B y Jaime Thomas
Local officials have expressed anger and disapproval following the release last week of an audit of the Pember Library and Museum.
Town Supervisor Matt Hicks said his interest in the issue is two-fold. As supervisor, he said he found it “rather disconcerting that public money is going to an institution that has very little financial control.”
And when asked if the town might be interested in matching its contribution from about $8,000 to the village’s approximately $16,000, he said that was unlikely.
“I would find it very difficult to provide taxpayer money to a board with lax guidelines. How can I justify giving taxpayer money to them?” he asked.
Pember officials have recently indicated that the museum is out of funds and out of options, so the institution is aiming to become a school district library in May, which would sustain it. However, Hicks does not think this is the answer.
“I would be extremely upset if they said they have to get on the school district tax or the doors will close. I don’t believe those are the only two options,” he said.
Speaking more vehemently when stepping out of his municipal role, Hicks explained he was a board member of the Pember Foundation when the group made an agreement in 1999. As a former member, he is particularly upset the terms were breached.
“We agreed our money would be put into an account, kept separate, kept intact. The Pember Board agreed to the stipulations. I’m appalled to find out they invaded that. It was not the Pember’s money,” Hicks said. “They violated the agreement and took money that was not theirs.”
He questioned who authorized “such an invasion,” but the Sentinel was unable to find out that information as of Tuesday afternoon.
Marcia Klam, president of the Board of Trustees, said library officials did not realize they were not supposed to use the money.
“We didn’t know we weren’t allowed to do that, because nobody told us,” she said. “We used it to pay salaries. We didn’t buy anything new; we used it to pay insurance. We just used it to keep the doors open, and that’s all.”
Ignorance no excuse
But Hicks does not find that lack of knowledge to be sufficient.
“Ignorance of the agreement is no excuse,” he said. “This was not their money; it was money given by the people of Granville over a long period of time in order to provide interest. It’s very upsetting.”
Though he said he needed to look further into the issue before discussing it, Mayor Brian LaRose did release a statement last week.
“I am deeply concerned with the findings in the State Comptroller’s Audit Report in reference to the financial discrepancies associated with the Capital Campaign and Foundation accounts at the Pember,” he said.
“The implied misappropriation of funds, deficit spending, along with the Pember Board and its director’s failure to recognize and address these findings, creates the appearance of impropriety and questions the ethics of the institution.” He went on to say the village is in the process of looking into these findings and will use all means possible to address the issue.
Hicks is calling for library officials to replace the money they illegitimately spent.
“I find the board’s actions reckless, and they should make the utmost effort to return that money as soon as possible,” he said. “They have to replace $130,000 they owe.”
The money to which he referred is principal amounts from the Foundation Agreement, of which only interest was allowed to be spent. Both Museum Director Pat Wesner and Klam maintain they were unaware of the stipulations of the agreement.
Klam said every nickel that was spent was accounted for, and “the auditors went through that with a fine-tooth comb.”
School district library
To deal with sinking funds, the library board and Wesner have hired a consultant, Libby Post, to help promote getting the Pember on the school district tax roll.
“We’re waiting to see what’s going to happen with the Pember. We’re hoping to be voted as a school district library, as are many, many libraries in New York state,” Klam said.
Hicks does not think this is the answer.
“Why should we entrust these people with more of people’s money than they’ve spent? There’s a solution somewhere, and it’ll have to be worked out,” he said.
Wesner was unable to be reached about further information surrounding the report as of Tuesday afternoon.