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Chester County Press

Kennett Township supervisors blast library board

07/21/2015 01:50PM ● By Richard Gaw


Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer

What began as a pleasant evening – one that celebrated the appointment of Lydell Nolt as Kennett Township's new police chief, complete with a large cake for all to enjoy -- ended with an escalation of finger pointing and accusations that coursed through the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors meeting on July 15 like a verbal riptide.

Reading from pre-written statements before a packed audience that included three board members from the Kennett Public Library, supervisors Richard Leff and Scudder Stevens unloaded a diatribe of accusations against the library's board which later escalated in a nearly hour-long tit-for-tat exchange between Leff, Stevens and the library board members in attendance.

Addressing the audience -- which included library board members Karen Ammon, treasurer Joan Weber, library board president Susan Mackey-Kallis and Donna Murray, the library's executive director -- Leff said that the library's constituents still view the library leadership "through distrustful eyes" and that many of their questions regarding the management and the future of the library have not been answered.

Specifically, Leff pointed out three key themes of the public's dissatisfaction: a lack of trust in the Board’s fiscal management and integrity; a lack of community involvement in decision making with regard to important issues such as name changes and plans for the new library; and concern in Board composition and effectiveness in decision-making processes.

In an effort to open up lines of communication between the board and the municipalities its serves, Leff recommended that a Save the Library Task Force be created to "examine all issues with regard to library funding, library board composition, and the library board's decision-making process, "in order to determine so as to advise us on options about how best to proceed," he said. The task force would be made up of representatives from every municipality who contributes to the library.

"I’d like to hear how Kennett Township’s and other moneys are currently being used and accounted for in 2015," he said. "By the end of the year, I’d like a recommendation on what is the appropriate funding for 2016, from Kennett Township, other municipalities and the public. Recommendations should also be made with regard to improved board composition, manner of public input to the board, and board communication to the public."

The establishment of a task force, Leff said, would "definitively put to rest any lingering questions of inappropriate activity and reassure the public of new and effective Library Board processes.

"We all want a vibrant, active library, one that we can proudly support," Leff said. "Lingering perceptions that we have with the library board, however well-intentioned, include it not consulting with its community on major decisions before they are made, and allegations that it may not use funds for their intended purpose, results (even if unfounded) in a lack of trust of that board, and never-ending, nonproductive conversations between the library and the community."

It was Stevens, however, who delivered the mightiest blow.

Throughout the reading of his four-page, 16-minute prepared statement, Stevens took those in the audience on a journey of perceived wrong-doings by the library. Page after page, paragraph after paragraph, he leveled the board as disingenuous, lacking in professional standards, violating its duty to the municipalities who contribute to the library, failing to apprise these contributors of its financial picture, unable to manage the business of the library, and acting without considering the best interests of the library's constituents. Stevens also accused the library board of failing to produce current and complete accounting records for a lack of transparency; and acting without considering the interests of its constitutents.

Referring to the library as the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library throughout his statement and not the Kennett Public Library -- its current name -- Stevens excoriated the library board for what he perceived as fostering a name change illegally, without documentation or input from local leadership or its constituents.

Stevens also accused the library of padding the number of visitors it monitors.

"I am advised that students are counted, both coming into the library and leaving," he said. "Thus, one student coming and going is counted twice. If that student comes in twice and leaves twice, that amounts to four serviced. However, by my reckoning, that is one student serviced, not four students serviced."

He then criticized the library board, warning them that their purpose is not to function as what he called "an old boys/old girls club, empowered to do as it pleases, at its whim.

"It is a public library using federal, state, county and municipal funds to service the library needs of its constituents, the residents of those municipalities," he said. "It is also a charitable organization receiving significant federal and state tax benefits. It is also answerable to those private individuals who provide it with funds, including capital improvement donations and operating funds gifts."

An example of the library board's poor management, Stevens said, is in the fact that in recent years, nearly ten board members have resigned from the board, and that several qualified and well-respected community members have chosen not to volunteer on the library board. Stevens also criticized the library board for its inapprpriate and abusive behavior, exemplified by its "free and open use of expletives."

Stevens also accused the library board of having questionable accounting practices, operating at an annual deficit and yet, he said, "found" the necessary funds to balance the budget annually, in order to perform additional repairs and maintenance on the library.

"[The board] doesn't freely acknowledge that those funds are taken from the income generated by the principal contributed during the initial fund raising effort for the building of the library at Ways Lane," Stevens said. "The explanation is that the interest is not covered by the commitment to preserve the principal contributed. However, unless special arrangements were agreed upon in advance with those donors, the restrictions on the principal would apply to the interest it generates, as well, under Pennsylvania law. Thus, this library board has violated, and continues to violate, its trust and duty with those capital funds, and their contributors.

"It is important to note that the capital funds are not accounted for, but are maintained off the books," he said. "How that money is managed and used is not information that is available to anyone, except, perhaps, a select group of board members. The board fails to apprise its contributors, including the municipalities, of its financial situation."

The statements delivered by Leff and Stevens came on the heels of the request of Kennett Borough Mayor Matt Fetick to its Borough Council to consider withholding the borough's financial support - about $37,000 annually -- until the borough is given adequate representation on the library board.

The vehemence of Stevens' statements had many in the audience wondering whether the purpose of their diatribe was to withhold the township's annual $154,000 contribution the township makes to the library -- similar to Fetick's request. Although Stevens said repeatedly that the township is not looking to withhold its annual funding to the library, he shared Fetick's complaint, accusing the library board of creating its own formula for "fair share" representation, and then manipulating its by-laws to control the appointment of board members.

"Both Kennett Square Borough and Pocopson illustrate this phenomenon of being denied the opportunity to appoint representatives to the library board," he said. "This is totally inappropriate and only leads to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and inadequate representation."

Finally, referring to Leff's suggestion, Stevens called on the library board to "fully and openly" cooperate with local municipalities in order to turn the tide of what has been perceived by many elected officials and the library's constituency as poor leadership. By a vote of 3-0, the supervisors voted in favor of entering the township in partnership with a task force being proposed by Fetick and other officials.

Later, the board voted 2-1 to remove Rosa Quintana -- the township's representative to the board -- from the library board. Stevens and Leff voted in favor of the motion, while Robert Hammaker voted not in favor. Subsequently, by a vote of 3-0, the supervisors approved the appointment of township residents Bill McLaughlin and Jeff Yetter to the library board.

Based on the library's by-laws, Kennett Township is entitled to appoint two library board members because they meet two criteria: a) the township annually contributes 100 percent of their designated funding and b) it has a dedicated library tax.

Mackey-Kallis called Quintana an important voice for the local Hispanic community. "If you ask her to leave, to me, it raises a concern of somehow you feeling that she hasn't done her duty," she said.

"We're looking for the Kennett Township representatives on the library board to make a change, in terms of how we're interacting [with the library board]," Leff said.

Speaking on behalf of Ammon, Weber and Murray, Mackey-Kallis responded to the board of supervisors by saying that she and her colleagues were, in effect, blind-sided by the statements read by Leff and Stevens, saying that they were in attendance to welcome the township's newest library representatives to the library board, and therefore did not have the opportunity to issue a prepared response.

Stevens provided Mackey-Kallis with a copy of his statement.

"I would welcome the opportunity to look this [Stevens' statement] through and then provide specific, point-by-point responses, in writing," she said.

Murray responded to Stevens' claims that the library is falsifying its visitor numbers, saying that the library follows the Chester County-wide library counting statistics policy.

"We do not count people coming in and going out," she said. "It's two separate counts, in any case. We have an automatic people counter at the door, and it counts people coming in, once. That's our visitor count. We don't use that to count our program attendance. If someone has a program, they take a head count.

"We keep very accurate accounting of who attends a program, and it is in line with how every other library keeps it," Murray added.

Weber then replied directly to Stevens' charges.

"You were insinuating that there was indiscretion, a matter of integrity. If all she [Murray] had to do was answer the question, why wouldn't you just ask the question, instead of accusing someone or an organization of wrong-doing?" Weber asked Stevens. "Why wouldn't you just pick up the phone? You're talking about reaching out and building a relationship. You just blasted someone in a public meeting...You have done absolutely nothing that I've seen to foster any step forward.

"For you to indict new board members or people who have put a lot of honesty and integrity into whatever work they are doing for the board, I think, is incredibly ignorant," Weber told Stevens. "You asked me for financial statements. I gave you financial statements from 2011, in detail, with investments. I'm the one who recommended to have the investments put on the balance sheet."

Mackey-Kallis disputed Stevens' charge that the library board did not submit a proposal to Kennett Borough to initiate discussion about the possibility of building a new library in the borough. A year ago, the library board voted to build the new library in the Ways Lane-Waywood Road area.

"You're implying that we have done nothing, basically, and that at no time was there a request from the library board for a formal proposal," Mackey-Kallis said. "In fact, Scudder, if you had asked me about that, I would have updated you with the fact that we did request a formal proposal from the Borough. They provided such a document to us about a month ago," she said.

In fact, the library board voted at its June 16 meeting to respond to the proposal and continue discussion with the Borough, which is continuing.

Mackey-Kallis then responded to Stevens' claim that the library board suffers from a lack of transparency with the many townships and municipalities it works with.

"As you know, Scudder, a policy when I took over as board president was e-mailing all of the township supervisors," Mackey-Kallis said. "I sent my first e-mail in April, giving you our new strategic plan, and updates on the town hall sessions. I just recently sent another e-mail providing all of the financial data that we're talking about."

Although Ammon supported the idea for a library task force, she did so with reservation.

"I will say, though, after the way that we've been treated this evening, I'm concerned about cordiality and respect," she said, referring to a recent library board meeting she attended where she felt "threatened."

Township resident and audience member Collis Townsend criticized the back-and-forth criticisms between the supervisors and the library board members, and supported the establishment of the task force.

"At one level, it's a very healthy dialogue, and on another level, it's a very unhealthy dialogue," Townsend said. "As Yogi Berra once said, 'It's deja-vu all over again.' I think it is very disingenuous [of the library board] to say, 'That was then, this is now.'"

"My point is, everybody in this room supports a new library and at the end of the day, that's what everybody wants. Yes, there is concern about the current and the past [library board], but you can't divorce yourself from the past. At that level, I support this task force. It's time to do something different. I don't want to be sitting here 15 years from now, having the same arguments. Guys! Let's get at this. The wheel is broken."

"We need to sit down and work through this, and the best way that we seem to have figured it out is to get a neutral group in the middle that will be able to pull together all of the pieces that apparently are getting lost," Stevens said. "We sit at the same meetings and come away from them with different ideas. Somewhere, there is a communications gap."

(To read a written response by the Kennett Public Library Board of Directors, turn to Page 7A of this edition.)

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com .




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