B y Jaime Thomas
Pember officials refused to participate in a closed meeting with Mayor Brian LaRose Tuesday night, because they say they wanted public participation.
LaRose asked Museum Director Pat Wesner and Marcia Klam, president of the Board of Trustees, to meet with himself and Village Attorney Mike Martin, and he suggested they bring their attorney, Robert Schofield.
LaRose had drafted a letter outlining several concerns the village has with the Pember that have come to light since the release of an audit report of the Office of the State Comptroller.
“They’re simple questions that a board in its governance…would be able to answer without any hesitations.”
It finishes by questioning the viability of the Pember under present leadership and management.
Though he intended to question Wesner and Klam about issues surrounding the Pember Library and Museum, they would not take part.
“We wanted it to be an open meeting. We have nothing to hide,” Wesner said. “We wanted the press there, and they wouldn’t let us have the press there.”
After the Pember officials left the meeting, LaRose said he was “deeply concerned” they had refused to discuss matters privately.
“I am deeply saddened with the fact we could not identify those concerns, answer those questions in what I feel is an appropriate manner,” he said. “The Pember required media be present. In the second breath they condemned me, and they condemned my staff for comments made in the paper. I wanted to minimize that and speak to the Pember directly.”
“My office has received numerous substantial complaints from our constituents in recent weeks relating to any and all of these concerns and more than just a few constituents have questioned the viability of the Pember Library and Museum under the present management and leadership” the letter reads, before asking the two to respond to the above questions by Monday, Feb. 3.
Should they not provide “satisfactory answers” by that date, the “Village Board of Trustees will be forced to consider whatever actions necessary to protect and defend our constituents’ property.”
In addition to questioning current management, the letter describes in detail the mayor’s concerns, describing numerous constituents who have expressed alarm about Pember management and conflicts of interest as well.
Four main issues are addressed in the letter.
The first is the invasion of the principal of the Pember endowment; in which library officials spent down significantly the principal of the account, when they were only permitted to spend interest earned.
LaRose explained that the immediate past president and secretary of the Board of Trustees signed statements accepting these stipulations. He then went on to ask if current Pember officials knowingly violated the terms or the agreement; if not, he asked if the village should further examine the former officials’ actions.
The next issue LaRose focused on was trustee and governance concerns, which appear to have violated established bylaws.
A set of bylaws dated in May of 1993 say that each trustee be at least 21 years of age and a resident of the town of Granville, with no more than three living outside of the village. By contrast, bylaws dated December 1998 said that each trustee be at least 21 years old and a resident of the town of Granville, but only three must live in the village.
The mayor then went on to quote a New York State statue passed in 1978, deeming “…the number of such members of said library board of trustees who reside outside the village shall not exceed three at any one time.”
He asked Wesner and Klam if subsequent legislation had been passed to allow that requirement to be relaxed further, from a requirement of six village residents to three.
Barring additional documentation provided to substantiate this reduction, the letter said “it is the village’s opinion that the last three trustees appointed who reside outside of the village limits must be vacated immediately.”
The third point the letter addresses is conflicts of interest, specifically that of Wesner and her husband, Mark Lee Wesner, who is a principal in Keefe and Wesner, the architectural firm hired to expand the library.
The letter quotes the Pember’s current bylaws regarding the subject, which states “No trustee…nor any staff member, nor any member of their immediate families, shall personally benefit financially from any transaction made by or on behalf of the Pember Library and Museum beyond the normal issuance of payroll and benefits provided by the board to Pember Library and Museum employees.”
LaRose then wrote that more than $200,000 of Capital Campaign moneys has gone to Keefe and Wesner, and more than $7,700 has gone directly to Pat Wesner.
“On its face, these payments appear to be a conflict of interest as defined by the Pember’s own bylaws,” LaRose wrote. “…This is troubling,” he continued, asking for a contrary explanation.
Next LaRose brought up Pember officials’ plan to become a school district library, an idea that poses a major problem in the village’s eyes.
The Pember deed stipulates that should trustees be elected by a vote, which is part of being a school district library, “the title to said premises herby conveyed and all of the property, furniture, fixtures, museum and entire contents thereof passing by this conveyance shall immediately revert to the grantors…and their heirs.”
LaRose then wrote that the village’s fiscal responsibility to its constituents is maintaining and protecting the library as its property.
“From my chair, my feeling is that before that (becoming a school district library) is to be done, or even entertained to be done, all other options must be exhausted. I personally feel with the right management and the right board at its helm, the ability to secure grants is out there,” he said.
After the meeting, he said there were covenants in Pember’s deed that “foreshadowed all of this.”
Additionally, the village expressed concern about a meeting that took place last Wednesday at the museum, which violated the state’s Open Meetings Law because there was no notice given to the public.
“I find this whole thing saddening. I do not feel that ignorance is an excuse,” LaRose said after the meeting, adding that the village “will do everything in its power to make sure we have looked at every avenue.”
“The village is going to move forward; we do have tools in our arsenal we will use. I feel I have no other recourse than to direct those questions to a higher source,” he said.
LaRose said no one from the Pember has ever approached him about the institution’s pending insolvency.
“This isn’t something that happened over a year. This isn’t something that happened over two years. This is something that has been transpiring over a number of years.”
He said he “finds this whole thing saddening” and does not feel that ignorance is an excuse; rather, he said accountability must drive the issues.
“That’s all I see is smoke, and I don’t like to see smoke; I like to find where the fire is and put it out.”