Forbes Library Update
Board Welcomes D.A.'s Privacy Ruling
By Edward Shanahan
At its November meeting, the Forbes Library Board of Trustees embraced the recent ruling by the Northwestern District Attorney’s office that the board is not a public governmental body and thus not subject to the provisions of the state Open meeting Law.
The ruling came in response by a request by downstreet.net for access to minutes from a closed meeting March 13 at which the trustees approved a payment to settle a dispute involving a library employee who had been fired.
Acting on advice of its lawyer, Atty. Elaine Reall, the trustees refused to disclose any information about the size of the pay-off or details about the settlement when challenged by downstreet.net.
At its Nov. 14 meeting, Trustee David Bloomberg defended the board’s position by saying the board accepted the District Attorney’s description of the elected library board as “not a governmental body, subject to the Open Meeting Law, and this Office must decline to review its meetings.”
During a discussion of the issue between Bloomberg, himself a lawyer, and Edward Shanahan, editor of downstreet.net, the other four trustees, all elected by citywide vote, mainly remained silent, and let Bloomberg defend the library’s position.
He said that, despite the position taken by the District Attorney that the trustees are a private entity, Bloomberg said they would continue to comply with the provisions of the Open Meeting Law.
Bloomberg said that the trustees “in the interest of transparency” would “use every effort to adhere” to the provisions of the Open Meeting Law. But the board would also conduct closed meetings as circumstances warranted, such as protecting employee privacy, which is a permitted exemption of the Open Meeting Law.
The board, he said, would function in the future as it had in the past, recognizing that the library’s operations are funded by the taxpayers. The current city budget provides $1 million for fiscal 2008 Forbes Library operations.
Bloomberg said he was satisfied that a 1983 Supreme Judicial Court decision cited by Atty. Reall for determining that the Forbes board is a non-governmental body is sound law. “We’re a private entity” based on a private will (of Charles Forbes) and private endowment, he said.
This definition of the Forbes board as a private body has not previously been publicly discussed or debated. However, Russell Carrier, president of the board, said that each time the library and its employees begin wage negotiations the staff begins by stating they are not city employees.
Shanahan, who served four years as a trustee, argued that the private nature of the library board was an “anomaly” that should be clarified, if not changed, given that the trustees are publicly elected and public funds are used to operate the library. “This is incredible.”
One board member suggested facetiously that maybe downstreet.net, might want to take the issue to the Supreme Judicial Court for review. Shanahan countered by saying that the law is always changing and maybe the 1983 ruling would not stanup upon a new examination.
For background and detail, read related Forbes stories in our archives.