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Even with quorum, Gary library board stalls

Updated: July 28, 2012 6:42AM



GARY — In its first meeting in months, the Gary Public Library board failed to pay bills, opening the door to possible lawsuits, and had to vote twice to name an interim director.

A new election of officers was due in May, but several board members regularly skipped meetings, denying the board a quorum.

That lack of quorum also meant the district could not approve payments on large contracts, including millions of dollars to turn the former Main Branch into the South Shore Museum and Cultural Center.

“To be frank, it would be disastrous if all of these contracts went unpaid at the same time,” attorney Trent McCain warned the seven-member board.

“It would make me a very busy man.”

Because the board could not get past a tie vote of 3-3 on a number of motions, a contract for $415,500 to Gariup Construction for work on the new museum, as well as nearly $3 million to Powers and Sons, change-order payments to architect Form+Funktion, and others, will go unpaid for now.

Board members tended to stay in their voting blocs, with Tony Walker, Rayfield Fisher and Jonathan Boose voting for payment, while members Nancy Valentine, Sadie Sheffield and Paula Nalls tending to vote against motions to make payments on the contracts.

The members opposed to the payments said they needed more information on the contracts.

At one point, after unsuccessfully moving to decline payment to a contractor, newly named board president Valentine said she wanted to review the museum construction contracts before voting on them.

“Surely, we don’t want to go into litigation,” but she does not want to spend all of the library’s reserve funds on the museum construction, Valentine said.

McCain advised the board he would research what happens to such contracts when a board deadlocks on paying them.

Over the past two years, the library board has had more plot twists and turns than most of the books on library shelves.

A board member, Cynthia Watts, was replaced in an ouster led by political insider and Lake County Councilwoman Elsie Franklin, a no-show at nearly all the board meetings.

Mary Ann Canty-Reedus, a former library board member, replaced Watts, but Canty-Reedus did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, leaving two even divided factions on the board.

Board members Valentine, Nalls and Sheffield, who was named board vice-president at Tuesday’s meeting, frequently missed meetings, denying quorums.

Until Tuesday, they formed a minority voting bloc against former board president Walker, Boose, Fisher and, before her removal, Watts.

Acting library director Diana Morrow was named interim director effective immediately, but only after the board split evenly, again, on naming her in a first round of votes.

Nalls, one of the members who repeatedly missed meetings and denied the board a quorum, insisted McCain research Morrow’s compensation as interim director.



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