Northampton CPA's Debut Disbursements
Raise Anew the Forbes Library
By Edward Shanahan
Whoa, let’s put the brakes on the Community Preservation Committee’s recommendation that Forbes Library get $250,000 in coveted CPA money for each of four years (that would be $1 million) to continue exterior repairs and restoration to the aged library building on West Street.
Only in the last few months have we learned that legal authorities, including the Northwest District Attorney and the state Office of Public Records, have determined the library’s board of trustees is a private, not a governmental body.
Thus, the library board is not subject to the provisions of the Open Meeting Law or the other guarantees of public access to records imposed on virtually every other municipal board in the Commonwealth.
Isn’t anyone paying attention to this surprising and potentially far-reaching legal interpretation?
So, before the mayor and City Council rubber stamp the CPA recommendation, it seems essential, at the minimum, for the newly created Best Practices Committee to take a look at this issue and make a recommendation.
The matter of the legal status of the library board is not trivial when you consider that we elect the five member board and appropriate nearly $1 million in taxpayer funds annually to operate the library.
Add to that the hundreds of thousands of capital improvement funds channeled into the library in the last several years to carry out exterior repairs. In addition, the city put up some $750,000 to help with the library’s most recent interior renovations as did the library board by dipping into its own $3 million endowment.
And why with all of this ongoing city support and with the abundant endowment resources of the “private” board, does the library jump to the top of the list for those entitled to grants from the special pool of money created by the brand new Community Preservation Act.
This “found” CPA money is the result of a controversial property tax surcharge which is to dispensed each year to any number of worthy but competing community projects, involving housing, recreation, and historical preservation needs.
While, private entities are not barred from receiving CPA funds – witness the highly defensible $220,000 grant earmarked for the First Churches to help with the cost of roof repairs – it is important to address squarely the abnormal governance of Forbes now rather than later.
Before the mayor and City Council dot the Is and cross the Ts approving the Forbes grant, legal steps should be taken to guarantee that the governing of Forbes Library is in public, not private hands. And as such, is required to abide by all of the restrictions and given all of the rights of other public governing bodies in the state.