Category Archives: Linda Baum

January 18th meeting of the Middletown Library Board sets the tone for the year. The Demands, the Numbers, and the Possibilities Part 3

by guest blogger Linda Baum

This is part 3 of my 3-part post on the 1/18/12 meeting of the Library Board. The next Library Board meeting is this Wednesday, February 15th at 7:30 p.m.

PURCHASING RESOLUTIONS — SERVICE CONTRACT FOR LIBRARY ATTORNEY

New Board member Michael Convery, an attorney, had many questions about the legality of resolutions and whether or not there was a need to bid out contracts. Ms. O’Neal noted that libraries have a statutory exemption from purchasing laws for books and materials. “Where is the list of exempt services?,” he asked. In the statute, he was told.

Mr. Convery suggested having an attorney sign off on resolutions and the vendor list. Ms. Murray went a step further and suggested that an attorney be present at all Board meetings. The new Township appointees agreed.

Those in the audience whispered, “Didn’t they want to reduce expenses???”

The other Board members felt that there was little need to have an attorney sit in on regular meetings – one could always be consulted if an opinion was needed.

Some background: While “major” boards, such as the Planning Board, may have a lawyer present at each meeting due to the nature of their work, “minor” boards, such as the Historical Commission, do not. The Library Board used to have an attorney at meetings at one time, but there was little need in view of the low hazard operation, and the regular attendance of a lawyer was eliminated.

Vivian Breen suggested, somewhat facetiously, that they seek pro-bono services – maybe attorney and former Board member Gregory Milne would be willing to donate his time. There was no response from the new trustees. (That was also how things went at the Township Committee meeting the night before when residents offered their free services to renovate the pool club. That offer fell on dead ears, too.)

When it was time to award the contract for attorney services, experience in library law took a back seat to hourly fee, office location, and labor law experience.

In my 1/9/12 post, “Attorney representing TOMSA and the Township also seeks appointment as Library Attorney at the January 18th Meeting of the Library Board”, I mentioned that experience in library law was a requirement for the job, or at least had been considered important in the past.

The new Township appointees didn’t feel knowledge of library law was necessary. Mr. Convery was particularly insistent about that, seeming to ignore that all of his earlier questions required response from someone with an understanding of the statute. He and others felt that an interpretation of the library law could be provided by any attorney. Labor law experience was seen as more important.

While applicants without library law experience had lower fees, Mr. Gabrielan pointed out that they might bill significantly more hours while they are getting up to speed on matters an experienced attorney would already know.

Ms. O’Neal suggested that the Board might lower its costs by issuing a new RFP to hire an attorney on a retainer. The new Board members declined to do that for now, opting instead to pay by the hour in case the Board decides at a later date that attorney attendance at meetings is not necessary, or at least that was a reason given. (I found it odd that the new Township appointees, after having shown uniform support to have an attorney at meetings, wouldn’t opt for a less costly fee arrangement and wanted wiggle room to change their minds about attorney attendance. That is surprising considering how critical they were of the Board, and its president in particular, for not having had an attorney at meetings in the past.)

Attorney Richard Leahey’s local office was touted as a plus by the new trustees, who pointed out that it would mean fewer hours billed for travel time to Board meetings. (I wondered if the push to have an attorney at meetings was in part so that they could make a stronger case to keep the contract local…)

Leahey lacks library experience, but his rate was among the two lowest, matched by McOmber & McOmber, P.C., also local and lacking in library experience. While the two candidates seemed “neck and neck” for a while, the service award went to R. Armen McOmber, whose application indicated he would provide service personally. Mr. Leahey’s work for the Township was mentioned as a possible conflict and factored into the Board’s decision.

The Library’s budget was amended to increase the amount budgeted for attorney services from $4,000 to $10,000, in part to account for the fact that this is a labor contract negotiation year.

THE BY-LAWS

On the agenda was the formation of an Ad-hoc By-laws Review Committee to update the by-laws for the increase in the Board’s membership.

Mr. Convery was very critical of the by-laws. He called them “terrible” but wasn’t specific. I don’t have a lot of patience for such vague criticism and look forward to hearing what specific changes he feels are necessary, and who will benefit

Mr. Gabrielan explained that the by-laws, which were last revised ten years ago, were simple by design and, while needing update in a few areas, met the needs of this type of operation.

(Add by-laws review to the list of things this year’s legal counsel will be billing for. I wonder if the $10,000 budget will be enough.)

PURCHASING RESOLUTIONS — BOOKS & MATERIALS

There were numerous purchasing resolutions on the January agenda, and that’s normal. The Library’s ongoing operation requires purchasing year-round. Ms. O’Neal noted that there are seasons of publishing – different items are ordered at different times of year — and that the Board reserves money at the end of the calendar year to allow for that.

Ms. O’Neal said that vendors have specialties in terms of what they provide, so different materials are ordered from different vendors, all of which were selected for their preferential discount schedules. She also noted that the Library has people who specialize in knowing what materials are required for specific subject areas.

The new Township appointees were hesitant to approve the purchases, one of which was an order of about $200K from the Library’s primary vendor. They had questions about how to review the orders and accounting. And that’s reasonable – they are new to this and there is a lot to know. The Board discussed training that would be available so that the new members could familiarize themselves with Library operations.

To me, the new Township appointees seemed conflicted between the need for continuity of Library operations and their apparent charge to cut the budget.

Mr. Gabrielan pointed out that these were pro-forma resolutions that the Board passes annually as part of normal operations for all New Jersey libraries, and he asked that the new members trust management and the other more experienced Board members.

The response from the new Township appointees was a blunt, “No.” And then they brought up Mr. Gabrielan’s books and then the accusations flew. They said, no one’s accusing anyone of anything, but…

Vivian Breen raised her voice, “This library has not been a problem. You’re
making this a problem, and it isn’t.”

Lawrence Nelsen harped, “No one had a problem with Bernie Madoff, either.” Audience members gasped.

“That’s totally different,” replied Ms. Breen, with restraint, considering.

Ms. Murray said, “We don’t feel there is a problem, but I don’t think it’s fair to invalidate our opinions because we don’t feel more comfortable.”

“But you’re invalidating what we’ve been doing for years,” said Ms. Breen, her voice elevated

.

Ms. Miloscia said that not everything needed to be ordered in February, but that they needed to start ordering. “Otherwise, you’re going to paralyze the Library,” she said.

Ms. Breen offered an analogy: “If you bought a supermarket, and you took over as boss, you would have to [continue]…purchasing cans to stock shelves until you figured out what was going on or you would go out of business.”

After discussion, the purchase resolutions were approved by the full Board.

For comparison, consider that the Township’s January bill list was approved by unanimous vote, and without any public discussion, by the Township Committee on January 17th, Ms. Murray’s first regular meeting as Committeewoman.

Note also that at the TOMSA Board’s February 9th meeting, a no-bid $343K engineering contract was approved without comment by the Board, who, coincidentally, voted at that meeting to approve their own salaries, a perk no other board in town gets. No other board in town gets the free medical benefits or pension credits either. Perhaps Mr. Nelsen should take a look over there.

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Filed under board attorney, Board of Trustees, budget cuts, by-laws, Lawrence Nelsen, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, service contracts, Stephanie Murray, Susan O'Neal

January 18th meeting of the Middletown Library Board sets the tone for the year. The Demands, the Numbers, and the Possibilities Part 2

by guest blogger Linda Baum

This is part 2 of my 3-part post on happenings at the 1/18/12 meeting of the Library Board. A reminder that the next Library Board meeting is this Wednesday, February 15th at 7:30 p.m.

LAWN CARE AND SNOW & ICE MANAGEMENT

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen figures tossed around on this topic. Here’s the story:

Committeewoman Stephanie Murray questioned the outsourcing of lawn care and snow removal. She asked why the Township couldn’t do this and was advised that DPW had been contacted but felt they couldn’t provide adequate services. DPW Director Ted Maloney had said to revisit the matter with DPW upon contract expiration.

“Lawn care” includes a great deal more than mowing. It also covers pruning, weeding, fertilizing, seeding, insect control, debris removal and more.

Land care and snow & ice management are grouped together as one line item on the budget, but are two separate contracts. The contract for land care is for one year only. Snow & ice management is a 2-year contract that runs through April 2013. The Board usually opts for a 2-year contract for ice and snow removal for two reasons: 1) as a hedge against increases in contract cost when the price of gasoline goes up, and 2) it helps to have a contractor in place well in advance to cover the late December/early January period.

For 2012, the budgeted amount is $30,000. In 2011, the contract for landscaping was $9,000. The Library paid the contractor an additional $1,700 for new trees in the front, which was approved as part of the job specifications. For snow removal in 2011, the Library paid $10,953. In all, these expenses were $21,653. The cost for land care is a fixed amount, however it is necessary to budget conservatively for snow & ice management in line with variations in snow fall and contract cost based on the proposal awarded. The 2012 budget for these services is the same as for 2011. In a low snow year, they make out okay.

Ms. O’Neal provided a brief history, noting that when the Library was renovated in 2003/2004, the Township Committee wanted a sprinkler system installed and extensive landscaping in order to enhance the value of the property. Once that was done, the members of the Board felt that proper stewardship of the property required the land care services of a private company because the services of the Township were not adequate.

The Library has special needs given its hours of operation and 7-day schedule, and the Township was not able to make the Library a priority given its other commitments. This is true not only for snow removal, but also for property maintenance. Consider if you have ever seen work being done on the Library grounds during its operating hours. I haven’t. Work appears to be done before or after the public arrives, so that we can enjoy the serenity and quiet that libraries are so well known for.

When it snows, the Township is going to clear snow from streets first so that ambulances can get to homes and people to hospitals. Nobody lives at the Library, so it may be very low on the list.

During public comments, one woman commented on how quickly snow is removed now, so that the Library can be enjoyed by the public. Another resident said “This works” and encouraged the new Board to be slow to change.

In fairness, I should note that when there are particularly heavy snow storms like those of last winter, the Library may need help from the Township’s heavy duty plows to clear its premises.

Several of the new Board members – Brock Siebert, Michael Convery, and Ms. Murray – were insistent that the issue of land care and snow removal be re-opened with the Township and suggested that the Library “make” the Township handle this. They didn’t say how they expected the Board to do that, or how to ensure that the current high standard of service is met.

Ms. O’Neal pointed out that many Libraries that have snow and land maintenance handled by the municipality get charge-backs for those services, so “the elephant in the room” is that one way or another the Library pays the cost for these services.

MY PREDICTION: Snow removal and land care services will be handled by the Township upon contract expiration, or sooner, and the Library will not be billed. I say “or sooner” because the new Trustees are insistent that the matter be re-opened with the Township now, so it appears they are willing to cancel the contract and deal with any ramifications.

THE NUMBERS: The Library’s budget will be cut by $30,000. That increases the “take” by the Township by up to $36,000 given the combined effect of both the increase in surplus and the reduction in the budget, as described in part 1 of this post.

Why do I think the Township won’t bill the Library for these services? Because if they do, there would be no reduction to the Library’s budget, and the Township makes out the same or better if there is.

By not charging the library, the Township gets to look like the good guy, something I’m sure they will work into press releases. But, of course, they will make no reference to any slip in service quality or any extra costs the Library may incur to replace plants and trees that are not properly cared for. Nor will they mention the unusual sound of lawn equipment blaring while you’re reading.

STRATEGY: If the Township makes out the same or better by not charging the Library, then the Library might fare better if it pays the Township for these services – that is, more reserves might be protected this way. So perhaps the Library Board should offer to pay…

THE LIBRARY’S WEBSITE

New board member Lawrence Nelsen criticized the Library’s website, saying that many links don’t work. Check it out for yourself here (www.mtpl.org) and see what you think. Be prepared to have some fun – the Library’s website is cool, colorful, and informative.

I wonder if Mr. Nelsen has noticed that several calendar links on the Township’s website bring up the month of March 2011, a problem the Township has known about for months and still hasn’t fixed. And meeting dates on the Township’s online calendar are often incorrect. There are numerous examples from December: the Sewerage Authority board meeting was not on December 8th, the Zoning Board meeting was not on December 26th, and the Library Board meeting was not on December 21st. The latter date was correct on the Library’s website, though.

Ms. O’Neal replied to Mr. Nelsen that the Library doesn’t have a dedicated web person because the staff person who handles that has other duties, but she said that problems are fixed as quickly as possible once they are discovered.

MY PREDICTION: I have a very strong feeling that Mr. Nelsen’s out-of-the-blue comment was intended to start a discussion about the Township’s takeover of Library website maintenance and maybe other Library systems. That could possibly mean layoffs of library staff.

THE NUMBERS: I am told that the Township contracts out its website maintenance. If that’s true, the contractor would likely charge extra to handle more work. The Township might bill the Library for it, but might make out better if they don’t, as I’ve already pointed out.

Much like the other services the Library requires, the Township’s ability to take on this additional responsibility won’t matter. This is all about cutting as much from the Library budget as possible. Promises will be made, and problems will be dealt with down the road.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, budget cuts, lawn care, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, snow removal, Stephanie Murray, Susan O'Neal

January 18th meeting of the Middletown Library Board sets the tone for the year. The Demands, the Numbers, and the Possibilities Part 1

by guest blogger Linda Baum

This is my second post about the 1/18/12 Library Board meeting. See my January 24th post to read about the controversy over the Board’s leadership. A lot has happened since the January meeting, as you all know. Library Trustee Sherry Miloscia resigned from the Board for personal reasons effective January 20th. Trustee and Board President Randall Gabrielan resigned from the Board effective February 7th. Seven out of nine members remain, and the Township Committee now has majority control of the Board with 4 out of 7 votes. If they fill the two empty seats, the Township will have 6 out of 9 votes and a two thirds majority.

******

The January 18th meeting was the first for the newly expanded 9-member Board. The five new faces on the Board presented a challenge for Library Director Susan O’Neal, who is to be commended for responding to a great many questions with patience, good humor, and

expertise.
Throughout the meeting, there was harsh, often aggressive criticism from the new Township appointees, who had clearly decided in advance what their collective approach would be. They seemed ready to air all of their complaints on day one. There wasn’t time for all of it at that meeting, but “just wait till the next meeting”, as an anonymous commenter on this blog warned.

The next Library Board meeting is this Wednesday, February 15th at 7:30 p.m. at the main branch on New Monmouth Road. I encourage you all to attend. (FYI, the meeting actually begins at 7:00 p.m., but the Board will go into closed session for about a half hour right after the meeting is called to order.)

Much was discussed at the January meeting, which ran almost 5 hours. Since there is incorrect information “out there”, I wanted to provide all the facts, making this my longest post by far. I organized topics by heading to make things easier for readers, and had to break up the post into three separate parts for the blog, each still long. This is part one.

THE PARKING LOT EXPANSION

Early in the meeting, it was announced that resources now exist for the parking lot expansion that was put on hold last year. The initial traffic study for the lot expansion has already been completed by Maser Consulting. The key parts of the project are improvements in safety (more lighting, traffic calming, crosswalks), more handicapped spaces, a drop off zone for short term parking, and additional parking spaces (approximately 35 more spaces).

The project is expected to cost roughly $122K-150K. Available monies include reserves, largely from expense savings that the Library was able to achieve last year, plus state aid monies.

Recall that per the 2011 agreement with the Township, the Library has two options for paying for capital improvements – they can pay cash or pay the debt service on bonds/notes issued by the Township. Libraries are not allowed to themselves issue debt, so the two payment options may not represent anything new. The Board has always preferred to save up until they have enough money for a project rather than to incur debt and pay interest. The Township does the opposite.

Also, the Library is now required to use the Township’s consulting engineer, T&M Associates, for any engineering work. T&M is not on retainer with the Township, so will bill for its services. Since the work is being directed to T&M without competitive bidding — the Library Board would normally request bids/quotes for this job — the cost could be higher than what the Library would otherwise pay.

THE POSSIBILITIES: “Restricting” about $150,000 in reserves for the lot expansion is to be discussed at the Board’s February 15th meeting. Since, by law, library reserves that are restricted for capital projects cannot be taken by the Township, the new trustees are sure to be opposed to it. I suspect they will make the case for allowing the Township to sell bonds/notes to raise money for the work. I suppose the new trustees could take a different tack and say the lot expansion isn’t necessary. However, part of the reason for the project is to improve safety, and I don’t think the Township would want to be seen as being against that.

Aside from leaving more reserves on the table for the Township’s use, the Township would benefit from the debt sale in several ways that I won’t get into here.

THE NUMBERS: If the Library pays cash for the lot expansion, their current budget will show the total cost of the project, or about $150,000. If the Library pays debt service, the budget for each of the next 20-25 years will show the lower debt service payment, say $15,000. The latter option results in a higher budget in future years, but a budget cut of about $135,000 for the current year.

A $135,000 cut in the Library budget increases the “take” by the Township by MORE than $135,000 — by $162,000. Here’s why. Per law, the Library can keep a portion of its unrestricted reserves equal to 20% of its annual budget. If the budget is cut, that “frees up” some additional reserves on top of the amount cut from the budget. In short, for every $1 cut from the Library’s budget, the Township increases its take by $1.20. A CAVEAT: The new Board could vote to hand over 100% of the Library’s reserves to the Township. If so, then one dollar cut from the library’s budget is just one dollar of reserves available for the taking.

State aid monies are off limit to the Township, so would remain with the Library. Any restricted reserves are protected, but can always be unrestricted by a willing Board.

THE 2012 BUDGET

Ms. Murray objected to the 2012 budget being approved in December before the new Board came in and said that it should be re-opened.

Ms. O’Neal pointed out that the Township typically requires the Library Board to have the budget for a year in place by October of the prior year. The Township didn’t need the Library’s 2012 budget as early as usual, so the Board had a couple of extra months to incorporate more finalized information. So the December approval was later, not earlier, than usual. Ms. O’Neal emphasized that the budget was adopted in line with required procedure, not in anticipation of a different point of view, as has been suggested by anonymous commenters.

Board president Randy Gabrielan advised that the budget is a planning document only that is not written in stone.

And while it wasn’t said, the budget for a year is supposed to be ready before the start of that year — that is the way most well run organizations do it, even if the Township doesn’t.

Because the January agenda was already full, Mr. Gabrielan suggested that a detailed discussion about finances be postponed until the February 15th Board meeting.

Marjorie Cavalier suggested that specific financial issues might be better handled by an ad-hoc committee. There was agreement that the Finance Committee would be reconstituted, and Ms. Murray will be on it.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, Finance Committee, library board, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Randall Gabrielan

TOMSA Board’s 2012 re-organization meeting rumpled by nasty battle for the Chairmanship. Just kidding. It was all butterfly kisses.

by guest blogger Linda Baum

On February 9th, the Middletown Sewerage Authority Board held its 2012 reorganization meeting and introduced its newest member, Board alternate and first time appointee Anthony DeMarco.

The Board elected its officers at this meeting, heaping praise on each other as they went through the motions. In a sugary process that took under two minutes, last year’s officers slid smoothly into their same spots for the coming year.

Then, in quick installments, the Board re-appointed the existing auditor, engineer, and attorney. I guess it would have been awkward not to since two of them were sitting right there at the table and the third was on the way.

Showing uncommon humility for a newcomer these days, Mr. DeMarco didn’t seek the Chairmanship. No one bothered to nominate him for anything. (And believe me, I was tempted.) He seemed content to sit and watch. “It’s a learning experience,” veteran Board member and former mayor Joan Smith said to him earlier. Executive Director Pat Parkinson called it “a learning phase” and said, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question.” So basically everyone, including Mr. DeMarco, agreed he wasn’t ready to steer the ship.

Since this was the annual reorganization meeting, all the Board members were present – the 5 regular members plus the 2 alternates. All were there in person except Thomas Stokes, who participated via conference call for the third month in a row and appeared to be sleeping in between votes and sometimes during them. At least he called in on time – in December he dialed in 15 minutes after the meeting started and asked to be marked as a “yes” for a vote he missed. That was pooh-poohed, of course.

Actually, to be fair to Mr. Stokes, he’s not the only Board member who had nothing to say. Votes were taken, one right after the next, without any discussion. Any Board member comments were tantamount to cheerleading. Lots of praises were sung, and maybe that was for my benefit.

Now I have to set the record straight about something. I’ve said in the past that there are no name plates at TOMSA Board meetings, but in fact there are. There is a name plate for each Board member, but none for the professionals who regularly sit at the table. The name plates are the old style dark wooden blocks with tiny lettering that is hard to see from a distance. The blocks blend in with the table, so are easily missed.

As it so happens, I have a name plate just like that. I’ll be sure to mention it on my Citizen Leadership application.

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Filed under Linda Baum, Middletown NJ, Middletown Sewerage Authority, Patrick Parkinson, reorganization, Tom Stokes, TOMSA

FOUR LITTLE WORDS THAT SAY A LOT ABOUT HOW THE TOWNSHIP DOLES OUT APPOINTMENTS: “When they asked me.”

by guest blogger Linda Baum

Quote of the day goes to Brock Siebert, who, when asked when he knew he’d been appointed as a Library trustee by the Township Committee, replied, “When they asked me.” I think that confirms that the Township does not require the submission of a board membership application as a pre-requisite for appointment. In fact, I checked. There is no application for Mr. Siebert on file with the Township.

In Kevin Penton’s 1/2/12 APP article “Advocate is not reappointed” about the dwindling membership on the Middletown Human Rights Commission (MHRC), Mayor Tony Fiore is quoted as saying he is unaware of any other Township resident who had expressed an interest in serving on the Commission, besides Dr. Schwebel, whose term expired at the end of 2011. Fiore is implying that a lack of willing candidates is the reason no appointments were made. However, as Brock Siebert’s appointment to the Library Board demonstrates, the Township will seek out candidates who haven’t necessarily expressed an interest in appointment. So Mr. Fiore’s excuse about the MHRC vacancies doesn’t fly. In fact, Dr. Schwebel knows at least one other person who applied but never received a response.

If you would like to see the MHRC survive and are interested in serving, you can find the board membership application….. Here

You may not hear back from the Township, but at least Mayor Fiore can’t say he didn’t know you were interested.

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Filed under Asbury Park Press, Board of Trustees, Carolyn Schwebel, Linda Baum, Middletown Human Rights Commission, Middletown Library, Tony Fiore

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

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

MIDDLETOWN SEWERAGE AUTHORITY (TOMSA) BOARD MEMBER SOON TO JOIN THE LIBRARY BOARD ??

by guest blogger Linda Baum

TOMSA and the Library – two topics I write about often. The differences are innumerable. Now, though, they may have something in common.

In my 11-28-2011 post, “The $500,000 Raid on the Library Won’t Be the Last — The Township Committee adds two additional Library Board members, sets the stage for majority control in 2012”, I speculated that the new members of the Library Board would be well-entrenched members of the Republican Party who are already serving on other boards or commissions.

Fast forward to the Library Board meeting on Wednesday, December 14th. I arrived late to find two other visitors in attendance. One was APP reporter Kevin Penton, who attended the November Board meeting as well. The other fellow, dressed to the nines in suit and tie, looked oddly familiar. He obviously recognized me as well and tried to hide his face. It dawned on me that I know him from the TOMSA Board meetings. I decided to try out a maneuver I learned from Pat Parkinson when I attended my first TOMSA Board meeting. I said, “Hi. I’m Linda Baum, and your name?” He had his guard up and replied dryly that it was nice to meet me but that he chose not to give his name, stating his right to privacy as a member of the public.

Putting TOMSA Board members’ names with their faces has been a struggle because there are no name plates at TOMSA Board meetings even though it’s typical practice by other boards, including the Library Board. So I’m not sure who the man is, or whether he is a TOMSA Board member or perhaps one of TOMSA’s professionals or high-level employees. However, I’m told he fits the description of TOMSA Board alternate member Emil Wrede, who is also a member of the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

The man, whoever he was, left early. So did Committeeman Settembrino. At the end of the meeting, I told the Board that they had probably just met one of their newest members. Wendy Latona, Library administrator, said she already suspected as much because he came in the day before to ask for a copy of a resolution. She didn’t say which one, but he obviously obtained it on the spot. In contrast, I have yet to receive even a phone call from TOMSA in response to my own information request.

I guess we will have to wait until Township Reorganization Day on Sunday, January 1st at noon to find out, with certainty, who the new appointees are. Another date to keep in mind is the Township Committee’s regular meeting at 8:00 p.m. on Monday, December 19th, when there will be a hearing on the Township ordinance increasing the membership on the Library Board. See you there.

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Filed under board members, guest blogger, Linda Baum, Middletown Library, Sewage Authority, TOMSA