New City Library’s Political Drama Continues

New City Library prepares for trustee and budget vote; forward progress despite continued feuding

BY CHERYL SLAVIN

Despite the continuous sniping, sarcastic jabs and a great deal of eye rolling, the New City Library Board of Trustees managed at its regular meeting last Thursday night to agree upon the procedures to be used for its upcoming Board elections and budget vote.

There are nine nominees for three positions. Board President Tom Ninan, and trustees Jeff Greenberg and Matt Mulroony, will be leaving.

The main point of contention, brought up by trustee Ed Kallen, was the exclusion of language prohibiting current trustees from being present during the voting process. President Ninan argued that someone had to run the election; Kallen countered that it ought not to be current trustees as some members of the public might feel intimidated by their presence during the balloting. The Board finally settled on language prohibiting trustee participation in the election process and agreed to have the Director, Mitch Freedman, oversee the voting.

Kallen also objected to having the nominees designated on the ballot as either Board or petition nominated. He argued that doing so might lend the appearance of tacit Board approval to the three board nominated contenders. Ninan shouted him down, claiming that designating the candidates in this manner was “precedent.” Groans of impatience arose from the audience as the Board members continued to argue, although eventually they agreed for the most part to the final ballot language and procedures.

Controversy also erupted when, during the Financial Committee’s report delivered by Trustee Matt Mulroony, Trustee George Jacobson questioned Director Freedman’s expenditure of almost $1200 for “local travel.” He barely got his question out when Ninan interrupted him, shouting, “You were at the committee meeting, weren’t you? Why didn’t you bring this up then? Why are you making a spectacle and trying to embarrass our director?” After Jacobson finally explained that this line item had not been presented at the committee meeting, and other trustees pressed for an explanation, Freedman stepped in to explain that the item had been miscoded and in fact the expenditure was for his recent participation in the New York Library Association conference.

Several members of the Board also questioned the director’s use of his discretionary funds to pay for lunches he had with various board members, in particular Ninan. Trustees Jeff Greenberg and Victor Berger both stated that it was not an appropriate use of taxpayers’ money. Freedman acknowledged their concerns while asserting that paying for working lunches with board members was a practice he’d always followed during his employment at other libraries. Nonetheless, he was willing to discontinue doing so if the Board so directed him.

Other problems discussed included the lawsuit Blend Air Mechanical has brought against the library, which trustee Anthony Feliciano explained arose out of a dispute over non-itemized expenses which the Board maintains should have been covered in its original contract with Blend Air. Feliciano rebuked Kallen for directly communicating with the Blend Air attorneys rather than going through proper channels, to which Kallen retorted that because of that communication he had prevented the library from a default judgment.

Director Freedman did acknowledge, during his report, the unanimous support the Board has given him for all of his improvement initiatives. The library will soon be subscribing to the Zinio on line periodical system which will save money while at the same time make on line periodicals much more accessible to a greater number of library patrons. The children’s room renovations are almost complete, including the re-assignment of all children’s media to that area and the redesign of the room to allow for better disabled access. The new audio-visual equipment greatly enhanced the first Director’s Film Series, which attracted capacity crowds.

The ongoing acrimony of the Board continued to be an issue. During the president’s report, Ninan complained about all the bad press the library was getting; during public input, a number of library patrons scolded the Board for its continuing dysfunction. One person noted that it’s not the library that is getting bad press, it is the behavior of the Board members. Phyllis Morena, a board development professional, stated that she was “appalled” by the arrogance, sarcasm and disrespectful attitude of the board president. Harry Bloomfeld, a former Board member and current member of the New City Library Watch, also took the Board to task for its lack of transparency.

The vote for new Board members, as well as for the 2014 budget, will take place on December 11. For more information on the candidates and the budget, as well as dates for future Board meetings, visit the New City Library website at newcitylibrary.org.