Category Archives: State Librarian

>Middletown Library Trustees Expected To Approve $500K Fund Transfer Report

>Still catching up on recent goings on that I wasn’t able to get to over the past two weeks is the latest news concerning the Middletown Library.

Back on June 2nd the Asbury Park Press ran a story about how at the next meeting of the Middletown Library’s Board of Trustees meeting on June 15th (this upcoming Wednesday), the trustees are expected to vote on a report that details the transfer of nearly $500K in surplus and reserved funds to the Township before it is sent on to the NJ State Librarian.
If the state librarian approves of the report, which could take up to 45 days and is not a given, the surplus and reserves library funds can be transferred according to state law to the township in order for it to be used in offsetting the municipal budget.

As stated in previous posts, the report has been the responsibility of Library Director Susan O’Neal to put together. The report needed to be rather complex and meet very specific standards, it will include demographic projections, a three-year technology plan and a three-year strategic plan for approval.
After having read the APP article about the report, I got the feeling that certain members of the Township Committee, namely Middletown’s appointed mayor, Tony Fiore, doesn’t trust the library trustees to do what’s expected of them based on the following excerpt:

“I don’t anticipate any potential negative portrayals,” said Fiore of the report. “I am confident they will do what is in their best interests and in that of the taxpayers of Middletown.”

It almost seems as if Fiore expects Director O’Neal to somehow sabotage the report by adding something to it that would prevent the trustees to support it or the state librarian not to approve it, which would either delay the transfer of funds or kill the transfer all together.
I you ask me, I think Fiore is a little paranoid and has a bit of a Napoleon complex. Whether it is this issue or some other, he always has to inject subtle or obnoxious and veiled threats to make his points.
It’s really arrogant and shows little class.

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Filed under Asbury Park Press, Board of Trustees, Middletown Library, NJ State Library, State Librarian, surplus funds, Susan O'Neal, Tony Fiore

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

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by guest blogger Linda Baum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

>Many Questions Remain; Middletown’s Library Surplus Issue Far From Settled And Could Be Derailed

>There was another Middletown Library Board meeting this past Wednesday night and if you weren’t there to witness the goings on you missed a lot. Evidently many questions arose over the the time table for which the Township Committee expects to be paid the $500,000 that it practically extorted form the library in order to fill a budget gap in it’s own 2011 budget, and what was required by the State Librarian before those dollars could be legally transferred.

If it weren’t for the lone member of the public who attended this meeting( that’s correct, no one else other that then Board members were in attendance), Linda Baum, no one would know that there is a problem brewing over these funds once again.

According to the NJ State Librarian, before surplus funds can be transferred from the Middletown Library to the Township Committee, a strategic plan must be prepared. The plan would need to include a number of focus group opinions, which would take time to complete. Only after this was all completed, could the plan to transfer funds from the library to the township be completed. Library Director Susan O’Neal estimated that it would take until August to complete.

Of course this did not sit very well with Township Commiteeman Kevin Settembrino, who was appointed to the Library Board by the mayor. Settembrino wanted the transfer of funds to take place with in four weeks so that the the Township’s budget could be finalized.

Ms. Baum took minutes of the meeting for herself and passed them along to me to share:

The library mtg ran three hours. Got heated in parts. The number of people in the audience including me: One. Here are the main points:

There are certain requirements the library must meet before the state librarian will approve the giveback. Formation of a strategic plan is required, and focus groups are a required part. Ms. O’Neal estimated an August 2011 completion date for both. Mr. Settembrino didn’t like that at all — he felt it would delay finalization of the town’s budget. They discussed hiring a professional to conduct the groups at a cost of $3K max. A resolution to that effect was voted down 3-2. Some felt it could be done by library staff, while others felt staff lacked the time and that focus group participants would not be comfortable with library staff leading the groups. A few didn’t want to spend money to give away money. Ms. Breen asked Kevin if the town would pay for it since they gain from it. He declined of course. Issues were cost, whether they could get community participation, and whether or not there was a need for new focus groups or if existing data could be used — a survey was done in 2004. Mr. Settembrino proposed using the 2004 survey results to produce the focus group report for inclusion in the new strategic plan. A resolution to do it internally was passed 3-2. Mr. Settembrino revisited the timeline and asked for completion in 4 weeks. Ms. O’Neal said the end of May would be more achievable. Mr. Milne questioned if, by doing the focus groups themselves and/or by utilizing data already in hand, the library would be at risk of not getting the approval from the state librarian. (Let’s hope so.) They don’t know how much leeway they have.

(I thought of a few good ideas to simplify and speed the process, but I realized whose side I was on and kept quiet.)

It got heated when Mr. Settembrino scoffed about library employees resistance to doing the extra work in light of their recent raises (you know, the one dollar per week). Wendy Latona let him have it. She brought up the $15,000 stipend.

The next issue was about the 2009 audit results. Discussion was specifically about around $88K in library money that was left on the table but not known about in February. Kevin asked if this would affect the decision on the giveback. The board felt the issue was handled and would not affect the giveback. Ms. O’Neal said she had not yet talked with Nick Trasente, and wanted to address 2009 as well as 2010 issues. I got a little confused here. I asked if the board’s concern about the audit related to just the $88k issue. Yes, they said. I said that I had reviewed the corrective action plan and felt much was not addressed. I asked them to consider revisiting the giveback decision as new information comes to light.

Mr. Settembrino asked when the preliminary 2012 budget comes out. Ms. O’Neal said the draft budget (in the range of $3.5M) is done in October when the official rateables comes out. Settembrino pushed to get it earlier, saying the rateables is out now. Susan said she is required to use the official figure released in October. Kevin said he felt leaving the initial release till October didn’t leave enough time to review or make changes as needed, or whatever. Ms. O’Neal replied, “Duly noted.” I don’t know if there was any offer to meet an earlier target. Ms. Breen complimented Susan on being a great director and told Kevin it seemed like he was scolding.

There were other topics discussed relating to library spending for travel and repairs. The Lincroft branch has termite damage in the entryway.

Coverage or lack thereof for underground storage tanks was touched upon. Property coverage for the library is included under the town’s policy, which is an excess policy. Kevin will check into coverage.

There was a resolution to allot more money to the library’s attorney, whose fees ran over due to the recent funding battle. It passed.

Minutes from the 2/16 and 3/16 mtgs were adopted. I have a printed copy of minutes from 2/16 – 19 pages. I didn’t get a copy of the 3/16 minutes, but will ask Wendy for it.

Feel free to distribute.

Linda

I’ll be posting more about this over the next couple of days.

Things here just don’t seem right to me and if Settmebrino or the rest of those on the Township Committee wanted their money right away, then I think they should have done their homework properly to find out if there would be potential problems. But like so much that those that run Middletown do, this attempt to wrestle funds from the Library was done haphazardly and with authoritarian zeal without knowing the consequences of their actions.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, Kevin Settembrino, Middletown Library, Middletown NJ, Middletown Township Committee, NJ State Library, reserved funds, State Librarian, surplus funds, Susan O'Neal