LtE: Why Don’t We Care?

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Dear Editor,

I recently attended the Board of Library Trustees meeting (BOLT) as well as the Friends of Reading Public Library meeting. These two organizations quietly run in our town with little oversight.    

The BOLT has come under scrutiny and rightfully so.  While at a recent meeting, I was flabbergasted at the lack of questions about things that are happening. In one meeting, Ms. Lannon spoke to how a recent DEI initiative for Period Poverty had been approved by the Board. (This is wonderful) When the vendor came to install the dispensers approved by the Board, he told Ms. Lannon that if we bought X more than we had signed on for, we would receive Y. Ms. Lannon noted, “I just decided to go ahead and do that.” Ms. Lannon unilaterally made a decision on how to spend money and change what the Board had voted on. The Board, the holders of the purse strings, had no input into this decision. While this initiative was paid for by grant and didn’t effect our budget it brought me pause.

Ms. Lannon unilaterally changing a Board voted decision is concerning, especially considering the Director’s role does not include voting rights on financial matters. Why do we even have a Board? Not a single Board member balked at what Ms. Lannon said nor was a single question asked. How many other small decisions are made where the Board votes one way and she ultimately overrides it? When such matters are brought up at the monthly meeting, they are glossed over without any follow-up questions or comments.

We elected our six Board of Library Trustees to be the people who help govern our library and it’s budget. That role includes providing appropriate oversight and challenge on all matters impacting the library financials and was designed so that no one person can make any financial decisions.

I also attended the Friends of Reading Public Library meeting. At that meeting, I learned that they raise approximately $45k a year and donate it to the library unencumbered. While that sounds wonderful, the Friends stated, “without us donating the money, the Library would have no programming.” This is confusing, as the library has a budget of $1.9 million dollars and a programming budget of $4k; however, it makes more sense when you see that any controversial leaning program at the library is considered “funded” by your Friends of The Library. It seems this is a loop-hole for our library to ensure that tax payers don’t have a say in what is offered – we (the tax payers) don’t pay for it, so we can’t complain. When I asked the Friends if there was anything the library could host that they would be upset their money was used for, they answered firmly ‘no”. 

Another very concerning issue that came to light is in regards to CORI checks. CORI checks are criminal background checks performed on the employees and volunteers of the library. If watch the May 8, 2023, YouTube video, at the 1 hour and 50 minute point, you can see Ms. Lannon stating her thoughts on CORI checks. Ms. Lannon states that she spoke to town legal counsel and that we are “in compliance.” We are running them on employees and volunteers. However, we aren’t running CORI checks on VENDORS…the very vendors hosting programming in our library. How are we in compliance? The law states, “any entity or organization primarily engaged in providing activities or programs to children 18 years of age or less, shall obtain all available criminal offender record information from the department prior to accepting any person as an employee, volunteer, vendor or contractor.”(MGL 172H) 

One of the BOLT members asked “What would be the downside of doing them?”. Ms. Lannon responded, “it could be a turn off to someone coming.” If someone doesn’t want a CORI check performed on them, do we really want them in our library hosting a program to our children? The argument from The Friends of Reading Public Library is that we have random people walking around the library all day with our children. While this may be true, is running a CORI check really that much of a hassle to our library? What if the CORI check identifies something serious? Wouldn’t we want to know?  

The answer to that question was puzzling. From following the conversation at the meeting, it seems that there is no real procedure with vendors to follow regarding matters of vendor issues (e.g., not fulfilling contractual obligations; failure of CORI check, etc.). Further, it was unclear if we have contracts with our vendors and (if we do) if the terms are clearly documented outlining the impact to each party when one side fails to comply with the contract terms. It seems we are currently working on a loose document, but it was unclear the point of that, and no one asked. On this document they are thinking of asking the question “Have you had a CORI done?” But if the vendor checks “yes” or “no,” that’s where it would end. The example given by the director about why CORI checks are challenging is this; Say a vendor coming in for programming is caught in a snow storm and their program is cancelled – Ms. Lannon gave the example if we still pay them or pay them 50% of the contract, or not at all? The same would be said if we did a CORI and it came back with ‘something”. What would we do? Why do our contracts with vendors not include language outlining the terms that will/will not be met if a program is canceled and have vendors sign it? What good will a check box on a random form about a CORI check do? We ask them, but don’t care if they say yes or no. Don’t take my word for it, go watch the video. 

I’m sure that if a CORI check flagged a vendor who is a law-abiding gun owner and member of the NRA but had committed a felony, this town would want to know all about it. But when it’s only identifying vendors who could be pedophiles and murderers, I guess we just don’t care.

Why is this such a hard ask?  

The Library meetings are now televised on RCTV and can be found on YouTube. 

Alicia Williams
Town meeting member

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