Category Archives: surplus funds

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.

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

A Few Words About Middletown’s Reorganization

Just a quick word about Sunday’s Middletown Reorganization meeting being held at Town Hall @ noon.

Seeing how the Middletown Republicans have already “leaked” their intentions to reappoint Tony Fiore as Mayor and Steve Massell as Deputy Mayor, I have to wonder why?

Steve Massell is up for reelection this year and historically (thought not always the case recently) , the person on the Township Committee seeking reelection is appointed mayor, but I guess, seeing how Massell hasn’t made more than a handful of public comments during his 2+ years of tenure on the Township Committee and often seems as if he doesn’t want to be up there on the dais, and if you take into consideration the rumor that has been circulating for the past few months about how Massell doesn’t intend to seek reelection anyway after his current term expires at the end of 2012, the Republicans couldn’t appoint him mayor.

Why reappoint Tony Fiore as mayor than?

I suppose it must have more to due with Fiore’s abrasive, arrogant and cocksure personality than the actual job he did representing the Township as the committee’s mouthpiece.
Beside, who else could it be?
Gerry Scharfenberger? No, I don’t think so. He is too much of a polarizing figure and is a lighting rod that has attracted too much controversy over the years. Governor Christie wouldn’t want his favorite employee in the spotlight taking away any of the attention from himself while making a run to be either Mitt Romney’s Vice -Presidential or possible his candidate for U.S. Attorney General.
Kevin Settembrino? After his snake-in-the-grass performance doing the Township Committee’s dirty work of threatening the Middletown Library Board of Trustees to turn over nearly $500K of surplus and reserved funds or else the Middletown Library system would be over to the County and all the while pitting the Library Board against the Middletown Police, saying that if the funds weren’t turned over the Middletown Library would be solely responsible for Police layoffs. Settembrino didn’t make many friends in his first year on the Committee to say the least, but next year will be his year to shine as mayor.
And of course there is just no way Stephanie Murray could have been placed in either position in her very first year.
So Tony gets to be mayor again by default.
Also, I would like to thank all of those who will be appointed and reappointed to the various board and commission sponsored by the Township, most are volunteers and give of themselves freely to help out others and regardless of how partisan the process of their appointments are they deserve to be thanked.

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Filed under Gerry Scharfenberger, Kevin Settembrino, Middletown Library, reorganization, Stephanie Murray, Steve Massell, surplus funds, Tony Fiore

Purpose Of Proposed Ordinance To Expand Middletown’s Library Board Is Questioned

Dear Mike,

As an advocate of our excellent Middletown Township library system, I am very concerned about the ordinance being presented at Monday’s (12/19/11) Township Committee Meeting regarding the addition of two Library Board members. This ordinance allows for the current seven member Board to be expanded to nine members as appointed by the mayor and his governing body. One Board member is the school Superintendant’s alternate pick (and therefore not chosen by the Township Committee).
Some may see this ordinance as a well intended gesture to “increase public participation” in the Library Board decision making process. However, based on the events of this past February, I am skeptical that the addition of two members is anything but a political move to put people in place to advance the agenda of the Township Committee.
Can we trust that the intention of this ordinance is not to divert money to the MTC budget when Committeeman Settembrino, in his role as Library Board member, pushed to have $500,000 transferred from the Library budget to the MTC budget, thereby depleting the library reserves? Mr. Settembrino acted in accordance with his role as a Committeeman to advocate for the taxpayer and provide property tax relief to our residents by plugging a budget hole with this money transfer. However, his action neglects his Library Board Trustee duty to be an advocate for a robust library system.
How can this new, larger Board remain independent when its members may be beholden to the desires of their appointees? The interests of the Township Committee may permeate this independent Board and take precedence over the best interests of the library and the public whom the Board is meant to serve.
The Library Board members must first and foremost be advocates of the library, and their fiduciary responsibility would require them to protect the library budget so that it meets the needs of the library and its patrons. Can we trust that Mr. Fiore will require his appointees to serve our needs, and not his own?
Thank you for all that you do to keep residents informed of the actions of their local government.
Warm Regards,

Melanie Elmiger

Note:
For more on this topic read “The $500,000 Raid On The Middletown Library Won’t Be The Last” and the comments that accompany the post along with APP: Middletown requests library hand over surplus of over $542G and Meeting Minutes From Library Board’s January 19th Meeting Contradicts What Was Said By Township Committee Members At Last Wednesday Night’s Meeting. You can also access the archives of this blog for various updates and opinions on this topic.

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Filed under Kevin Settembrino, letter to the editor, Middletown Library, Middletown Township Committee, public hearing, resolutions and ordinances, surplus funds, Tony Fiore

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

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

by guest blogger Linda Baum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Your Town – Newsletter Volume 3, Issue 14- 7/13/11: 2011 Budget Adoption

There was a special Middletown Township Committee meeting on Wednesday, July 13,2011 to adopted the FY2011 Township budget. The Committee held a Public Hearing to amend the municipal budget before adoption, after which the Committee voted to adopt a budget for the 2011 calendar year. You can read all about it in the new edition of It’s Your Town newsletter

This was another quick meeting with no comments from the Committee members except for Mayor Fiore, who said he was very proud of the budget produced this year.

To say that there was a handful of residents in attendance is an over statement, if you took out the reporters that were there only less than 10 people showed up. Do you think the 5pm starting time had anything to do with this? Something as important as a budget adoption could have waited until this evening when Middletown holds it regular monthly meeting in the court room.

Included in this budget is a property tax increase of about 3% over the 2010 increase of 13.85%.

It was stated that quarterly tax bills that reflect the new tax rate should be mailed out in about a week or so after the budget adoption, so you can expect your bills anytime now.

You can read this edition of It’s Your Town newsletter and see a copy of the 2011 adopted Middletown Budget….Here

Once you read the news letter and take a look at the budget, you’ll then be prepared to ask a few questions tonight if you are planning to attend the regular Township meeting at 8pm tonight at Town Hall.
Two things in the budget that quickly stood out to me were interest payments on bond debt, which has increased by nearly $400K over last year and the lack of an adequate surplus of funds built into this years budget. Surplus funds in this years budget have been diminished to $600K , which is extremely low, In years past that number has been as high as $4M. Last years surplus was over $1M and by the end of the FY 2010 it had been exhausted.
By the end of the year will the Township need to borrow money from the 2012 budget to make up for a shortfall as they had had to do at the end of 2009?

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Filed under bond debt, budget adoption, interest payments, Its Your Town, Middletown Township Committee, Newsletter, resolutions and ordinances, special budget meeting, surplus funds

>It’s Your Town – Newsletter Volume 3, Issue 11- 6/6/11

>The latest edition of It’s Your Town newsletter is available for downloading. This edition of the newsletter covers the monthly workshop meeting of the Middletown Township Committee.

As is the new norm since no Democrats currently sit on the Township Committee, the meeting was over shortly after 9pm, it lasted just barely and hour. So one can imagine just how much public information was actually discussed in public.
Interestingly enough what was discussed was that the Township Committee is planning to raise a few various fees in town.
It was only about a year ago when those on the Middletown Committee were calling the fees increases imposed by the State, just another tax. Now it is their turn.
It was announced that the Township budget will be passed in early July, but I doubt it seeing how the Township will not receive surplus funds from the Library by then.
It should be noted thought that the budget $4M less than last years, but our property taxes will be increasing 2.9%. Go figure!
You can read all about these and other points of interest from the June 6th workshop meeting by downloading the current edition of the newsletter >>> Here
As always, happy reading.

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Filed under 2011 budget, Its Your Town, Middletown Library, Middletown Township Committee, Newsletter, resolutions and ordinances, surplus funds, workshop meeting

>Two Meetings Tonight That Shouldn’t Be Missed; MIddletown Board of Ed and Middletown Library Board of Trustees

>If you are free tonight there are two meetings this evening that shouldn’t be missed, both the Middletown Board of Education and the Middletown Library Board of Trustees meet tonight.

If you attend the Middletown BOE meeting you will find out that Interim Superintendent Thomas Pagano has submitted his resignation, if lucky you will find out why.
I have been told that he is leaving due to health reasons, evidently he is very sick and can’t perform his duties as Superintendent of Schools. Funny, that is the same reason that recently elected BOE member Bob Banta gave when he handed in his resignation after only 1 board meeting.
If you happen to stop by the Middletown Library tonight, Library Director Susan O’Neal should be presenting the projected library budget (history and forecast) to the board of trustees.
From what I understand, it will demonstrate that transferring $500K of surplus funds to the township will mean the libarary will not recover to the 2010 funding level until 2022.
Knowing this, would the library board, as advocates for the library, vote for this transfer of funds to the Township? More than likely so, but should be? I think not, at least not all of it. The library is transferring nearly $250K more to the Township than legally required to do.
Both meetings should be interesting.

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Filed under Board of Trustees, budget presentation, Middletown Board of Education, Middletown Library, resignation, school superintendent, surplus funds, Susan O'Neal

>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