Boston Mayor, Library Trustees Reach Compromise

Boston Mayor, Library Trustees Reach Compromise

Boston Public Library trustees agreed at a March 11 board meeting to supply city hall with a detailed accounting of how proceeds from tens of millions of dollars in its trust funds have been spent. In return, City Treasurer-Collector Lisa Signori promised to release about $2.5 million in trust fund proceeds the city has held since December in a dispute about oversight.

The Boston Globe reported March 12 that Signori has stepped back from requiring that library officials submit all expenditures to her office for approval. The push and pull between city government and the library has been characterized as a power play by Mayor Thomas M. Menino over Library President Bernard Margolis, whose contract will not be renewed when it expires June 30.

“There has not been a coup d’etat,” library board chairman Jeffrey Rudman said in the Globe, hoping to assuage donors who have expressed concern that the city might take over the library’s spending power. “We decide how the money is to be invested; we decide how the money is to be spent,” he said. In a February 5 letter from Signori to Margolis, she asserted control over trust fund accounting; a terse reply from Margolis February 15 accused city hall of overstepping its authority, the newspaper said.

Unlike most other city departments, Boston Public Library is a separately incorporated nonprofit, and state law gives the system’s nine trustees control over spending of proceeds from trust funds, but also designates the city collector-treasurer as custodian of the funds. The dispute has centered on the meaning of “custodian.”

Signori’s agreement to release the funding followed questioning from trustees, who wanted to know why she had not disbursed proceeds from trust funds for 2008 in a lump payment at the beginning of the year, as was customary. “If you are withholding funds from the library, you are wrong,” said Trustee A. Raymond Tye. Signori agreed to meet with library staff to arrange for fund distribution. The library has been using revenue from overdue fines and grants to pay bills while it awaits trust fund revenue.

Posted on March 14, 2008. Discuss.