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Roosevelt library board split over management, spending, Las Vegas trip

This Google Maps photo shows an October 2012

This Google Maps photo shows an October 2012 view of Roosevelt Public Library. Credit: Google Maps

The Roosevelt Library board of trustees, which controls a $2.6 million annual budget and 11 full-time employees, has split over members' accusations against one another of mismanagement and excessive spending.

The office of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is auditing the finances of the library, which paid more than $9,400 for three board members to go to Las Vegas and more than $11,000 for a baby grand piano.

The divisions on the five-member board resulted in the July takeover by members who had previously been the board's minority. In addition, the 12,000-square-foot library, which serves 17,000 residents, has been without a director since Joy Rankin resigned 13 months ago.

"They can't keep a director because they won't let that professional [director] run the library," said Wendy Thomas, a longtime resident who lost a bid for a seat on the board last year. "Roosevelt is getting a lot less than it deserves for its tax dollars."

Trustees Mary Adams, Frank Abel Jr. and Wilton Robinson Jr. -- all Democrats -- had led the board for the past few years. But Adams was often absent in the past two years, resulting in frequent two-two tie votes and inaction on many issues.

The Rev. Jerome Taylor, pastor of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Roosevelt, won Adams' seat in the regular December election. Adams, who finished her five-year term, did not seek re-election.

On July 22, Taylor joined with Bola Majekodunmi, who is politically unaffiliated, and Emarinsie Funderburke-Ivey, a Republican, and removed Abel and Robinson as president and vice president.

"They [Abel and Robinson] got me to run, expecting me to rubber-stamp their actions, but . . . they ignored the procedures and rules, and often were not around when one of their signatures was needed," said Taylor, a fellow Democrat.

Abel and Robinson point back at Taylor, Majekodunmi and Funderburke-Ivey, saying their late June trip to a conference in Las Vegas was wasteful. Airfare and other costs for the trip, paid by the library, totaled $9,450, according to data from Robinson. Taylor's airfare cost $1,250; Funderburke-Ivey's $1,279; and Majekodunmi's $890.

"It cost the library too much, so I didn't go," Abel said.

Less than a month later, Taylor, Majekodunmi and Funderburke-Ivey ousted Abel and Robinson at an emergency meeting they called.

Robinson said he and Abel were not invited to the meeting, which they called illegal. They took the issue to the State Education Department, which oversees public libraries.

Jeanne Beattie, a spokeswoman for the department, said "there is no investigation" of the ouster.

State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office is reviewing the library's finances. "Our [scheduled] audit is still ongoing," said Brian Butry, a DiNapoli spokesman.

"We have been going astray for two or three years," said Majekodunmi, an eight-year board member. "We have to . . . rebuild trust in the community. I am still part of the board and part of the blame."

Funderburke-Ivey did not return phone calls seeking comment about the board actions and accusations. Rankin declined to comment about her resignation last year or about the board dustups.

One dispute this year was over the "Boys to Men" motivational youth program. Robinson, who was a sponsor of the 6-year-old program, said it was canceled "indefinitely" after he could not attend an April meeting.

Another dispute grew out of the purchase of a piano.

"We're trying to figure out how he [Robinson] was able to spend more than $11,000 for a baby grand piano for the library a couple of years ago. The board didn't approve it," Majekodunmi said.

Robinson said the board did approve the purchase, but that clerk Hashabah Abdul-Hakim failed to note the approval in the board minutes. Abdul-Hakim would not respond to Robinson's comment, except to say, "I did my job."

"Libraries are special districts that need to be watched carefully to make sure that tax dollars are spent wisely and services are delivered effectively," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies. "The brighter the light, the tighter the budget."

Rena Mitchell, a resident since 1993 and a library patron, said there has been some progress on the board in the past couple of months, but "it still has a long way to go."

Taylor said he, too, thinks the board has improved this year.

"At my first meeting in January, I was in shock at the board's dysfunction," he said. "No work got done. They spent all those hours yelling and slinging mud at each other."

The library board is to meet at 7:30 Tuesday night.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the library’s annual budget, which is $2.6 million.

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