Tuesday, January 24, 2012

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.


Anonymous said...

Linda nailed the meeting exactly as I was in attendance. The township thugs are at it again. can't we just ship them back to North Jersey and Staten Island where they came from?

Anonymous said...

Who are you reffering to as "township thugs", just to clarify? And to assume further into your comment, which ones are out of towners?

Just wondering...

Anonymous said...

"fell just shy of accusing him of wrong doing"

Wow, you are very generous to certain people...

Anonymous said...

Questioning paying $35k for cutting grass that DPW could do for free. Questioning $10k+ in snow removal contracts when DPW can clear the parking lot. Oh those thugs!! How dare they!!

Just wait until the next meeting.....

Anonymous said...

DPW is too busy cutting grass in the jughandles to cut grass at the Library. Now they will be even busier mowing grass in the parks because there are no more P&R employees to do that. The Township has to contract snow removal because DPW can't plow the streets, let alone the parking lot at the Library.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:10, sounds like you run with the thugs. As was stated at the meeting, the DPW head told the library that he would revisit the idea of them doing the mowing and snow removal. As Anon 8:34 said, DPW is slammed doing all the roads, park maintenance and some of the leaf collection. Taxpayers don't want to pay for OT so when do you propose the DPW takes care of the library? As an audience member stated, the library parking lot needs to be cleared of snow and ice as soon as possible for safety and access. Again, how can DPW do that when they are responsible for the majority of the township plowing-roads, jughandles, etc. Why doesn't the TC look more closely at TOMSA's spending? Answer: because each of the TC members hope to get that cushy job one day.

Anonymous said...

I have not seen a DPW truck plow my streets in years, it is contracted out by the Twp. Isn't this what many towns are doing to cut back on the municipal payroll? Who picks up your leaves? A private contractor has been doing it for years where I live. Sounds like the Library was ahead of its' time in contracting out these services. Perhaps the TC got the idea from the Library to contract out snowplowing and leaf/brush pick up.

As a life long resident I can honestly say this is the worse shape this town has ever been in. A mess of a school system and a TC that has no regard for the decent people who worked hard to make this town what it once was.

A mayor who does not recognize members of the Fire Dept. at the 9/11 ceremony, they want to toss Mr. Gabrielan aside after his many years of volunteer service, they zone for a 342 unit development because they screwed up their Mt. Laurel obligation, we pay $300 K per year in utilities for the Art Center in addition to the millions they bonded for it, in spite of the DEP determining the land to be an environmental mess, and the list goes on and on.....

Meanwhile Rosie Peters landed the surrogate job to pad her pension and Scharfy did the same when his "rock star" gov. buddy gave him a cake job in Trenton, all to pad his public pension.

I tip my hat to the superintendent's appointment who was the deciding vote for Mr. G. I wonder if she will be at the next meeting or will she be replaced before then?

The Middletown motto lives on "Pay More...Get Less"

Anonymous said...

This gang of republican thugs should forget about fooling the public. They are up to NO good and think the public in Middletown are all stupid.

Time to show these shady characters to the exits on the GSP to return to the places from whence they came...Sayreville.Rutherford and anyplace else. They are here as opportunists...not for the good of this community.

It's all about money...never forget that !

BTW, our DPW doesn't keep our parks or much else in this town now do they ?? We don't pay pensions or benefits for contractors !

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:55,

I think your compass is still pointed in the direction of sore loser. I agree with you about the contractors, but it should not be the norm to not review these things from time to time to see if they are useful and neccessary. You are blatantly wrong about the 9/11 ceremony.

Rosemarie Peters was ELECTED.
And I am guessing all the people who got jobs under McGreedy and Corslime were not politically connected? And I am guessing they all refused thier pension. RIGHT???

Get over it, the effects of elections are now obvious to you as has been for many years to me - Congratulations! This is not, nor has ever been exclusive to either side of the aisle.

Anonymous said...

The minutes of the Library Board meeting should show that, after being pounded onabout the cost of contracting out for lawn care services and snow removal, the director said that in her experience, towns that do this work for their libraries charge them [the libraries] back for these services. A good point that was ignored by Murray.
I waspresent at the meeting, and have lived in Mtown long enough to remember that the DPW or Parks dept that took care of the library grounds before they put in the new grass and lovely landscaping, that just about everything was weeds or dead.
Come to these meetings in the future-Its much better than watching "Revenge" on TV.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11;12
YOU are 'blatantly wrong' on what's said correctly by Anon 9:55, that we have a mayor who did NOT acknowledge not only his firefighters but also his EMS and his police auxiliary. He let them all march past him in silence, while he waited only for the Navy Color Guard to show up, who he'd announced.
No emergency responders weren't mentioned until it was the turn of the EARLE commander Captain Harrison, who was the only one to say "Largest volunteer fire department in the world, Middletown."

Anonymous said...

Annon 9:55

The point is that these politicians, both parties included, are going to collapse the Public Employee Pension System. They accrue many years of pensionable time while earning a very small "salary" while serving on the TC. They land their golden parachute job, be it elected or appointed, and the pension is based on their "three best years" (a quote from the pension law). So many years on the TC making $3or$4K then a $90K+ job for only three years and their payout is based on the $90K. This is the pension system that is truly on the verge of collapse due to the widespread abuse by politicians and their cronies. This is also the pension system that many full time, career employees pay into and rely on, secretaries, DPW workers, etc.

Neither political party has put a Gov. in office with the courage to fundamentally change this widespread abuse.

The solution is simple, political positions and those appointed positions would not be enrolled in any pension system. Our Gov. has no problem attacking the Police, FIrefighters and Teachers pension systems, He has not shown the courage to eliminate this blatant abuse of taxpayer monies. He wants to reform tenure for teachers, well how about reforming "tenure" for politicians and cronies., no public pensions for any of them.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:04,

"Time to show these shady characters to the exits on the GSP to return to the places from whence they came...Sayreville.Rutherford and anyplace else. They are here as opportunists...not for the good of this community."

Who exactly are you refering to???

Linda Baum said...

I am working on a 2nd post that discusses the issue of land maintenance, which includes a great deal more than mowing. It also covers pruning, weeding, fertilizing, insect control, debris removal and more.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:12 . As one of the First Responders that attended the 9/11 ceremony and as a member in uniform with over 15 years of service to the greatest Fire Dept. I can confirm that there was no mention by any politician invited that day of the Fire Dept or EMS or the Police providing security. It took a Career Military officer who was not from and does not live in Middletown to mention US. It is a slap in the face to all Volunteers who were more than likely there that day 10 years earlier.

Anonymous said...

At a township committee meeting shortly after the 9/11 ceremony Scharfenberger and others congratulated Fiore on what a great job he did in acknowledging all of those, without being specific, who attended the ceremony. It was nothing more than a limp attempt at damage control by members of the committee because they all knew how badly Fiore screwed-up by not mentioning first responders.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:10 PM,
How about the township hiring an assistant for Maloney a the cost of $71,000 a year, which is not counting pension, health care, sick time, vaction time, etc. You could get contractor(s) to cut a lot of grass and shovel a lot of snow for that kind of money.

Anonymous said...

ANON January 24 -7:10pm
Is this ALL you got on the current Board?
'Questioning paying $35k for cutting grass that DPW could do for free. Questioning $10k+ in snow removal contracts when DPW can clear the parking lot. Oh those thugs!! How dare they!!

Have you seen how poorly our parks are maintained? (see Tindall Park tennis courts, path through the woods, jughandles, etc) Middletown is the equivalent of Jersey City. Littered, weeds everywhere and overgrown.... The best is the tree that fell next to the abandoned Pathmark building at the intersection of rt 35 & Rt 50. It sat there for 16 months! Yes the library should depend on the township to remove the snow. Who cares about the kids who want to read? Put on their ice skates and head on in! I'd say that $45k is money well spent!

Anonymous said...

Anony 10:22 a.m.

Ignorance does not become you. You know damn well who is referred to . Are you as dumb as you sound ?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the thorough report of the library meeting machinations. I really must attend. It will be good if in the future some of them can be videotaped and open to the public to view. I am surprised that as a brand new member Larry Nelson would even consider being chairperson.

Anonymous said...

Get I get another soda and popcorn, this is getting intersting! Videoing the meetings would be a good idea. They are already audiotaped, maybe just put that online for now. I think that most taxpayers dont realize how much money goes to the library, I was one of them. As a taxpayer I want the most "bang for my buck". So I think that it is good for these new guys to be QUESTIONING the expenses. I think the library is great, but should it really take $3 mil+ to run the place???

Anonymous said...


Since its already in print, can I quote you on this one in the future?

"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."