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?
Category Archives: Board of Trustees
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.
Middletown Township Public Library
55 New Monmouth Road
Middletown, NJ 07748
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.
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.
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.
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.
“…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…”
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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”!
Freeholder Amy Mallet
p.s. If you would like to see the editorial click here.