The state is stepping into the library’s financial fray.
According to a letter from the Maryland Department of Education, the governing entity that oversees all libraries, the state will conduct quarterly audits of the library’s 2009 corrective plan; monitor the library’s financial process until it is no longer operating with a deficit; and send a representative to conduct on-site checks and training with the Board of Trustees. The news came as a response to a letter written by the county commissioners requesting an emergency audit. The commissioners have no legal power over the library board or its director.
The county’s Chief Financial Officer Pat Merritt said, “Hopefully that will help us find the ‘missing’ $26,000 in original grant funds.”
The $26,000 was part of a capital improvement grant for the library renovation, a project the county funded initially with the understanding the county funds would be reimbursed by the library when the grant money came in. However, the state cut the grant amount last fall and notified the library, who failed to notify the county.
The library has also turned over credit card statements and Board meeting minutes in an attempt to explain the $100,000 deficit it is currently operating with.
County Administrator Susie Hayman said the commissioners requested any documents that supported the Board’s approval to go over past budgets. Reading from a memo she said, “The response we got from Library Director Jerry Keiser was: ‘The library does not have any internal documents authorizing expenditures in excess of budgeted amounts, because procedures did not require any.’”
In response Commissioner William Pickrum said, “Unfortunately, I think officials that have oversight of our library in the state missed this one. Whether they were asleep at the switch I don’t know.”
Hayman and Merritt have not had a chance to go over all the credit card statements, but already some things are “jumping out,” Hayman said. In particular is a $4,000 charge in Key West, Fla. during a library/writers’ convention.
“There are four different charges for more than $900 each … the Key West Hotel bill is more than $4,000,” Hayman said.
Merritt said that one of the line items that were over-spent in the 2009 budget was travel and once she and Hayman have the time to look at everything “we’ll have a better idea of how the money was spent.”
Audience members questioned how the Board of Trustees could let the library get into such financial straights and why the director had not resigned.
“We’re talking about volunteers here … I do think some things were kept from them (the Board),” Commissioner Ron Fithian said. “There’s a way for them to fix this. They’ll have to make some tough decisions, but they can fix this. They have told us they know this is their responsibility, and they want to make it right.”
Speaking from the audience, John Vail questioned the Board’s response to the library’s financial troubles, and whether they were really taking the matter seriously.
“I’ve worked in Human Resources all my life and we know that the Board of Trustees reprimanded him (Keiser),” Vail noted. “You don’t reprimand someone when you intend to fire them. They obviously think it’s ok and enough. You [commissioners] need to send a letter to them that as the main funding source you don’t have faith in their director and they need to replace him.”
While both Fithian and Pickrum agreed with Vail’s assessment, they declined to make any requests for personnel changes in a letter to the library. They would, however, ask that a revised budget be adopted by Aug. 17; ask the Board to account for the $26,000 in grant funds; and ask for the Board’s position on the additional money the county paid to cover construction costs.
The next Board of Trustee’s meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 4 at 3 p.m. in the yellow building in the library’s parking lot. According to an agenda posted on the library’s Web site, the Board intends to discuss the Fiscal Year 2011 budget.