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East Norwalk Library options rejected by library’s executive director

TTD library 15-710

Alex Cohen of Aaron Cohen Associates, left, leads a Third Taxing District forum on possible changes to the East Norwalk Library recently. At right is TTD Commissioner David Brown.

NORWALK, Conn. — A consultant hired by the Third Taxing District is set to make another attempt to bring the East Norwalk Library folks into an effort to form a plan to radically change the library, although previous attempts have not gone well.

Alex Cohen of Aaron Cohen Associates will make a presentation regarding possible options for the library Thursday evening to the East Norwalk Association Board of Directors. The options were described at the July 9 workshop hosted by TTD at the Marvin, where ENA Executive Director Stan Siegel again made his objections known. In return, he got an angry diatribe from TTD Commissioner David Brown.

“By what authority is the community involved?” Siegel asked, as Cohen sought to break the 25 people present up into groups for brainstorming purposes.

Brown’s response was to say that the library’s requests for money were embarrassing.

(Note: NoN was not at the meeting but left a recorder with a participant. Brown is difficult to hear.)

Cohen’s first two options include taking books off the library’s first floor and putting them in the basement, currently rented out as a meeting room. Option 2 would devote most of the basement’s space to a home for the general collection, while Option 1 uses about a third of the available basement space for that purpose.

Option 3 leaves most of the basement as the Van Zant Community Meeting Room, and devotes 780 square feet of the first floor to meeting room also. That would allow for more revenue, Cohen said.

There is an American Disabilities Act issue; Cohen has included an elevator in Options 1 and 3, and a ramp in Option 2.

The elevator would be built onto the outside of the building, where the stairway to the basement is now. “It’s doable,” he said, and would be “done in a modest way without taking away from the historic nature of the building.”

All of the books would be removed from the first floor in Option 1, creating room for a 350-square-foot children’s area right off the entrance, as well as a 180-square-foot seminar room. A 200-square-foot teen area would be adjacent to the children’s area and a collaboration space would be in the middle of the first floor.

Books are a passive use of space, Cohen said. There would be a curator, thinking about books that people might be interested in, he said.

In the basement, the kitchenette would be upgraded and there would be a periodical room, he said.

Option 2 has a 760-square-foot meeting room right at the front doors, with an entrance area adjacent to the ramp outside the building. This again features adjacent children’s and teenager’s areas, and a collaboration space. So, this option has a smaller meeting room space.

Option 3’s first floor is similar to Option 2’s, except that 420 square feet would be assigned to books. The basement idea resembles that of Option 2, with more meeting room space provided in total than in the other two options.

“Nobody is forcing anyone to make any changes,” Cohen said. “Let’s say one option starts to gain traction, the next step would be capital campaign.”

But Siegel objected, referring to a beef that dates back more than a year. The library planning committee  is made up of three TTD commissioners, three East Norwalkers chosen by TTD and two ENA Board members; Siegel said it should be 3-3-3, and said that the electors had voted to do that, that the TTD minutes are wrong.

Cohen had sought to avoid this confrontation.

“The planning committee is not some magical committee that is going to fix everything. The magical thing that is going to fix everything is the capital campaign,” Cohen said. The committee for the capital campaign could be 3-3-3, Cohen said.

“We are so far behind square one that I think it’s necessary for us to get back to square one with the determination of a library planning committee,” Siegel said.

ENA is seeking feedback from its patrons and that information should be considered before any options are deliberated on, Sarah Mann said.

Brown responded to Siegel in a commentary that is difficult to hear. On Wednesday, Brown explained what he had said.

Cohen had a beautiful picture of a library on a screen, Brown said.

“This is beautiful,” Brown quotes himself as saying. “I want this, I want this for East Norwalk library, I want our library to be the most well maintained library in all of Connecticut. I don’t want to pay for it, I don’t want money coming out of my electric bill to pay for a library in which I can’t even find out how many people use it.”

Brown said Wednesday that he has been a TTD commissioner for 18 years. In all that time, ENA has not done audits and has come to TTD for money, although by charter TTD is only required to give the library $100 a year. ENA will not reveal how many patrons it has. ENA’s accountant does an audit for ENA, he said.

“They play by their own rules,” Brown said.

Through the years, most TTD commissioners were on ENA, he said. But when Charlie Yost was elected recently, there was a change.

Yost suggested a master plan, Brown said. “At the time, a year ago, we didn’t know what a master plan was,” Brown said.  But a nationwide RFP netted Cohen, a highly competent library expert, Brown said.

Brown said ENA once called him “the commissioner who hates children” during a campaign season. That was something he brought up during his angry commentary at the workshop, he said – at which point Siegel said they needed to start from scratch, Brown said.

“I still say that the challenge that we have here is that we need to start with a library planning committee, as the electors decided to have, agreed to have, said to have in a vote on the floor of the 9th of April,” Siegel said. “We never had a library planning committee; everything that has happened to date has happened without any sort of control.”

Siegel said Monday that he objects to Cohen’s options.

Siegel said in an email:

“In short form, the ‘options’ given had nothing to do with the ‘reality’ of the history and service of the East Norwalk Association Library since its founding in 1915 through today and into the foreseeable future.

The ‘rearranging’ of the spaces as outlined by the Consultant were a ‘figment’ of his own imagination and about as impractical as it possibly can be – for example, in his options he has ‘distributed’ the Library’s collection between the Library level and the lower, Community Hall level. This doesn’t take into consideration that there are only two members of the Library staff serving the public as Librarian and Library Assistant. There are two days a week, Monday when the Library is staffed by the Library Assistant alone, and Saturday, when the Library is staffed by the Librarian alone – making impossible to serve the needs of the public with the collection being on two levels. And, no space is allocated for the staff office.

“All in all, the configurations as presented by the Consultant in his 3 options, are counterproductive regarding how the Library has served and continues to serve its community.

“Also, a great deal of funding comes from the renting of the Hall for paying groups and private events. To reduce the size of the Hall, shown in the Consultant’s reconfiguration, would detrimentally reduce the Library’s income.

“And there’s more. The Consultant has yet to ‘interview’ either myself or the staff as to how the Library is run and how it serves its public. There is much, very much, we can offer as to what the Library needs – not the least of which is repair of the building, Library stacks and amenities, and parking lot.

“Also, throughout the Consultant process, from the day the firm was hired through the present day, there has yet to be the formation of a Library Planning Committee which was mandated, part and parcel, by the Electors, to coordinate the effort and exercise with the public, the Library Board and the TTD Commissioners.

“… There’s more, very much more – several weeks ago, prior to the July 9 meeting, Alex Cohen (the Consultant) came in to the Library, unannounced, with his father and son, to ‘measure’ and look around. No questions were asked of us, he simply announced that he was there to ‘measure and look around.’

“’We’ have consistently and continually asked the TTD Commissioners to participate in the formation of a Library Planning Committee as voted by the Electors, and also we have asserted that the sole authority of the East Norwalk Association regarding the ownership and management belongs to the East Norwalk Association Library – this, so far, to no avail. The TTD Commissioners continue to direct the work of the Consultant independently of the Association.”

East Norwalk Open Forum Presentation-sent

ENIA Agenda July 23,2015Board Mtg

3 comments

Sarah Mann July 23, 2015 at 7:27 am

As secretary of the East Norwalk Library and immediate past president I take offense to Mr. Brown’s statement that the East Norwalk Library has not done audits. Really Mr. Brown? Then what exactly are we paying our accountant for? If I’m not mistaken the TTD receives a copy of our audit each time we submit a budget and Mr. Brown our audit has been clean for years along with a nice tidy management letter. Tell me Mr. Brown did you ask Person to Person ($20,000) or the Tree Advisory ($2,000) for a copy of their audits ? Fair is fair. By the way, recently the TTD revealed that you all had a quarter of a million dollars over budget in administrative line item. Seventy thousand in legal fees alone. How is that going to look in an audit Mr. Brown?

ENA not revealed how many patrons we have. We certainly did. Last year, during that FOIA request Mr. Brown. You know that letter you signed along with Commissioner Yost, Goldstein and Treasurer Intrieri asking for the NAMES of our patrons. Well we would not give them to you because we strongly believed that in this world there is so little privacy left our patrons deserved that right to privacy and it cost us $6000 to defend that right and many of our patrons applauded our efforts Mr. Brown!

As to the statement playing by their own rules. That is offensive and inaccurate. We put out an Annual Report each year we are open and transparent in everything we do. We serve the community. We have in the past been fortunate enough to have the TTD as partners unfortunately it appears that now that is not the case and the East Norwalk community and even its politicians are either for or against the library. Libraries have been around for thousands of years they are a valuable part of our community and Mr. Brown I do so apologize for offending your oh so delicate sensibilities by appearing before you with a budget request each year but Mr. Brown it is an election year and Mr. Brown it is time for you to go because not only do you not appreciate libraries you don’t tell the truth, just like at the TTD Annual meeting when you stated the library never put in a request for funds to improve your building.

The TTD has in the past run a power company. And run it well. Why they have decided to insert themselves in library business is anyones guess. Please TTD folks you run your business and we will run ours and Mr. Brown, please before you speak next time get your facts straight.

Stan Siegel July 23, 2015 at 8:50 am

AND ANOTHER THING…

Two years ago, at the TTD Annual Meeting where the ENA, as usual,  presented it’s operating budget request for the coming Fiscal Year, the Commissioners had included only 6 months of funding indicating that “they” would review the operation of the Library during that 6 month period and then recommend further funding.

In very short order, the Electors in attendance, rejected the Commissioner’s plan and restored full 12 month funding of the Library.

It should be notified that the ENA, for the past several years has kept it’s operating budget request level, with no increase in its request from the District.

That request has been $167,000. Adding fundraising and Hall Rental income, the entire operating budget for the ENA to manage it’s Library for the benefit of it’s  community, is only $197,000.

That includes salaries,  benefits, materials purchases,  fuel and electricity, maintenance, materials purchases, programming, etc.

The ENA Board itself, which owns and operates the ENA Library, receives no remuneration for it services and time spent on Association business.

It should be noted, too, that over the years through the present day, the ENA has provided a clean, professionally certified Fiscal Year Audit, to the TTD, of its financial records I’m advance of it’s Budget presentation.

Regards, Stan.

Wineshine July 23, 2015 at 8:35 pm

As an East Norwalk resident, and TTD customer, I’m appalled at the conduct of Mr. Brown. Opinion is one thing. Lies, reporting inaccurate information, as he’s quoted in this article, along with behavior that reeks of acting under the guise of impunity is behavior that’s unbecoming an elected official of our small community. As someone who’s served the community for as long as he has, it’s sad to witness him apparently losing it.

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