Resident, officials at odds over ‘FOIL’ requests

B y Jaime Thomas

A Granville resident has been using Freedom of Information Laws to request information from the Pember Library and Museum to find out exactly what the library board is doing financially.

But George Henry doesn’t think he is getting what he’s asking for.

“I strongly deny that I have any feeling that the board has been open and honest; I think they keep everything to themselves,” he said on Tuesday. For several months, he has been attending library meetings, asking questions and “foiling” officials.

He said they have given him some of the information he requested, but not all of it.

“When I asked questions, Bo Young and Marcia Klam [board members] said they’re an open book, but they’ve been everything but. The next day he gave me the one copy of the 2010-11 audit reports. He specifically said this was all I was getting, this is it,” Henry said, adding that Klam, the head of the library board, told him that her lawyer said she did not have to reply to his requests.

The Sentinel was unable to make contact with the attorney before the paper went to press.

Library officials, however, said they have been compliant with his requests for the most part. Pat Wesner, Pember director, said when they haven’t been immediately forthcoming, it was because they needed to first speak with an attorney.

Henry submitted a request on March 20, for example, for total expenditures for architectural services rendered since the expansion drive began through to present (including quarterly reviews) and to whom were those payments made. Wesner said this information extends back to 1999, so the board had to find out if they were responsible to produce all of it.

“We have a very small staff that is stretched to the limit providing library and museum programs and services. If we have not responded immediately to George’s requests we apologize. We have to prioritize and weigh the needs of the community for our services above all else. He receives the things he requests when our responsibilities to employees, past and present, are met,” Young said in an email.

Additionally, Wesner said officials have told Henry he is welcome to look at the original documents himself from files at the library.

Henry said he is concerned with recent library budgets and spending, especially within the expansion project. From looking at the previous two years’ budgets, he said more than $100,000 was spent on the capital improvement fund and questions where it went.

Young said this yearly line item on the budget is for capital projects, including an expansion plan created by Keefe and Wesner, an architectural firm, in 1999. The board entered the most recent contract with the company in January 2009 for a scope of work that includes architectural design, geothermal reports, drawing and specifications and completion of schematic design and construction documents, Young said.

Aside from the Foil requests, Henry was upset that he was not able to speak at a public, monthly meeting last week. At the end of the April meeting, Young asked if there was any public comment. The May meeting was different.

“If it’s not on the agenda tonight, we won’t be dealing with it,” Young said at the beginning of the meeting, and did not give Henry the opportunity to speak when he tried.

“We follow Robert’s Rules of Order, and this is standard procedure. No one requested public comment at that time (at the beginning of the meeting) and therefore there was no agenda item for public comment, which would also be subject to a time limit, as well. There is nothing unusual about this and this is the procedure for most meetings,” Young said in an email the following day.

Both Wesner and Henry said they believed this was due to Young having another appointment immediately following the meeting, but Henry was still dissatisfied.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Henry had not yet received the information he requested, which the library’s attorney promised to send him by early last week. He said he is “just interested in having library officials follow the rules and be upfront about it.”

“I hope to accomplish a Pember Library and Museum, which is functional, efficient and follows the outline of the original founder, Mr. Pember,” he said.

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