Monday, December 22, 2014

A Dialogue with Library Board Chair Charles Fegan

As part of an exchange of emails between Chairman Sharon Bulova and Reston 2020's Terry Maynard that was widely distributed last week (including to the local press and the Washington Post) regarding the December 2, 2014, Board Matter and the request by the Board of Supervisors to audit the Friends of the Library, Library Board Chair Charles Fegan responded to comments made by Kathy Kaplan.   The text of their exchange on the thread is reproduced here: 

December 20, 2014

Hello Mr. Fegan,

As always, it was a delight to hear from you.  You know I have become very attached to you the past year and a half.  Of course, we are friends. Look what we have in common--our beloved library.  Before we get to the point where there may be a misunderstanding, I wanted to comment on something you said.  You said you represent Chairman Bulova on the Library Board.  Chairman Bulova may have appointed you, but you represent the citizens of Fairfax County on the Library Board.  Once she appointed you, you became a voting member of the independent authority that governs the library.  You are independent as are all the trustees on the Library Board.  It's not a subtle point.

About the need for the audit.  The Friends' funds generated from the ongoing book sales are never touched by Friends' hands before the money goes to the county.   It goes straight to the county through the automated machines I am told are now installed in all branches.  There is no need to audit us regarding that money.  The request by the Federation for an audit was in regard to what happens to the money once the county takes possession of their part.  Friends don't contribute money to the stream that goes to the System Gift Fund.  It goes directly from purchasers of books to the county.  No Friends' fingerprints on even a penny of it. 

When we spoke at the Library Board meeting you said the board auditor would only be conducting a "small' audit.  Remember I said that a 70 or 80 year old Friend of the library opening that letter with a resulting rise in adrenalin will not notice the word small.  It's no way to treat volunteers. 

With regard to accounts husbanded by the BOS, I had to go look it up.  Husband is such a 19th century word I can't remember the last time I came across it. "To use (resources) economically; conserve."   The BOS doesn't need to husband Friends' accounts.  We're doing just fine taking care of our money.

We are independent nonprofit corporations and all the funds in our accounts belong to us.  After we give the money back to the library or buy books or furniture for the library, then it's county money or assets.  We don't need any husbanding, thank you.  For the benefit of those on this list who are unfamiliar with the MOU signed by our Friends' group, I am attaching it.

I spent the afternoon mending books at Tysons-Pimmit.  Because I have very bad arthritis in my hands, it's the only thing I can do for the Friends.  I mended 78 books in 2 1/2 hours.  Some were library discards that really did not need to be discarded.  Had I been able to repair them before they were discarded to the Friends, they would have had a much longer shelf life with just a minute or two of labor and a penny's worth of archival book glue.  That's the husbanding that needs to be addressed.  Our books need to be conserved.  Our collection needs to be husbanded.  

This attention being focused on the Friends is a distraction away from the real problems of the library:  There are too many vacancies in the branches; books are needlessly discarded, and the library needs a redirection of funds to repair what has been lost in the past decade .  Husbanding is needed, but the subject of that husbanding needs to be the library itself, not the Friends who labor tirelessly to hold things together.   We're pretty good with our money.  How the county's doing with theirs? 

Kathy Kaplan

December 19, 2014

Ms. Kaplan,

After the Library Board meeting the other evening you were kind enough to say to me how you did agree with me on a point.  I did mention that there might be times we did not agree, but you said as friends we could discuss that matter.

After reviewing some of the correspondence between the Chair of the BOS and you, I hate to say this is such a case.  I hope that this is a misunderstanding. As you are aware I represent Chairman Bulova and I have the greatest respect for her.  I know your commitment to the library.

My own believe is the problem is the word audit.  What the BOS is seeking is certain financial information which I hope is readily available. I also believe that it is the responsibility of the BOS to husband the accounts entrusted to it.  While the books may be transferred to the Friends groups they are done so because the county believes you will use this asset and put the funds from the sale of these books to the use of the library.  It is also for this reason that a quasi-partnership exist between the two groups.

The form that is going to request the information is being simplified, the library board did ask for an extension of time for the completion of the information.  Ms. Kaplan, I do hope you see this in the way it is intended.  It is good management. You have been seeking better accountability and this is what the BOS is striving to do.

I applaud your work in seeking the Commonwealth to recognize the importance of the library.  I hope you realize the BOS is also working as a friend of the library.  Friends are what we all need.   
Charles A. Fegan

December 18, 2014
Hello Chairman Bulova,

I want to address one point you make in your letter. 

"The Friends are also 501(c)3 organizations. As part of their responsibilities, these groups assist the libraries with the disposal and sales of surplus library books"

"Because the Friends’ mission involves County assets (books) and funds flowing into Departmental Gift Fund, any comprehensive fiscal audit would require a review of both the Friends organizations as well as the Gift Fund, which is what the Board of Supervisors has directed."

During the LBOT Floating and Discards subcommmittee meeting this summer, Trustee Liz Clements made it very clear that once the library gives books to the Friends, the books become the property of the Friends.  They are no longer considered county property.   They are no longer a "county asset."  I believe the County Attorney also added input to that clarification.  And as the books are no longer county property, there is no justification for an audit. 

With regard to the funds flowing into the Gift Fund, that money is collected by FCPL cash registers and the new automated machines that are now being installed in the libraries.  The audit would need to focus on the entity that has possession of the funds which are co-owned by FCPL and the Friends.  The Friends never have possession of funds for ongoing book sale books, the county has possession until the time that disbursements are made to the Friends.  Once the Friends have the money from those book sales, the money belongs to the Friends, is owned privately, and can no longer be considered public property.  And, as such, those funds are not subject to county audit. 

I recall Liz Clements saying that FCPL does not discard books.  The books are given to the Friends and the Friends either discard, sell or donate books which were formerly county property.  That's my understanding of what she said.  Again, no reason to audit the income generated from the sale of books that are "formerly county property."  Because once they are signed over to the Friends with three staff signatures, the books are the private property of the Friends.

There are a number of issues you raise in your letter.  You say that there is a materials inventory done every year.  Using Freedom of Information Request in August, I asked for the FY2014 Library Materials Inventory Report.   I was told by Library Director Sam Clay's office that it did not exist.   So if you could get FCPL to produce this report, I would appreciate it.  It would help fill in some holes in my documents. 

You say you are not seeking retribution from Friends groups.  At the Fairfax Library Advocates meeting last Saturday, the term "witch hunt" was used by one of the many Friends of the Library who had come from all over the county to talk about the audit you requested in your Board Matter.  Many of the Friends are very angry. This is no way to treat volunteers who have faithfully served the county library system for many years.  And without their labor and time, the Youth Services part of the library would not be funded.  Without their backbreaking work moving books during booksales, there would be no Summer Reading Program. 

I don't think audits of the Friends are appropriate and with no evidence of wrongdoing, they are probably illegal, but since I am not an attorney let's just call that my non-legal opinion.   There are other issues in your email I would like to address, but one at a time works best for me. 


Kathy Kaplan

Chairman Sharon Bulova's December 18, 2014 letter to Terry Maynard:

Terry Maynard's response December 19, 2014 to Chairman Bulova:

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