Category Archives: Library Reserves

Presidency of Middletown Library Board sought by new Board member; Proof of Politicalization

By guest blogger Linda Baum

Last Wednesday’s Library Board meeting (1/18/12) started at 7:00 p.m. and ran over four and a half hours. This was the first meeting of the new 9-member Board, five of whom are new appointees.

Sixteen members of the public attended the meeting, in whole or in part, and it was a veritable “who’s who” of the Republican Party. Among others, there were Committeeman and former Library Board member Kevin Settembrino, Committeeman and Deputy Mayor Steve Massell, Emil Wrede (TOMSA Board), James Hinkley (TOMSA Board), Tristen Nelsen (former Township Committee candidate), and some others sitting with them. I caught what I can only describe as “knowing” glances that told me many there were not strangers to each other. I leave to you to decide whether their purpose in attending was to support, to intimidate, or simply to be informed.

There were some regular folks at the meeting, too – we were discernable by our much more casual clothing.

Things began on a cordial note, with introductions and brief backgrounds. That was followed by a discussion of expenses and service contracts, which I’ll address in a separate post. Overall, the new Board members were very critical of Library operations, even accusatory.

When it was time for the election of 2012 officers, Ms. Sherry Miloscia presented the Nominating Committee’s recommendation of Mr. Randall Gabrielan as president, Ms. Vivian Breen as vice president, and Ms. Marjorie Cavalier as treasurer. There was no recommendation for the office of secretary because the original nominee, Ms. Rachel Raymond, the School Superintendent’s alternate for the prior year, was not reappointed to the Board for 2012. Ms. Miloscia found that out just five days before this meeting and had then contacted new Board member Lawrence Nelsen to offer him the role of secretary, but he turned it down, saying he didn’t feel qualified.

Committeewoman Stephanie Murray took issue with the use of a Nominating Committee – commonly used by many boards – and was fast to make her own nomination when informed that taking additional nominations from the floor was routine procedure. She started right at the top, recommending newcomer Lawrence Nelsen for president. She turned to him and said, “Would you do it? Would you do this?,” as if it had never been discussed. He agreed, of course, and didn’t seem surprised, but many of the public attendees were amazed at the audacity.

Ms. Miloscia asked Mr. Nelsen why he felt qualified to be president when he said he didn’t feel qualified enough to be secretary. Mr. Nelsen denied saying that. “Yes you did,” she replied.

Ms. Murray felt that a person with a financial background should be president — Mr. Nelsen is an accountant. Others pointed out that the treasurer’s position would be a good place for an accountant concerned with finances to start. The treasurer’s position was available, but Mr. Nelsen wasn’t interested in it.

The reasoning that the Board needs a president with financial experience is not supported if you consider that the Library Board drafted and approved a budget that, despite a reduction in the Township appropriation, still managed to maintain services, employment and most materials.

Something I think was being overlooked is that Board membership provides each trustee the opportunity to oversee operations, whether that person is an officer or not. That participation is precisely the reason given by the Township for expanding the Board.

New Board member Michael Convery asked, “Why do you think Larry can’t be president?” The experienced Board members explained that the position of president requires a lot of knowledge and a lot of time, and that the need to provide guidance to an inexperienced person would put an unfair burden on the Library Director. The many answers and lengthy explanations Ms. O’Neal was required to provide to the new members at this Board meeting is evidence of that.

In short, having an inexperienced person as Board president could hamper Library operations. Therefore, the new trustees did not appear to be acting in the best interest of the Library.

It was suggested that the new members could consult with any respected source, including the New Jersey Library Association, and would be told of the importance of experienced leadership.

I wondered what the president’s rights and responsibilities are that made the position so sought after. I have been provided this explanation:

The president is the first among equals as the Board’s link to the Director on situations where library operations meet library policy, which is set by the Board. The president is the primary Board source for the Director on matters of economic, political, social, employment and legal concerns that impact the library. It is important that the president recognize and honor the distinction between the Trustee’s role of oversight and the Director’s role of management and that the president not attempt to interfere in library operations. In order to fulfill this role, it is essential that the president be knowledgeable and experienced in these matters, qualities that have become even more important in today’s challenging environment.

Also, I am told that the president’s role at meetings is similar to the mayor’s — he sets the tone and guides discussion but has an equal vote.

Ms. Breen pointed out to Ms. Murray that she would not expect to be mayor her first year as a committeewoman. She replied, “No, and I wouldn’t want to,” but seemed to miss the point that Mr. Nelsen was too inexperienced to be president.

The new Board members expressed concern about Mr. Gabrielan’s length of service as president, made reference to the size of the budget, and fell just shy of accusing him of wrong doing. The criticism was unfounded, in my opinion. It was an unfair attack on the character of a man who is well-regarded as a dedicated servant. But that accusatory tone underscored the meeting. Later on, Mr. Nelsen twice referenced Bernie Madoff. That comment offended many of us.

The new members also expressed some frustration with the materials they were provided and felt some information was missing. That drew a sharp response from the others, who asked what they were referring to. The Library Director did her best to explain the information provided and some differences between business in January and the other months of the year.

A woman sitting near me who was a former library employee felt strongly that the problem was that the new Board members were unfamiliar with library operations.

It seemed to me there was a lot of posturing going on by the new members. Last year the Library was villanized, and it seems the stage is being set for that again. I am reminded of that saying that the truth of an accusation doesn’t matter because the damage is done when the accusation is made.

Perhaps in an attempt to quell the accusation and argument, Ms. Breen suggested making Mr. Nelsen vice president. I thought that was a generous concession considering his lack of experience with library matters.

Mr. Convery asked if the election of officers needed to take place right then and was told that there was a need to have officers in place for financial matters and for continuity of operations. The Library’s by-laws call for elections at the January reorganization meeting because terms expire then. (Note that the Township Committee elects its officers in January as well.)

In the end, Mr. Gabrielan was elected president by a vote of 5 to 4. The four new Board members voted as a block for Mr. Nelsen. The deciding vote for Mr. Gabrielan was cast by new Board member Cynthia Wilson, the School Superintendent’s appointee.

While Mr. Convery said that his reason for wanting to delay the vote was to get to know people before voting, I wonder if that was his motive. Had the vote been delayed until the end of the meeting, for example, the outcome would have been different because two of the Board members who voted for Mr. Gabrielan didn’t stay for the whole meeting. Those early departures, at this meeting or any future meeting, change the make-up of the Board. Late arrivals or absences would have the same effect.

After the debate over the presidency, the other officers were selected quickly. Mr. Nelsen was elected vice president; Ms. Cavalier was elected treasurer, and Ms. Breen secretary – each held the same post last year.

As vice president, Mr. Nelsen will run meetings in the absence of Mr. Gabrielan, who has had a near perfect attendance record. Also, the VP title puts Mr. Nelsen in line for the presidency in 2013, when he is certain to get it because the new Board members will have the five votes they need next year with the Township’s replacement of Ms. Miloscia, whose term expires at the end of this year.

With one more voice, the Township’s new appointees will be able to elect to any office any candidate they choose, award contracts as they choose, make employment decisions, and unrestrict any amount of Library reserves for Township use.

Leave a comment

Filed under Board of Trustees, Lawrence Nelsen, Library Reserves, Middletown Library, Randall Gabrielan, Republican Party, surplus funds, TOMSA, Tristan Nelsen

>An Eyewitness Account Of How The Middletown Library Board Gave In

>By guest blogger Linda Baum

There were only about twenty attendees at Wednesday’s meeting of the Middletown Library Board, a fraction of the crowd that showed up last month. Aside from Committeeman Settembrino, who is on the Library Board, no one from the Township was there. And the mood was different. It was calm, and everyone was polite. I took that as a bad sign.

A handful of people spoke during the public portion at the start of the meeting.

One woman brought up Brian Nelson’s comment at the meeting last month that he had personally lobbied the NJ legislature for the new law that requires public libraries to give part of their surplus to towns. Brian Nelson is Town Attorney. The woman said she found it disturbing that he was being paid with tax dollars to do this. Mr. Settembrino responded that Mr. Nelson has other clients besides Middletown, but of course he failed to mention that many, if not most, of those clients are other towns and the county. So, essentially, Mr. Nelson was paid with tax dollars to do something that most taxpayers don’t support.

Jim Grenafege and I had a common message, that the Township has a history of mismanaging tax dollars, either ignoring problems or responding to slowly or inadequately. Add to that a history of nondisclosure and bad financial decisions – bad for the taxpayers, anyway — and it’s no small wonder they are looking for rescue now. My take is that if the Township is looking for a handout, the Town Committee needs to show that they have prudently managed the funds already in their charge. There is much evidence to the contrary, and I will get into all of that another time.

Right off the bat, Board President Gabrielan made a motion to give the town $250,000, half the amount that administrators and attorneys had come up with. Only he and Board VP Milne voted yes on the motion, and it failed 5 to 2.

At least one Board member expressed concern that much time had already been spent on discussion by the administrators and attorneys, who were charged with arriving at a figure. Mr. Gabrielan pointed out that they were not also charged with voting for the Board. Mr. Gabrielan felt the negotiations did not accurately represent facts or address concerns, and said that information could be presented in any manner to achieve a desired result. And with that, the sentiment from the last meeting reared its head.

Other Board members seemed just to want to get this issue behind them and get on with other library business. The Board members felt the need to agree to an amount to the town’s liking in order to be insulated from such attacks for the remainder of 2011 and to protect the library from the threat of transfer to the county system, a threat Mr. Gabrielan noted was without merit.

“Tax relief” was a handy feel-good phrase. It had to be obvious to everyone just how little relief the money would provide. I suspect the Board had an eye to how they would be painted in the press. In fact – if I heard right — a joint press release was part of the negotiated agreement.

There was also considerable concern about the town’s plan to handle the parking lot expansion on behalf of the library as part of the giveback, while still expecting the library to pay the debt service on a bond for the work. The issue, of course, was that the library should not have to pay anything after the giveback, which includes funds that were earmarked for the construction. I am not sure how this was resolved. I think the town backed down, and in the end it was agreed that after the giveback, the library would owe nothing more to the town for the lot construction.

After all was said and done, the Board voted to give just short of $500,000 to the town.

I stayed until the end, just me and two members of the press. There was a second public comment period at that time. I was the lone speaker. I felt the need to point out that the lot construction arrangement was not a good thing for taxpayers because the town would be using the library’s money for some other purpose and then bonding for the construction. That will burden taxpayers with additional unnecessary debt that we would not have had if the library handled the work itself. And it will be yet another reason why the town will be back before the Library Board next year and the year after crying for more money.

4 Comments

Filed under Board of Trustees, budget surplus, Library Reserves, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Middletown Township Committee, surplus funds, tax increase

>Integrity and Independence Of Middletown Library Is Now And Forevermore Compromised

>By now most everyone who is interested, knows about the outcome of Wednesday night’s Middletown Library Board meeting. After much bantering, chest beating and ideal threats by members of the Township Committee toward those who sit on the Middletown Library Board of Trustees, the members of the board decided that it was better to cave into Township demands than risk their positions as board members. By a 5 to 2 vote members of the Library Board of Trustees decided to handover nearly $500,000 worth of surplus and reserved funds to the Township, even though it may compromise the Library at a later date.

I’ve been asked by a number of people what my thought’s and feelings are about what transpired Wednesday night but I wasn’t in attendance, I worked late and couldn’t make it home in time, but after speaking with a few people that were there and reading the accounts of the meeting online at the Asbury Park Press, Redbankgreen.com and Middletown patch.com, I’ve read and heard enough to form an opinion.

I think that the integrity and independence of the Middletown Library and it’s current Board of Trustees has now and forevermore been compromised due to their majority decision of support, to handover reserved funds to the Township for little more than a veiled promise of not turning the operations of the Library over to Monmouth County and not seeking anymore funds from the Library for the rest of 2011.
Remember this controversy came to light because Library Treasurer and Trustee Sherry Miloscia, sent out an impassioned email back on February 11th to library supporters that went viral, stating that the Township had made threats against the library and it’s Board of Trustees if they refused to hand over $1.2 million from the coffers, even though most of the money in question was restricted and not really surplus.
After that a war of words exploded between Mayor Fiore and Library Director Susan O’Neal, each releasing statements before the February 16th Library Board meeting in which the Township wanted an answer as to how much funds they could extort, I mean expect, from the Library.
That meeting was heavily attended and many of those in attendance made impassioned pleas of their own in support of the library, it seemed that the Board of Trustees were energized and encouraged by the show of support, to stand firm against handing over anymore funds to the Township than was legally required. Unfortunately however, the firmness of the Trustees seemed to wain over the weeks as fewer supporters turned out to voice concerns at subsequent Township Committee and Library Board meetings, ultimately ending with the outcome as reported.
In succumbing to the pressure of the Township Committee, those members of the Board of Trustees that voted to hand over reserved funds over and above the verified surplus, giving all but $66,000 to the Township, broke their vow to individuals that had donated private funds in support of the library, that wished to see their endowments used for the enrichment of the library, not the Township Committee.
I suppose though that’s OK seeing how the Township has promised to fund, through bonding, projects that the Library already had the funds to pay for upfront and will now be required to reimburse the Township for afterwards, like the parking lot expansion and solar panel projects that the Library already started planning for and spent money on.
What incentive does the Library Board of Trustees now have to save and run the library prudently or build surplus funds for capital projects and rainy day items like new computers or furnishing for the comfort and enjoyment of their customers, the Middletown residents? None I would say, because anytime that perceived funds exist that seem to be over and above the legal amount set by the state in which the library can hold in surplus, the Middletown Committee will be looking to confiscate it. And with this being the case, why would any private individual donate funds to the Middletown library every again? A fundraiser for the library you say, well good luck with that. No one in their right mind could ever support such a thing again.
The only two Board Trustees that I can honestly say came out off this situation with their integrity intact are Board President and Vice President Randal Gabrielan and Gregory Milne. They opposed this transfer of funds on the grounds that it was excessive and would compromise the Library down the road.
They didn’t roll over out of fear of losing their board positions, like a few of the people I talked to suggested the other board members had.
Gabrielan and Milne were not impressed and didn’t feel threatened by fellow Board Trustee, Township Committeeman Kevin Settembrino, with his silver and slippery tongue. They understand the consequence that this action represents, which is that forevermore, the library will no longer be seen as an independent entity, free from political preying hands and political whims of those that run the Township.
I wouldn’t be surprised by the fact that when Randal Gabrielan and Gregory Milne’s terms expire as Library Trustees, they will not be re-appointed. Current Township Committee members made that abundantly clear when they expressed displeasure with Trustees on the night of February 16th, when those members made statements to the effect that they had appointed the trustees to the the library board and they were shocked by the trustees behavior.
Time will tell whether or not the Library Board of Trustees made the right decision in selling out to the Township. Everyone knows that the Township Committee is short sighted in many of thing that they do, this money grab is no different, next year and the year after that, and the year after that, Middletown will still be looking at structural problems within its operating budget with nowhere else left to turn.

2 Comments

Filed under Asbury Park Press, Kevin Settembrino, Library Reserves, Middletown Library, Middletown Patch, RedBankGreen.com, surplus funds, Susan O'Neal, Tony Fiore

>Library Board Meeting Tonight; Update Issued For Library Supporters

>Middletown Library Director Susan O’Neal has posted the following update on the Middletown Township Library’s website in advance of tonight’s Library Board meeting, where it is presumed that an answer will be forthcoming on how much, if any, reserved library funds will be transfered to the Township to help offset the Topwnship’s budget deficit:

The next meeting of the Library Board is Wednesday, March 16, at 7:00 p.m. This is, of course, a public meeting. The issues of the last two months, specifically the library making a contribution to the Township for the 2011 budget, and the terms of same, have been in negotiations since the last meeting. Last week, to our surprise, the Township Administrator and Attorney revealed to the press the amount of money they are asking for, $500,000. There are other terms which are still part of the negotiations. I can tell you that these are viewed as protections for the library from some of the threats that have been publically made. I cannot say, in truth, whether there is an agreement that will be struck by Wednesday night or not, but the Library is cautiously optimistic, and has given over much time and deliberation to the process.


If the Library transfers funds to the Township of Middletown, there are strict procedures stated in the law that must be followed, among these are the Library must prepare an Annual Report on the state of the library, it must submit a three year Technology Plan and a three year Strategic Plan. These last two plans are submitted to the NJ State Library for approval. Once these plans are approved, the Library can apply to the NJ State Library for the transfer to take place. The State Librarian has 45 days to approve or deny the transfer. These procedures were developed in tandem with the Department of Community Affairs, which oversees all municipal budgets in the State of New Jersey.

The intent of all this is to ensure that the library has sufficient funds remaining for current year operations and for the future plans it has adopted. In fact, an early version of the law was vetoed by Gov. Christie, because he saw that the safeguard provisions for the local libraries needed to be improved in the bills that were passed. If the Middletown Township Library Board of Trustees does decide to transfer monies to the Township, it is committed to following these procedures accurately and completely.

Once the terms have been negotiated and an agreement has been made, the Trustees desire is that a joint announcement of the terms will be made available to the public.

You are, of course, welcome to attend the upcoming Board Meeting when the agreement, if done, comes before the entire Board of Trustees for a vote.

17 Comments

Filed under 2011 budget, Board of Trustees, Gov. Chris Christie, Library Reserves, Middletown Library, Middletown Township Committee, NJ State Library, surplus funds, Susan O'Neal

>Arrogance Prevails In Audio Of Library Director’s Address In Front Of Middletown Committee

>It’s been almost week now since the last Middletown Township Committee meeting took place and the controversy over reserved library funds have not died down, if anything as the calendar gets closer to March 15th and the Middletown Township Committee needs to produce a proposed budget to the State, the rhetoric could heat up even more than it already has.

As I stated in an earlier post, during public comments at last weeks Township Committee meeting, Library Director Susan O’Neal, spoke about the virtues of the library and attempted to talk about the perceived surplus funds that the Township insists are available for it’s taking, but when she was badgered and talked down to rather arrogantly by appointed mayor Tony Fiore, she ended the discussion and sat down.

Fiore was waving in the air a piece of paper that he claimed was a 2008 MTPL Foundation IRS 990 form that showed the Library held in excess of $350,000 (but he didn’t present it to O’Neal), he wanted to know how much was currently in this account. O’Neal stated that she thought there was $35,000 available as per the 2010 IRS 990 form. Fiore then wanted to know what happened to the surplus funds, what were they used for?

Ms. O’Neal said that NO portion of municipal funds are included in the Library’s surplus, at which point Township Attorney Brain Nelson, attempting to interject himself into the conversation, rose from his chair next to the Mayor waved his finger at O’Neal and said that her statement was false.

It was at this point that Director O’Neal ended her discussion, probably feeling somewhat frustrated and intimidated by the aggression shown to her by both Tony Fiore and his “goon” Attorney Brian Nelson.

The below 10 minute audio clip is from Tuesday night’s meeting and captures Susan O’Neal’s entire 10 minute address in front of Township Committee. To hear the exchange between Tony Fiore, Susan O’Neal and Nelson as described above, you will need to advance the audio to about the 7:50 mark.

It doesn’t shed a very good light on Fiore or Nelson,it just adds to the perspective that Township Committee and it’s attorney are arrogant and don’t care to hear about the truth or worry about how they chose to intimidate others when they have their minds made up.

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

6 Comments

Filed under Brian Nelson, budget deficit, Library Reserves, Middletown Library, Middletown Township Committee, surplus funds, Susan O'Neal, Tony Fiore

>Library Director Issues Update On Library Reserves Issue

>Middletown Library Director Susan O’Neal, earlier today posted the following update on the issue of Library Reserve funds on the main page of the Middletown Township Library’s website:

The Library “giveback” issue is now so full of rumors that it is difficult to know where to begin. One of the troubling issues is that some are casting the library as uncooperative. Not true.

So, I’ll start with last year, when members of the Township Committee, Pam Brightbill and Sean Byrnes came to library board meetings and asked the Trustees to consider giving some of its reserves to the town. The Trustees listened, and made a quick response to sponsor one of the summer concerts of the Parks & Recreation Department. We followed up with a letter to the Mayor [dated June 10,2010] indicating the Board’s willingness to provide some assistance, and asked four questions which were germane to the Board’s deliberations. There was no response to the letter [which we will post on this website] These questions were not answered by August, when Mayor Scharfenberger attended the library board meeting, and he was asked again for a response. None followed, and the library pressed on in memos and finally, in November, a meeting was held with Library Trustees, Mr. Mercantante and Mr. Trascente. But questions of the Board were not completely answered. In fact, the inability of the library to get any reconciliation of the small budget surplus of 2008 and 2009 kept our 2010 budget in flux for the entire year. And, without the information it asked for, the Trustees could not make an informed decision about making a contribution to help the Township.

So now we get to late 2010, and the law on libraries returning some surpluses changes from libraries “may” return surpluses to “must” return surpluses that are not restricted for capital projects, or are from per capita state aid funds. Immediately, the request turned into a demand, and for much much more than the law would allow. By the library’s calculations of the official “Proposed Transfer Form” of monies, the Middletown Library has $262,453 in funds which must be returned.

The Trustees of the Library are negotiating in good faith with the Township on this matter and will do what they are able to do legally.

Susan O’Neal, Director

p.s. By the way, the NJ State Library has informed us that ALL of the dozen or so libraries that have given back funds to their municipalities have followed the procedures outlined in the law. The MTPL will do the same.





26 Comments

Filed under budget deficit, Library Reserves, Middletown Library, Middletown Township Committee, NJ State Library, surplus funds, Susan O'Neal