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, February 29, 2016

PRESS RELEASE- Citizens Demand Brooklyn Borough Board Postpone Critical Vote on Future of Brooklyn Heights Library- A Call for Transparency, Full Investigation of BPL Hoaxes & Bid-Rigging

New York City
WHAT: Citizens Defending Libraries and other civic groups call for postponement of the Borough Board vote on the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library.
WHEN: Monday, February 29, 2016, 5:30 PM
WHERE: In front of Brooklyn Borough Hall - 209 Joralemon Street, Brooklyn, New York 11201.
Citizens Defending Libraries joining with library patrons, community members and good government advocates and other community groups, including Love Brooklyn Libraries (LBL), groups from Sunset Park, the Village of Sunset Park and Friends of Sunset Park, and Latinos For Libraries held a press conference in front of Brooklyn Borough Hall to demand that Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and the Brooklyn Borough Board postpone the Borough Board vote on the sale of the Brooklyn Heights Library and not vote until there is transparency and a full investigation of the Brooklyn Public Library hoaxes and bid-rigging involved in the sale.

The Borough Board is to meet Tuesday, March 1, 2016 at Borough Hall and the community groups joining with Citizens Defending Libraries are unanimous that the board should not vote on the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage of the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library at this time and that this item should not appear on the board’s agenda because of the absolute lack of transparency concerning the ways in which this proposed sale cheats the public.

Recent revelations highlight exactly why there is crucial need for such transparency before scheduling any Borough Board vote:
    •    NY State Attorney General Schneiderman needs to investigate the complaint filed by LBL documenting that the custodial non-profit corporation, Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), is misrepresenting itself to have empty pockets while sitting on a gold goose egg in order to hoax Brooklynites into believing the fairy tale that there is no money to spend fixing its libraries.  Love Brooklyn Libraries’ research indicates that BPL has sufficient funds to make needed library repairs and public budget reports reveal that BPL is hoarding $168 million in public funding while feigning poverty as a rationale for selling the Borough’s important second largest library.

    •    The New York Post just revealed information not available to the public, and not available to the Borough Board either, that not only was developer David Kramer (the Hudson Companies), a de Blasio friend and political contributor, a low bidder, he was 20% lower than the going rate in the neighborhood and 12% lower than another of the two bids that surpassed him.  His bid was inferior in other respects.  The competing bidders put the so-called “affordable” units on-site, unlike Kramer putting them two miles away, but BPL and city officials further hoaxing the public claimed that the reason to allow Kramer to put the affordable units off-site was because it allowed them to pursue their priority of getting the highest possible monetary bid.  - Even this has to be put in context: Kramer was the low bidder for a library that should not even be sold.  He was only bidding for the value of the site as a vacant lot. His bid was no way and no how related to the value of the library to the public.  In another fundamental breach of transparency de Blasio and the BPL are selling off the library with no appraisal of the value of the library from the public’s perspective; this is a recently enlarged and fully upgraded library that would cost more than $120 million to replace.  The city will net perhaps less than $20 million from its giveaway to Kramer.
These revelations highlight exactly why we need more transparency.

Citizens Defending Libraries co-founder Michael D. D. White, emphasizing how crucial the need for transparency is, said : “The public is entitled to the facts and to be able to learn exactly how it is being cheated, as is already very evidently the case.”

LBL! co-founder Doreen Gallo said: "BPL should be ashamed of drawing a false picture of our beloved neighborhood libraries. The library corporation has taken millions in public money.  But instead of using our money to fix the out-of-service elevators, they insist there’s no choice but to tear down the whole building and sell the land to a developer. Shame on BPL!”

LBL! co-founder Laurie Frey noted: "It’s time to tell the truth about Not-For-Profit finances.
The BPL library corporation is unwilling to spend one dime to fix the air conditioning and
ventilation system in the Brooklyn Heights library, but somehow they can find $400,000 a year to
pay off the salary of the BPL President and another $100,000 a year to pay its lobbyists. Since
BPL President Linda E. Johnson began her campaign to sell public libraries to developers, she’s
raked in about $2 million in annual compensation and yearly bonuses, according to BPL’s filed
tax forms. That’s enough money to fix something.”

Maggie Cancar, a leader of Latinos For Libraries, said, “Before Love Brooklyn Libraries filed this complaint based on LBL’s further investigations, Latinos For Libraries met with council member Steve Levin to draw BPL budget irregularities to his attention, but he seemed peculiarly disinterested in doing anything about it and apparently never followed up.”

At the conference Love Brooklyn Libraries announced their filing of an updated, amplification and renewal of their complaint which makes clear that the BPL’s hoarding $168 million in public funding while feigning poverty as a rationale for selling the Borough's important second largest library means that the sale and any funds therefrom (plus other funds) are thus being solicited on what should be considered a fraudulent basis.

The New York Post reported on the BPL’s cooking of the books in its Sunday Edition this week.  It contained a statement to the New York Post from State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office that “because the library land was owned by the city and not the nonprofit” there was a basis for his office to decline to review the originally submitted complaint.  Asked about this, attorney Norman Siegel, former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, a former candidate for Public Advocate said: “New York City public libraries are precious treasures that need to be respected, protected and preserved. The recent sale of the Brooklyn Heights branch raises serious and substantial questions that affect the rights of New York City residents. These questions need to be adequately answered.”

Mr White and Chris Robles from Sunset Park, noting that they were both New York attorneys, united in telling those assembled that there is no question that the Attorney General has jurisdiction and the obligation to investigate such misrepresentation on the part of the BPL which is supposed to function within the bounds of a New York State charity regulated by Schneiderman’s office.  The Attorney General’s press releases speak of his powers “to police fraud and abuse” and the recently enacted Nonprofit Revitalization Act gave his office extra powers including according to the AG, “granting clear power to bring judicial proceedings to unwind interested-party transactions.”

These revelations about the bid-rigging and the cooking of the books come after the expressions of concern expressed in letters coming from the New York City Comptroller and New York Public Advocate.  The new revelations show how prescient, and now vindicated, the concerns of the Comptroller and Public Advocate were:
    •    NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer (emphasis supplied): Mr. Stringer, the evening he said he would provide the letter, said: “We are concerned that this deal may not be getting the full range of value.”  The letter the comptroller provided says, “of particular concern” is “The lack of a comprehensive public plan to address the capital needs of the library system” and “Questions about whether the plan secures fair and full market value for the property.  The comptroller also said the BPL, “has not provided the public with a comprehensive capital plan that explains how the one-time revenue from the sale of BHL will fix those needs.”  The comptroller cited the importance of appraisals and said the City should take steps necessary “to ensure that BPL is getting full and fair market value for this public asset.”

    •    NYC Public Advocate Tish James (emphasis supplied): “I am also concerned about the site being valued accurately and whether New York City is receiving proper compensation from the developer. Moreover, I want to ensure that we end the underfunding of our libraries and give our libraries the financial support they badly need and deserve. . . . . Supporting affordable housing and preserving public assets like libraries must not be competing imperatives. We should not be asked to choose between our need for affordable housing and our libraries.”
Mr. White commented that, “in light of these recent revelations, it appears,  in retrospect, that the forebodings of these public officials were just not pessimistic enough.”

At the press conference Citizens Defending Libraries and those gathering thanked Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for caring about Brooklyn’s libraries and thanked him for his decision as Borough Board President, Wednesday September 9, 2015, disapproving the sale and shrinkage of the central destination Brooklyn Heights Library in Downtown Brooklyn.

Citizens Defending Libraries, The Village of Sunset park and Friends of Sunset Park announced that they had delivered a letter to Eric Adams asking him to insist of transparency from the BPL including requiring the BPL to finally release to the public its “strategic real estate plan” and its “Revson Study” that concerns the Sunset Park Library, two items among many others that the BPL has been stonewalling and refusing to release pursuant to FOIL even though these things should all be part of what is public whether they are requested by FOIL or not.

Citizens Defending Libraries and those gathering with it believe that an insistence on transparency in matters such as this is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of our elected officials.  At the press conference Citizens Defending Libraries and the others thanked Borough President Eric Adams and other elected officials for their promises that they will insist upon such transparency, but, at the same time, called upon them to follow though on their promises by demanding such transparency and ensuring the that BPL and de Blasio administration’s hoaxes and bid-rigging are fully investigated before any vote on the proposed sale and drastic shrinkage of the library are calendared for any kind of consideration.

The letter to Borough President Adams requesting that there be an insistence on transparency before any Borough Board action is taken or calendared noted two other reasons transparency was now of increased importance:
    •    For those in Sunset Park, indeed for all who reside in Brooklyn and the rest of New York City, transparency about the proposed sale of libraries, and the Brooklyn Heights Library now in particular, is all the more important because BPL president Linda Johnson has finally disclosed to the City Council that the sale and drastic shrinkage of this library is viewed as a model for other transactions in all three NYC library systems.  It’s turning out to be an exceedingly bad model.

    •    More mysterious black box unknowns have been introduced into the equation of the sale that need scrutiny and present themselves as being unlikely to stand up to it.   There was a backroom deal unveiled at the last minute that raids district Department of Education funds (associated with a compelled and likely unwanted “STEM” or “STEAM” facility) in unspecified but significant amounts (for 1.) acquisition of space, 2.) outfitting of space, and 3.) running the space.)  Another sweetener for the deal bestowed upon this developers?  Similarly, affecting what was ostensibly the goal to help libraries elsewhere in Brooklyn,  funds in unknown amounts are intercepted for a DUMBO Library, albeit tiny, and the Greenpoint Library, both in Councilman Levin’s district.
 Citizens Defending Libraries finds public sentiment in this regard consistent and nearly universal. Citizens Defending Libraries collected testimonies from over 2,000 individuals opposing this proposed sale and shrinkage in just over two weeks.  Citizens Defending Libraries has over 25,000 signatories to its petitions opposing the sale of this and other NYC libraries.  Citizens Defending Libraries also has a widely signed letter of support calling for New York City libraries to be properly funded not sold, signed by, among others: The Committee To Save The New York Public Library, The Cobble Hill Association, The DUMBO Neighborhood Alliance, the Boerum Hill Association and the Park Slope Civic Association.

Carolyn E. McIntyre, Michael D. D. White
Michael White, 718-834-6184, mddwhite [at] aol.com
Carolyn McIntyre, 917-757-6542 cemac62 [at] aol.com

Follow us on Twitter: @defendinglibraries

For photos and videos of prior Citizens Defending Libraries rallies opposing the sale, shrinkage, underfunding of New York City libraries, and elimination of books and librarians in three years since its founding, see:


Note: We also have a quality audio file of the event available for members of the press upon request.
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