By KEVIN BEESE
BELLWOOD | The Bellwood Public Library will soon be in default on required state documents.
Illinois’ Prevailing Wage Act, the library’s non-resident policy and the library’s reimbursement policy all are supposed to be approved and filed with the state by Friday. However, a cat-and-mouse game has kept the Bellwood Library Board from conducting any business since February. As of Tuesday, no special meeting had been called by the Library Board and, according to state law, 48 hours’ notice must be given before any public meeting takes place. The board’s next scheduled meeting is Sept. 12 as it traditionally does not meet in July and August.
The Library Board has had eight regular or special meetings scheduled since February. None have taken place. A majority of the elected officials (known as a quorum) was not present at six of the meetings; one meeting lost its quorum before business was conducted; and a special meeting was canceled.
“It’s very frustrating,” Library Board Trustee Connie Riales said. “We give up our time. At the last minute, we are told there is a special meeting. They do not show up and there is no quorum.
“The public is there and they are frustrated. Something needs to be done.” The board is divided right now, 3-3, with the fate of the seventh member in the hands of the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Members of the Bellwood Dream Team who won election in April to the Library Board are: Dorothy Clark-Smith, Deborah Giles and Riales. Existing board members are: Mary Clements, board president; Janice English; and Sharon Tharpe.
The potential seventh board member, Gwendolyn Reese, was appointed, but no minutes show her appointment occurring in public session, according to Riales, who noted that is a violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act. The seventh board spot has been vacated pending the outcome of State’s Attorney’s findings.
With the board split, Clements, English and Tharpe have consistently not shown up for meetings, making the conducting of business impossible as a majority of elected officials (four, in this case) must be present.
Dream Team members Clark-Smith and Giles are also on the Bellwood School District 88 Board and not coincidentally, Riales said, Library Board meetings have been called for the same time that District 88 things are occurring, such as June 16.
“They knew that two board members had mandatory School Board training,” Riales said. Riales said she did not go to the June 16 Special Library Board meeting, knowing that without her present there would not be a quorum.
“I did not go because I didn’t want to give them a quorum. They would have voted all kind of ways,” Riales said.
Dream Team members contend that much of the problem is that political heavyweight Chuck Baxter is trying to keep control of the Library Board, having his hand in employment and contracts, similar to what he did in District 88.
“He’s trying to hold onto his puppets so they dance the way he wants them to dance,” said a longtime Bellwood resident and library patron, who asked that her name not be used for fear of retribution to her and her family members.
“The only time I get involved in library issues is when I’m asked to get involved.” Baxter said.
Baxter said he did not want to comment further on the issue, saying that the paper should investigate the issue further and get all the facts before writing a story.
The Library Board’s lack of meeting has also violated Illinois post-election requirements. Every government body that has elected members needs to have an election of officers within 60 days of a public election. As the spring election was April 4, the library’s election of officers should have taken place on or before June 4.
“(Clements) views that there is a certain amount of power with the presidency; and the president wants to stay president,” said another individual with knowledge of the Library Board’s working, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Wanda Gipson, president of the Friends of the Bellwood Library, has written to all the library trustees expressing her disappointment in the board as a resident and patron of the library.
“This would not happen in the private sector,” Gipson said. “They were elected to these positions and they are not fulfilling what they were elected to do.” Gipson said that of the 14 Library Board meeting since last June, nine have been canceled due to the lack of a quorum. There is no excuse for this. You go to meetings and the public is there and some of the Library Board members are there, but there have not been enough members to do business nine times in a year,” Gipson said “They have called special meetings and don’t show up.” Gipson said that she and other concerned residents will continue to write letters to board members and others, such as representatives of the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. “This is unfortunate. I love the library. It is an excellent little library,” Gipson said. “I first got involved when they wanted to build a new library. That got rejected so we have to work with what we have. I do not want our library damaged and reduced.
“The Library Board not functioning hurts the library. I don’t know what they’re thinking. They may be thinking we are going to go away. We’re not going away.”