Gary Library Board absences impede library business
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent May 25, 2012 5:14PM
Tony Walker. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 3, 2012 9:32AM
GARY — The Gary Public Library Board has been unable to conduct official library business — from paying employees and appointing an interim director to paying bills and expenses — due to a lack of a quorum on its seven-member board for two months.
According to library officials, board members Nancy Valentine and Sadie Sheffield missed regular meetings in March, April and May, while member Paula Nalls arrived late to the March meeting and missed the April and May meetings.
Whether for political ploys or time restrictions, the poor attendance by the three members has drawn mixed reactions from their appointing bodies.
Board attorney Trent McCain said he has advised the library administration to issue paychecks, with hopes the board will ratify them later. And he’s advised the staff to handle utility bills and other expenses as they arise.
“In the state of Indiana, if you haven’t been paid by 14 days of doing the work, you can have a wage claim,” an official legal action with the Department of Labor, McCain said. “We don’t want to have these claims against us, so it was prudent to advise the board to do that.”
As for vendors’ bills, “we would look at something like that on a case-by-case basis,” McCain said.
The seven members are appointed by the Gary Community School Corp., which has three slots on the board, while the Lake County Council, the Lake County Board of Commissioners, the Gary City Council and the Gary mayor each get one appointment.
For several years, the board has been filled with political maneuvering and voting blocs, with the recent majority bloc — comprised of board president Tony Walker and members Jonathan Boose, Rayfield Fisher and, until last month, Cynthia Watts — often opposed by members Sheffield, Valentine and Nalls.
In a move led by Lake County Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, a political insider who is also the Gary Democratic Party chairwoman, the County Council last month removed longtime member Watts and has yet to name her replacement.
The library system has had its share of roller-coaster moments, especially since property tax caps kicked in and the system’s budget subsequently was reduced by more than half.
The board recently voted for layoffs, the controversial closure and conversion of the Main Branch into a cultural center and museum, meanwhile dealing with a laundry list of disagreements between the two voting blocs.
‘Your duty to attend’
Gary School Board president Darren Washington said he was not aware of Valentines’ absences and planned to discuss the situation with the his board’s appointee to the Library Board. Washington said it is important for members of the Library Board to attend meetings.
“It is your duty to attend meetings” he said. “Now, whether or not we agree on policy decisions, we trust appointees’ decisions, but when you get to the point you’re not making meetings, you’re not making your voice known. You’re not there to represent residents or entities to that position. You’ve got to be at the meetings, to be active.”
County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen said he’s OK with Sheffield’s absences, to a point, if it’s to prove a point. Sheffield recently was reappointed by the Board of Commissioners to another four-year term.
“I have expectations as far as (Sheffield’s) attendance, but sometimes, as part of your deliberation, if you are in a voting minority, and there’s a certain outcome you’re trying to address, sometimes the only way to affect the outcome is to deny a quorum,” Allen said. “It’s jut a ploy that gives the minority vote some consideration as far as a bargaining position.”
Allen said Sheffield has kept the commissioners informed of the various library issues, but missing more than three meetings would become a concern.
Others want appointments
Gary City Councilwoman Kimberly Robinson, who is also chair of the council’s committee on commissions and boards, did not say Nalls missed meetings to deny a quorum intentionally but she also was not as forgiving as Allen.
The council expects its appointees to attend meetings and get involved in their respective boards, Robinson said.
Nalls has told the committee she’s interested in keeping her post, but others have come forward to get her spot, Robinson added.
“Many council people have asked about (Nalls’) attendance,” Robinson said. “If denying a quorum is something she’s doing on her own, that’s not something we would look on as representing us. You don’t just not show up because you have some kind of silent protest.”