Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday, March 24, 2014, New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman’s Brooklyn Community Forum at Brooklyn Central Library, 10 Grand Army Plaza

Citizens Defending Libraries attended when New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman held his March 24th Brooklyn Community forum.  Very much of interest is Mr. Schneiderman's responsibility for  oversight of nonprofits, including the nonprofits that run our New York City libraries.  There is a new law about this taking effect July 1st.  That oversight function made it more interesting The forum was held in the BPL's Grand Army library.

Here are the flyers CDL distributed during the evening.

This flyer, text repeated below, addressed itself specifically to the AG's oversight of nonprofits and the new law taking effect.
This is a flyer about sell-offs of NYC libraries generally
Here is the text of the flyer concerning Attorney General oversight that was specifically for the evening.

The New York State Attorney General’s Office (its Charities Bureau) oversees the proper conduct of nonprofits in New York State. . . 

. . . .  There is a perception that many of our nonprofits are now running amok.  In February the Wall Street Journal reported:
     . . .  the untold story of our time is the emerging crisis in nonprofit governance, where boards embark on policies that go against-and even imperil-the mission of the institution they are charged to oversee and protect.
It cited as a prime example how:
    . . . The New York Public Library wants to gut its magnificent Beaux Arts building on Fifth Avenue and change it from a research institution to, as Ada Louise Huxtable wrote in this newspaper, "a state-of-the-art, socially interactive, computer-centered" circulating library, with fewer books, a good number of them moved off-site. 
Similarly, the Brooklyn Public Library is making it a priority to sell and shrink libraries, getting rid of books and librarians with a focus on real estate deals that benefit developers, NOT the public.

The Nonprofit Revitalization Act has now been signed into law with most of its provisions taking effect July 1, 2014.

The good news is that, according to Attorney General’s Office:
Nonprofit boards will have to perform stricter oversight of insider deals, and the Attorney General will be better able to hold insiders accountable for abuse. The bill requires the adoption of more robust financial oversight requirements, conflict-of-interest policies, and whistleblower policies to protect nonprofit employees from retaliation when they identify wrongdoing.
It is supposed to strengthen the “Attorney General's power to police fraud and abuse” by, among other things, “granting clear power to bring judicial proceedings to unwind interested-party transactions.”

The Attorney General's office didn’t note in its press release for the new act that the law also creates a streamlined sort of safe harbor provision that can be used electively by nonprofits to have the attorney general approve certain sales of assets.

. . . But having the Attorney General’s Office bless questionable transaction early on doesn’t necessarily work to the public’s advantage.  Case in point: Long Island College Hospital’s divestiture of the Donald and Mildred Othmers’ funds.  The Othmers gave a truly spectacular amount of money to LICH.  When that money was being raided from the institution in a sophisticated scheme, the AG’s office (a prior administration) was first requested to bless the money being posted as security without understanding the full implications of doing so.  That early “blessing” has hampered the AG’s office’s ability to now criticize that transaction.
 sign our petition on the web: Citizens Defending Libraries
Here is the Attorney General's flyer for the evening:

The forum was introduced by BPL president Linda Johnson who has been a champion of the sales that are shrinking libraries in the city while getting rid of books and librarians.
Johnson convening the forum
President Johnson then introduced City Councilman Brad lander as her "friend" to say a few words.  Indeed, Lander has been supporting Johnson's proposed sales of libraries.  After Lander spoke, the two sat together.
Lander, introduced by Johnson speaks

At far end of first row, Johnson and Lander sit together.  As these pictures were being taken Josh Nachowitz, BPL spokesperson for the for the library sales removed himself to the back of the room
 Most of the evening was taken up by Schneiderman's AG staff describing their achievements to date.  For instance, work the office has done taking on  the threat of hydrofracking.  Only a little time was left for questions from the forum attendees.  None of the questions submitted with respect to the sale of libraries, public assets or the conduct of the nonprofits in charge of them were answered although some of these questions (see below) were tweeted as the forum was ongoing.  The Attorney General's office promised to follow up with respect to all questions.  (Contact information for those submitting them was on the back of each.)

While no questions were answered during the evening about the sale of public assets like libraries Mr. Schneiderman did respond to one question about the suddenly announced sale of the of Prospect Park Residence a community residence facility for seniors previously known as the Madonna Residences.  That's a privately owned property, although it has gone through serial changes in terms of ownership incarnations, at least some of which may have been intended to clear the way for an eventual unregulated sell off of that real estate.  Said Mr. Schneiderman, without clearly indicating that he thought he knew of a way to say that he thought the sell-off would be illegal:
It is very hard to argue that it is reasonable conduct to tell vulnerable seniors you have 90 days to get out of your homes
At the end of the meeting Councilman Lander who has spoken out critically against the sale of the senior community residences (though not against the sale of libraries) was surrounded by the families and residents who are getting together to fight that sale of the former Madonna Residences.

Tweeted during forum
Tweeted during forum


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