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Friday, November 30, 2012

2013 New Hartford Public LIbrary Budget...

will be presented to the library board at an emergency meeting at noon in Butler Hall on Tuesday, December 4, 2012.  The meeting is open to the public.

The Observer Dispatch has included an article in their November 30, 2012 newspaper, New Hartford Library to present budget Tuesday.

In response to that article, Trustee Edmund J. Wiatr, Jr. asked us to include his remarks below in our blog:
Perhaps you have already read on this blog that an analysis of the New Hartford Public Library circulation reports that the library director submits to the library board each month clearly indicates that the New Hartford Public Library patron requests for all media (books, cds, dvds, videos, magazines, etc.) has plummeted significantly over the past two (2) years.

This library board accepted (as correct) library circulation data which (upon a closer review) performed by this Trustee becomes suspect. Further, the circulation stats provided to the State Education Department in the Annual Report required by all public libraries are inflated when compared to the monthly reports provided to the library board by the Library Director each month.

My review of several of the circulation reports clearly illustrated that circulation has DECREASED between 55% - 65% each month for 2012. This was on the "heels" of a 20-25% decrease reflected in 2011 circulation stats. It was especially disconcerting when finding out that circulation stats for both the back and front door foot traffic which is also part of the Library Director's monthly report have been whited out prior to distribution to the library board for some obscure reason - yet to be determined.

The large reductions in circulation and lack of accountability for statistics regarding walk-in traffic should automatically trigger the need for careful analysis and restructuring of the current library staffing patterns along with possibly reducing the number of library staff needed. Yet, no such analysis is planned until AFTER the budget has been approved by the library board. The budget also assumes that the library director’s salary will increase from $48,000 to $60,000 in October 2013.

Trustees have an obligation not only to the library, but they also are obligated to the town residents/taxpayers who expect us to carefully monitor how taxpayer dollars are being spent.

On Wednesday evening, this library trustee (with less than one hour given to discuss) was asked to support a 2013 budget of $500,450. The budget was not prepared by the Budget Committee after a careful review of supporting documentation, but rather by one member of the committee who stated that he met with Earl Cunningham and several key library employees to prepare the 2013 budget. To the best of my knowledge, there were no members of the Budget Committee in attendance or invited to attend.

As a trustee who takes his fiduciary responsibilities very seriously, I will not and cannot support the proposed 2013 library budget until and unless it is VALIDATED by a careful review of records to include an analysis of past expenses.



Edmund J. Wiatr, Jr., Trustee NHPL - Chairman - Information Technology & Transparency & Member of the NHPL Finance Committee 315-525-4251
A review of the video of last night's meeting clearly indicates that certain trustees came to the meeting with one thing in get the Budget Committee members to agree to a $500,000+ budget with no justification for the numbers contained therein.

It reminded us of the $1,000,000 budget presented to the NHCSD taxpayers last August where we later find out in FOILed emails that at least two (2) members of the board felt that $1,000,000 was too much yet they still presented their "wish-list" budget to the public with no real justification for the budget numbers.

After Wednesday's Budget Committee meeting, emails began flying back and forth. At least one other member of the committee was not pleased with the process. Here are three (3) of the emails that flew across our desk today; two from Mr. Cerminaro to the Budget Committee and town board in answer to the third email sent out by Mr. Evans.

We intend to post the video of Wednesday's Budget Committee meeting online later today.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

How many times have we heard...

"We're one of the busiest libraries in the Mid-York System."  It was supposedly the basis for asking for an almost one million dollar budget.

At a recent Budget Committee Meeting a comment was made that the circulation statistics might not be true...they may be manipulated.  A member of the committee, the father of a library employee, was rather upset by the accusation he felt was made without proof.

Well, sir, we weren't the ones that made the accusation, but the monthly reports that have been given to the library board clearly show that circulation numbers have been manipulated.  Other than to say these reports are part of the Director's Report to the board, we can't prove who did the manipulation and whether it was done by one person or it was a 'conspiracy of silence' between certain members of the organization.

After that budget meeting, we started doing an in-depth analysis of all the month-end reports that the library director would give the board at most meetings [he sometimes failed to provide the reports so some data is not available].  The library director has stated that these reports come straight from the Mid-York database used by all libraries in the Mid-York System. That should mean that they are 'true' indicators of the library's circulation, right?

Like any report that appears to be an Excel spreadsheet, unless you see the actual file with the calculations or do your own math, you can't be sure if the information is accurate.  It is very easy for someone to manipulate numbers when all the board members receive is a hard copy of the spreadsheet.  It is a tactic we've seen before in our financial career.  Obviously none of the board members bothered to check the numbers.  Or, were some of them aware of, and actually took part in, the manipulation of statistics?

We started putting the monthly report in our own spreadsheet with calculated fields alleviating the possibility that there could be addition or subtraction errors.  The monthly reports are designed to compare two years with totals for each month and year-to-date totals. So for instance, the October 2012 report would have month-end and year-to-date figures not only for October 2012, but also for October 2011.  We noticed that the numbers could not be reconciled when compared year to year. When we compared the numbers for October 2011 on the October 2012 report with the previous year's report for October, the numbers were different.  How can that be?  We checked several monthly reports and found the same thing.

We then checked the year-end circulation numbers on the December monthly reports with the numbers that were reported to NYS on the Annual Report for Public and Association Libraries and we found that the numbers reported to the State Education Dept. were even higher than what was reported to the library board.

We also found that there were numbers that were whited out [it's obvious that something has been changed when the background color of a line on the report is always gray and yet the background is white on some reports].  Along with that, the addition and subtraction of numbers on some lines were wrong...a computer doesn't make that mistake.

We also find it interesting that suddenly, the circulation statistics each month have drastically plummeted.  According to the October 2012 report given to the board at the November meeting, the total circulation for 2012 to date is 74,244 which, when compared to the 2011 October year-to-date circulation number of 166,031, is a 55% decrease in items circulated this year over last year.  With two months left to report for 2012, the total circulation will probably be lucky to break 100,000...hardly one of the busiest libraries in the Mid-York System or Oneida County for that matter.

How come all of a sudden the circulation statistics have plummeted...a 55% decrease on top of a 25% decrease in 2011?  The library board already used the excuse that they are closed on Wednesdays to account for the 25% decrease in usage in 2011...that closure took place at the end of 2010.  It's now 2012 and that is no longer a viable reason for the sharp decrease in library usage.

At the last library board meeting on November 14, 2012, the director was questioned as to why his report for the month of October had certain numbers 'whited-out'.  The library director had no real answer, just a lot of mumbling.  Listen to the the faces of the board, who for the most part, seem totally lost.

And to think that they wanted to keep Trustee Wiatr from being appointed to the board because he has never shelved books. Perhaps they need to get people like Trustee Wiatr on board who know how to monitor the books; not shelve them!

By the way, while the library director said the report isn't most certainly is!  Here is the discussion that ensued:

So is the New Hartford Public Library the busiest in the Mid York System or has someone been making it appear that way for some reason? Just what is going on?  Supposedly, Hans is going to provide information to the board before their next meeting.

The taxpayers deserve answers.   Common on town board; it's time to start asking the hard questions and accepting nothing less than some honest answers that can be backed up with concrete evidence!!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Apparently, Mr. Wiatr isn't the only trustee being blackballed...

In an email from Connie Stephens to Mary DuRoss dated August 5, 2010, Connie writes:
Hi Mary:

After last night's meeting I am having second thoughts about Kevin on the ad hoc committee. I do not believe he and I agree on keeping discussed plans/strategy confined to committee talk until we want to report to the board. Please do not misunderstand what I am saying, but the committee should be able to discuss ideas without having someone second guess our ultimate suggestions/recommendations.
The Kevin in this email refers to Kevin Kelly, a long-time member of the library board who at one point years ago was an officer of the library board.

Several board members, led by Board President Attorney Linda Romano, believe that committee meetings should be closed to the public especially if they are called something other than a meeting. We have blogged about this many times, most recently here.

After reading this email, we thought...perhaps our Who's Who chart that we made for our last blog needs adjustment...perhaps it is upside down. Let's see...

For a larger print document, click here!

Yes, this is more like it. We have the bottom-feeders; and next, we have those who for the time being are silent.

Then we have Trustee Edmund J. Wiatr, Jr. at the top; the only trustee that is not beholding to the Romano dynasty. Trustee Wiatr feels that his duty is to the town and the taxpayers of the town, along with the best interests of the library.

The facts are starting to come out. The town board is well aware of what is wrong, but they, along with several members of the library board, have been silent thus far.

Well, as you can see in our "new" chart, the water is slowly rising. How many more emails will we have to release before some of these trustees get their head out of their a$$ and do what is right?

We know that some of the trustees read this blog...they have even referred to our blog in their emails [they think it belongs to Trustee Wiatr and blame him for hurting the library...LOL]. According to their emails they even watch our videos to see what they said at their meetings.

Time to sink or swim Trustees of the New Hartford Public Library. Stand up with Trustee Wiatr and say "The emperor has no clothes..." or more than likely you can plan on going down with the ship.

Here is the email regarding Kevin 100 of 466!

And the 2013 Nominees Are.....Drum Roll, please...

Linda Romano for President; Connie Stephens, Vice President; John Klein, Secretary; and Karen Madden, Treasurer.

That was the 2013 slate of officers submitted by the Nominating Committee at the New Hartford Public Library Board of Trustees Annual Meeting held November 14, 2012.

Incidentally, the Nominating Committee consists of Connie Stephens and Mary DuRoss. Apparently, Ms. Stephens felt she would make the best Vice President and nominated herself...big surprise there!

According to the New Hartford Public Library Board of Trustees by-laws:
"Tenure of the President of the Board shall not exceed two consecutive full terms of one year each. In unusual or unique situations, on a vote of two-thirds of the full Board, the President may serve an additional term of one year.
After Mary DuRoss listed her committee's slate, Ms. Romano submitted Mary DuRoss' name for president. Of course, like sheep almost as if it had been pre-planned, two-thirds of the board voted to accept Ms. Romano's nomination as president of the board for one (1) more year. After all, these are trying times!

We did a chart [we like to call the "Who's Who on the New Hartford Public Library Board of Trustees"] showing the past officers as well as the newly appointed officers of the library board:

Click here for a larger print document!

Before the vote took place, Trustee Wiatr asked some very poignant questions; the answers he received were "priceless".

Mr. Wiatr wanted to know when the Nominating Committee met because committee meetings are supposed to be open to the public. Mary DuRoss said that she and Connie talked over the phone and sometimes met for coffee to discuss the nominations. Open Meetings Law...what's that?

Mr. Wiatr asked how the nominees were vetted. Ms. DuRoss had some very "special" criteria. Of course, it was very obvious that the criteria was directed against Mr. Wiatr holding any office.

Ms. DuRoss also stated that some board members were too new to take on the responsibilities that go along with the offices.

Hmmm...Karen Madden was officially named a trustee by the Library Board at their October 2012 meeting; yet she was nominated as the Treasurer for 2013 at the November 2012 meeting with a majority vote to accept her nomination.

[Unfortunately, a couple of days later Ms. Madden resigned from the board so, it would appear that at present, there is no treasurer of the New Hartford Library Board of Trustees.]

Here is the portion of the November 14, 2012 Library Trustee meeting where the nominations were discussed.

Insanity...doing the same thing over and over again...but expecting different results!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"He was not aware that he was on camera and being videoed..."

so says Library Director Hans Plambeck in an email to then Board President Linda Romano, then Board Vice President Connie Stephens and then Board Secretary Mary DuRoss sent on October 31, 2011.  In this case, the "he" was Trustee Edmund J. Wiatr, Jr.

As a member of the New Hartford Public Library Finance Committee, Trustee Wiatr visited the New Hartford Public Library to review financial documents last October. Why did Library Director Hans Plambeck find it necessary to videotape Trustee Wiatr as he sat quietly reviewing the requested financial data never suspecting that his visit was being videotaped?

Perhaps they were getting nervous about what information Trustee Wiatr was looking for because it was days before they were shamed into holding a public meeting on November 7, 2011 regarding their rechartering plans.

The meeting on November 7, 2011 was supposed to be hush-hush with only guests like NHCS Superintendent Bob Nole and Town Supervisor Patrick Tyksinski invited to attend because Board President and Attorney Linda Romano deemed it to be a workshop. [Yeah, like workshops where all the board members are present aren't open to the public. What a crock!]

However, in keeping with the Open Meetings Law, Trustee Wiatr made it known to the media that the meeting was taking place; library board officers had no choice but to let the public know when and where the meeting was to be held. We blogged about it here.

Trustee Wiatr is no stranger to the staff of the New Hartford Public Library and certainly he is not a stranger to Mr. Plambeck; their paths have crossed many times and it is almost always on a confrontational basis.

At any rate, Mr. Plambeck had absolutely no reason to videotape Trustee Wiatr. More importantly, Plambeck's email to officers of the New Hartford Public Library Board of Trustees leaves a lot of questions.

Did Mr. Plambeck receive orders from library board officers/trustees to watch Mr. Wiatr so they could find out what information he was looking at?

Is this standard operating procedure?

How many other times have people been videotaped at the library without their knowledge?

Are children being videotaped as they play outside the meeting room where Mr. Wiatr was videotaped?

Are executive sessions of other board meetings held in the library being videotaped by the Director?

Is the use of video surveillance during the hours the library is open to the public sanctioned by the library board?

What does the library do with the there a destruction policy?

We checked and could find no New Hartford Public Library Policy for the use of video surveillance equipment or the disposal of tapes as is clearly outlined by the American Library Association. Here is a portion of the information found on their website:
If the library decides surveillance is necessary, it is essential for the library to develop and enforce strong policies protecting patron privacy and confidentiality appropriate to managing the equipment, including routine destruction of the tapes in the briefest amount of time possible, or as soon as permitted by law.

Such policies should state that the cameras are to be used only for the narrow purpose of enhancing the physical security of the library, its property, staff and patrons.

Policies should also include protocols for posting signs or giving notice about the presence of surveillance cameras; storing of videotapes and other digital images in a secure location; and routine destruction of tapes or images in the briefest amount of time possible, or as soon as permitted by law.
Here is Library Director Hans Plambeck's email to the officers of the New Hartford Public Library, page 383 of 466 FOILed emails.

Videotaping of library patrons is a serious matter that needs to be discussed and a policy needs to be adopted by the library board with serious consequences for those that violate the policy; it is not a matter to be decided by the Library Director.

At the library board meeting held on November 14, 2012, Trustee Wiatr was told that he should go to the library to get the records he feels he needs to formulate a budget. We can't help but wonder if his visit will once again be recorded.

With that said, we will move on to the library budget that has yet to be adopted for 2013.

Here is the portion of the November 14, 2013 library board meeting where the budget is being discussed. It leaves little doubt as to why there has been no 2013 budget adopted by the New Hartford Public Library Board of Trustees. This is a truly a dysfunctional board who will once again be given at minimum $420,000 of taxpayer dollars [$400,000 from the town, according to Supervisor Tyksinski...if they are able to put together a budget, with an additional $20,000 from the county.].

Thursday, November 15, 2012

"I'm not aware of a conflict of interest," he said.

The "he" in this case is New Hartford Central School Superintendent Robert Nole in response to the Observer Dispatch for a May 13, 2012 article...two days before the voters in the NHCSD were asked to approve the purchase of 29 Oxford Road and vacant land on George Ave. both owned by Ashford-Clinton Corp.; a company owned by Linda Romano and her husband Russell Petralia.

The article also stated:
As for Romano’s role in the proposed purchase, Hallak said he does not believe she had any. Hallak also said he does not believe Romano suggested the purchase to the district.

“I’ve only seen Russ’ name in documents,” he said. “I don’t know that she has any financial interest in the purchase.”
Hallak is Attorney Anthony Hallak of Felt Evans, LLP, an attorney retained by the New Hartford Central School District.

Why are we bringing this back to light? Because one of the FOILed emails specifically addresses Trustee Edmund J. Wiatr, Jr. and also our blog.

On April 29, 2012, Ms. Romano writes to Connie Stephens:
At this juncture, I continue to believe that ignoring him is the best. It's got to be very, very frustrating for him. I understand he ran me over the coals at the NH BOE meeting last week over 29 Oxford. He has to know that I have since heard about it. I have said nothing to him, which must be killing him. I do love his allegation, however, that Russ and I make a lot of money from our real estate dealings with the District!!!!! If he starts badmouthing the rechartering without cowardly hiding behind some blog, I would certainly recommend changing our approach. Right now, I just don't have time for Ed Wiatr. Enjoy the rest of your weekend everyone.
Ms. Romano's silence killing Ed??? Hardly!

As well as FOILing emails from the library, we also FOILed attorney invoices from New Hartford Central School District. Those invoices tell a completely different story than the one given to the Observer Dispatch by Attorney Hallak and Superintendent Nole.

Attorney Hallak's invoices frequently named Ms. Romano and Laura Roberto, Ms. Romano's paralegal, as the persons Hallak was dealing with regarding these purchases. Not once did we find the name Russell Petralia in Mr. Hallak's invoices regarding the lease/purchase of 29 Oxford Road and the George Ave. property discussions.

Here are Attorney Hallak's invoices.

Although we wrote several blogs about questions the New Hartford Central School District doesn't want voters to ask, we now have a few more...
Did Superintendent Nole really not know that Attorney Hallak was working with Linda Romano regarding 29 Oxford Road and George Ave?
Did Superintendent Nole really not realize that Ms. Romano was part-owner of Ashford-Clinton Corp?
And is Attorney Hallak serious...why did he bill the school for letters and discussions with Linda Romano unless she was involved?
If no one believed that there was a conflict of interest issue, how come the statements given by Superintendent Nole and Attorney Hallak in the May 13, 2012 Observer Dispatch article don't comport with billing details outlined in Attorney Hallak's invoices which were submitted to the New Hartford Central School District each month?
By the way, here is Ms. Romano's 247 of 466 FOILed pages of emails.

We will revisit the email from Library Trustee Rich Evans at the top of page 247 regarding Mr. Wiatr at a later date. Look at the subject of Mr. Evan's email..."From Topix". Ha!Ha!Ha!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"I think 1,000,000 is too much too..."

These are actual words taken from an email exchange dated May 4, 2012 between New Hartford Public Library Board of Trustees President Linda E. Romano and Virginia Emmert, former NHPL trustee and board secretary. Copies of the email were also sent to Vice President Connie Stephens, Trustee Mary DuRoss and Treasurer Earl Cunningham, part of the Recharter Committee that met behind closed doors in violation of the Open Meetings Law to plan the August 23, 2012 vote to recharter as a school district library with a budget of almost $1,000,000.

No kidding. Two trustees who were the main players behind all the planning for the vote actually put in writing that they thought $1,000,000 was too much to ask, but they decided to "go ahead with the exercise" anyway. Ms. Romano's email was actually in answer to an email authored by former Trustee and Secretary Virginia Emmert that read in part:
"And, after relecting [actual spelling by Ms. Emmert in her email] on Tim's million dollar budget, I cannot help but feel that many in the community would be outraged at that figure. I know he feels that if we justify that amount, they will be happy to vote for it. Maybe I will feel different when I see what a million dollars will offer to the community but at this point, I feel it is excessive."
Tim, in the above excerpt, would be Tim Trainor of Trainor Associates, the PR firm hired by the library to orchestrate the whole vote process. We blogged about Mr. Trainor's message at the May 16, 2012 Library Board meeting where he warned library trustees that $1,000,000 may not be enough to prepare for the future needs of the library.

Based on the outcome of the vote, we would say that the community was definitely outraged at the thought that additional taxes to fund a million dollar library budget might be attached to their New Hartford Central School tax bill if the rechartering was approved. However, probably taxpayers were not quite as outraged as they probably will be when they get all the details straight from the "horses' mouths" so to speak.

We are in possession of 466 emails that were recently FOILed from Connie Stephens, current Trustee of the New Hartford Public Library. We will be sharing them over the next few weeks. Get out the popcorn machine, pull up a comfortable chair and be ready to watch the show.

Oh, by the way, for those that are interested, here is the FOILed copy of the email exchange between Ms. Romano and Mrs. #240 of 466!