan said that the voucher, which is attached to the requisition, already lists that information, so to write it again is a duplication of effort for her. She said, “Anything over $1000 he sits on.” Part of the problem, Susan said, is that no one from the town contacts her when there is a question about an expense, so it doesn’t get addressed until she calls the town after there has already been a long delay. She’s wondered if maybe the slowness has to do with cash flow……

This was all news to Kevin, who said he’d look into it.

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Filed under ADA compliance, Board of Trustees, budget surplus, Lincroft branch, Lincroft NJ, Linda Baum, Middletown Library Feasibility study, Middletown NJ, restricted funds, slideshow, Susan O'Neal