Flaws found in Edgartown accounting for library gifts

The Edgartown Public Library on North Water Street. — File photo by Susan Safford

On the advice of town counsel, Edgartown selectmen ordered changes in the way the town accounts for substantial gifts of money and material goods from the Edgartown Library Foundation.

Selectmen asked lawyer Ron Rappaport to clarify the issues at their Monday meeting. Mr. Rappaport said it is clear the town has not followed proper accounting procedures.

The foundation is a private, charitable organization whose mission is to raise public support and funds for the benefit of the library.

Foundation treasurer Janet Aldeborgh said the organization has recently paid directly for some gifts to the library, including shelving, and musical performances.

“The invoices came directly to me, and we paid those invoices directly,” Ms. Aldeborgh told selectmen.

Mr. Rappaport said gifts of money, and gifts of material goods, are treated differently under Massachusetts General Laws.

“When money is given by a charitable foundation,” Mr. Rappaport said, “it goes into a special account, and it doesn’t get to go out of that account until the selectmen vote it out. When it comes to things like books, computers, gifts of things are not accepted by the town until the selectmen vote to accept them. The reason that foundations or any private party can’t just pay directly the bills of the town is because we have to comply with all the procurement policies. There’s a process that has to be followed.”

He said the laws emphasize transparency. “The town has to know that procurement laws are being complied with.”

Town administrator Pam Dolby said the town accountant would set up the necessary accounts to properly track gifts to the town.

Too much intermingling of leadership

Members of the board of library trustees who attended the meeting expressed concern that in the past the public board of library trustees and the private library foundation were too closely intertwined. Mr. Rappaport advised that the town should keep a clear separation between public and private organizations.

He advised that no members of the library trustees should serve on the library foundation. In the past, trustees Patricia Rose and Ellen Kaplan were directors of the private foundation while they served on the public board of library trustees. Both were defeated in their reelection bids to the board of trustees.

Deanna Ahearn-Laird, newly elected co-chairman of the trustees, said advertisements for library foundation fundraisers directed people to call the library for information about the events.

“That can’t be how that works,” Ms. Ahearn-Laird said. “That’s meshing the two organizations.”

Ms. Dolby held up a piece of Edgartown Library Foundation stationary. “It has the Edgartown library number,” Ms. Dolby said. “There’s a primary example of not splitting the two up.”

Publicity problems

In other library related business before the selectmen, a private public relations consultant who once worked for the Edgartown Library Foundation took preliminary legal steps to prevent the foundation from using a fundraising slogan.

Danielle Pendergraft of Holiday Public Relations and Events says her firm owns the slogan, “Frankly, we love our library,” which she developed in planning annual library events.

Ms. Pendergraft said her firm’s attorney wrote to the foundation demanding that the library foundation stop using the slogan.

The foundation is using the sentence, “We love our library,” in banners and other promotion for its Labor Day weekend fundraiser.

“We changed it a lot from last year, and the year before, we’re using a totally different image, one designed by our graphic designer,” said library foundation chairman Susan Cahoon. “You see bumper stickers that say, ‘We love our Labrador, we love our town.’ That’s very generic. No one should have a problem with that. We’ve asked her [Ms. Pendergraft] for evidence of her copyright ownership repeatedly. She has not provided it.”

Ms. Pendergraft and some library foundation directors have been at odds since February, when she sent them an email sharply critical of the foundation.

“I was instructed not to communicate with the press or other external parties because it was felt board member(s), although untrained in this arena, should do this to avoid potential scrutiny over having hired a professional – even though other Island non-profits have professional resources,” Ms. Pendergraft wrote. She said the foundation had tied her hands and put her professional reputation at risk.

“I am now associated with a grossly mismanaged and mis-communicated project, over which I have had no control in guiding,” she wrote. “Therefore, it is with disappointment and regret that I excuse myself from performing public relations services, including related event services.”

According to Ms. Pendergraft, she later agreed to work for the foundation to help plan their summer fundraiser.

Ms. Cahoon said Ms. Pendergraft did not resign, but threatened to. “There is a stated contractual method for that to happen, it never did,” Ms. Cahoon said.

“Her contract was paid in full, in advance, and it expired, simple as that,” Ms. Cahoon said. “Going forward, we really did not feel it was good use of any of the (donated) funds to pay for a public relations person.”

Ms. Pendergraft said the foundation has paid her firm $67,500 for ongoing public relations and event planning services over the past two years. Those fees have become a point of contention.

The foundation has faced criticism for donating about $25,000 of the proceeds from its summer fundraiser to the town’s library. According to Ms. Pendergraft, the event netted more than $51,000.

Ms. Cahoon said the foundation paid Ms. Pendergraft a portion of her fee, $22,500, out of the proceeds.

“Her fee has to be paid from somewhere,” Ms. Cahoon said. “If she’s the event coordinator, a portion of her fees should come from what the events brought in.”

She said the foundation plans to make more gifts in the future. It has pledged $175,000 toward the building of a new library planned on the site of the old Edgartown School.

According to the foundation’s tax records, it had $437,360 on hand at the end of the 2010 reporting period.