Here is the link to the complete materials included with the Friends presentation to the Goodnow Library Board of Trustees. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) materials are included. Click here.
Click these headings to see the presentation transcripts:
I am Alice Levine and I reside at 42 Chanticleer Rd.
I am the President of the Friends of the Goodnow Library and I am accompanied by the Executive Board: Claudia Brandon, Lisa Cornacchia, Laura Dowling, Maria Dawson, Susan Pettit, Barbara Cook and Pat Scott.
However, the Friends of the Goodnow Library is not solely composed of its Executive Board but of the hundreds of families who have chosen to join and continued to support the Friends over the years in order to become engaged with the Goodnow Library.
We represent not only ourselves, but our members who are also your neighbors.
Thank you for the invitation to speak to you tonight.
We are glad that you have characterized this meeting as a listening session and that you will listen to what we have to say.
Our goal tonight is to present a proposal of steps to be taken to restore relationships between the Friends and the Library and to reassert the good reputation of the Friends.
Context will be the heart of our presentation and the proposal to follow. You will hear from several of our board members, but their thoughts represent the entire board. For your convenience, we will submit our statements and supporting correspondence to be included for your minutes at the end of our presentation.
We ask that you withhold all comments and questions until we complete our presentation.
At your November 1st Trustee meeting, it was reported that the Friends were issued an invitation to come to a Trustee meeting, but had not responded. As you can see from the e-mails that we previously sent you, the Friends replied immediately and positively and selected one of the three suggested dates.
I only point this out to highlight how incomplete and mischaracterized verbal or written information can so easily color the thinking of those hearing or reading it.
Examples of this exact point are found in correspondence regarding the Friends, the Foundation and the Trustees. The correspondence that we have compiled is public information and was acquired through the Freedom of Information Act. This correspondence clearly shows what happened to the Friends, how it happened and why it happened. The correspondence outlines a road map of what went wrong, but also a road map for corrections to be made in the future in order to create a smooth and collaborative functioning team of the Trustees, the Friends and the Foundation.
At the end of our presentation, we will be passing out packets with some of this correspondence to help you better understand the discrepancies which brought us to this point. The initial packet addresses the complaint against the Friends related to the Lois Lowry fundraiser. It was this complaint that directly led to the downward spiral in our relationship with the Trustees.
The Friends feel as a board and individually that we have been seriously misrepresented to the Trustees and the public. At the time of the January 2021 Trustee meeting, we were truly disappointed that, as volunteers, residents and taxpayers, we were summarily thrown out of our own library by our neighbors.
Moving forward, it will take time and thought, but we believe that the effort we make to work together to reestablish a strong working relationship will be worth it and a benefit to the town of Sudbury.
Please give your attention to our next speaker, Laura Dowling.
Friends Treasurer's Presentation
My name is Laura Dowling, and I live at 25 Harness Lane. I have been the Treasurer of the Friends of the Goodnow Library for more than 13 years. I will be speaking to you about the Friends’ budget process and our spending practices.
The Friends is an independent, nonprofit organized and staffed by volunteers and is an entity distinct from the Goodnow Library. Its mission to support and stimulate interest in the Goodnow Library has been carried out for more than 30 years including the past 2 years in which we have continued our good works by hosting an outdoor, drive-in summer movie and multiple Zoom programs on cooking and art which were attended by not only Sudbury residents but interested people throughout the country and abroad. We have given away nearly 8,000 books that were donated and ready for our pre-pandemic book and bake sale. The books were donated to elementary schools, Curtis Middle School, many area nursery school and day care centers, little neighborhood libraries and new teachers needing to create libraries in their classrooms.
About seven years ago, under new leadership, the Friends adopted a more business-like approach to funding our activities. To insure we were in line with the guidance from the Attorney General’s closer monitoring of nonprofits, we adopted a formal budget process that would allow us to keep our records in order and track spending. This is how it worked:
We adopted a general rule that our budget for each fiscal year would be based upon the income received during the preceding fiscal year. There were exceptions to this rule depending upon the previous year’s spending and any special programs or resources we wanted to fund outside of the general budget. The Friends’ President and Vice President would meet in person in May with the Library Director and Assistant Director to discuss available monies and library needs. We also reviewed spending for Friends-produced programming, museum pass and film license expenses and expected administrative expenses. With respect to library-produced programming, budget allocations were on a departmental basis. Department heads were free to spend the money allocated to them as they saw fit. There were no conditions attached to this funding,
though we did ask that the Friends be acknowledged for their contributions when the programs were presented, as all charitable funding organizations require. We notified the Library Director in June of each year of the department budget allocations for the coming year.
As Treasurer I would send a report each month to the department heads with their expenditures vs. the budget so they could keep track of their spending. If there were any discrepancies between their records and mine, we would work together to identify and correct any problems.
It is a general rule of practice that a nonprofit should maintain at least a two years expense budget in reserve for operating expenses in case of lean years. Because of the pandemic, we have not done any fundraising since the Fall of 2019. Our annual Book and Bake sale scheduled for April, 2020 was cancelled as a result of the pandemic. Another major fundraising event with the nationally known political satire group, The Capitol Steps, that was scheduled to take place at LS two weeks before the 2020 election was also canceled. Because we adhered to the 2-year reserve recommendation, we were able to fund library programming and other expenses through the pandemic as well as the current year.
We are sharing a number of pages that come from the correspondence to illustrate our budgeting process was well known by library staff and our funding of library-produced programming was not cut nor conditioned.
Let me describe the sources of our money. Nearly 50% of the funds we receive in any given year are generated by book sales and other fundraising activities. Nearly all of the remaining funds we receive come to us in the form of memberships. These memberships give the members a sense of belonging to a committed group of volunteers and entitles them to early access to book sales and other fundraising activities, invitations to special member events, a monthly newsletter and the right to vote for our officers. The remainder of the funds we receive is in the form of unsolicited donations, but it is usually a small percentage of the total. We have not accepted any donations that restrict our use of the money donated. All money received by the Friends, regardless of source, is spent at the discretion of the Friends and consistent with our mission. That is how all independent 501(c)(3) nonprofits operate.
About half of our spending in any given year is in the form of reimbursements or direct payments for library-produced programming. The other half is spent on Friends-produced programming, museum passes, movie license, copier rental (until the Town allocated money through a revolving account to cover this), the entrance garden planting and maintenance and administrative costs. On average we donated $30,000 to the library. That number does not include special projects such as the book drop that cost $7,700 nor the $40,000 we donated toward the redesigned front lobby, nor annual staff appreciation gifts.
In recent filings of the Form 990 EZ tax return we no longer categorize ourselves as a “supporting organization”, as defined by the IRS. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization classified by the IRS as a “Public Charity”. We contacted legal counsel specializing in nonprofit law, and they advised us that we were not a “supporting organization” as defined by the IRS, and that we should apply to the IRS for a formal correction to our classification. We did file the appropriate application which was approved by the IRS. The updated classification makes it easier for us to receive funds from donor-advised accounts, but it does not affect our nonprofit status, nor does it change our charter or our mission.
I will now turn the program over to Claudia Brandon.
Friends Program's Presentation
I’m Claudia Brandon, and I reside at 60 Balcom Road.
My role on the Board since 2009 has been producing adult and family programming, primarily for the Sunday Afternoons at the Goodnow Cultural Series. The programs that I’ve brought to the library have included: a group from New York who talked about South Korea and its history, and did a Korean wedding reenactment complete with a wedding banquet of Korean food. I’ve brought in Flamenco dancers with a Flamenco guitarist, Russian dancers, jazz trios, a trombone ensemble, string trios, Klezmer performers, classical pianists, cello and piano ensembles, re-enactors, authors, and visual artists. I’ve also brought in performers from the Boston Lyric Opera, an author/investigator who was an art theft expert and Director of Security and Chief Investigator at the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum. We’ve even had programs where we brought in live kangaroos and owls to the joy of the many children accompanying their parents. We’ve also supported a summer movie series for several summers before the pandemic.
We’ve had good attendance. Typically, a low turnout for the Sunday Afternoons series was 50 people, and attendance at our programs more often was 75 people and above. Frequently we filled the Community Room. Many of our programs use professionals and we’ve needed to book them typically 3 to 7 months in advance. I’ve been supported in these efforts by Friends members who helped publicize the programs in our region, and who helped host and furnish refreshments to those in attendance.
I’ve researched and made a genuine effort to bring interesting and unusual programs to the Goodnow Library. Historically the Sunday Afternoon Cultural Series was created and carried out by the Friends. When I began my programming efforts it was my understanding that it was helpful to the Goodnow Library to have the increased traffic and attendance to enable additional financial support from the state. I was happy to help with this.
I was surprised when I learned in May of 2019 that the library director had issues with the Friends. As you know, we welcomed our current library director, as we had our prior library director, to come to our meetings and give a report. I sincerely wish in her briefings at our board meetings, that she would have informed us contemporaneously of the substance of her conversations about us at the Board of Trustees meetings. As it was, according to your minutes, our library director had been talking about us to you instead of talking about her concerns with our board, as we unfortunately discovered when your minutes were uploaded months later in October, 2019, after our request to have them posted.
The handout you will receive shows communications that demonstrate our repeated attempts to respond to the Library Board of Trustees requests for meetings with the Chair of the Friends. I have also included at the beginning an email, dated January 3, 2019, that points to an understanding by a relatively new staff member that the library was looking at separating from the Friends, five months before May, 2019, when we first became aware that the library director had issues with our organization.
I will now turn our presentation over to Lisa Cornacchia.
Friends Clerk's Presentation
Thank you for the invitation to the Board of Trustees meeting this evening. I really appreciate the opportunity to come and speak with all of you. I am Lisa Cornacchia at 10 Curry Lane. I’ve been a Sudbury resident and a Goodnow Library visitor for 21 years. Libraries and books have made a huge impact in my life. I am a first-generation immigrant (growing up with parents with only an elementary school education) as well as a first-generation college graduate. The library and its resources were an integral part of my journey through the years. I cannot express enough the importance of a free public library to all members of its community and even neighboring communities.
I live in the northwestern section of Sudbury. I love this town. My youngest of three graduated L-S in 2015 and I have no plans of moving out. I feel blessed in having the opportunity to live and raise my family here. I am especially grateful of the tight knit relationships that I have developed with my neighbors and friends over the years.
I’ve been a member of the Friends’ group since 2017 and I really don’t know anyone on the Board of Trustees except for Jean (when we met during her time on the Friends’ Board). I would like the opportunity to get to know all of you as neighbors as well as collaborators in supporting the Goodnow Library.
We were unaware of all that had transpired during the two years immediately preceding the Trustees’ vote that would cause the Trustees to insist that we sign a document for which we had no input and to sever relations with us because we refused to sign. At the time of the meeting, we were truly shocked that as volunteers, residents and taxpayers, we were summarily thrown out of our own library by our neighbors. Good neighbors who have a problem with other neighbors work out those problems though mutual respect and goodwill, but not under the threat banishment as the outcome of noncompliance.
When a breakdown such as ours has happened, trust is lost and once trust is lost, it is difficult to reestablish it. This is the challenge we face in coming before you, neighbor to neighbor, to work out together the changes needed to return the Friends to the library. To be successful, this must be a collaborative process without ultimatums and where both sides can be equally heard and all viewpoints acknowledged.
The big question is what is the plan to reintroduce the Friends back into the Library?
And, most importantly, what mechanisms are in place in order to sustain the relationships so history is not repeated?
In order for this to move forward in an authentic manner is for all players (Trustees, Library Director, Foundation and Friends) to start with good and honest intentions to make these relationships work. We must keep lines of communication open. We must treat each other
with respect in order to rebuild trust and confidence. The bottom line is all of us love the Library and want to see it thrive as an community institution as well as it being a vital vehicle for outreach to the community.
Here are some of our suggestions as to how the Friends, the Trustees and the Foundation can rebuild a fractured relationship.
1. First, we would like to work with the Foundation to contact other libraries with both a Friends group and a Foundation to assess how they work well together and how we might learn from their approaches to collaboration.
2. Second, the three groups should clearly set out in writing each organization’s mission and expectations to support the library, what the complementary responsibilities of each group will be and adopt policies that reflect those complementary responsibilities. Each organization is separate and unique, but there should be cohesiveness to our respective organizations.
3. Third, each organization should assign one of their Board members to attend each other’s meetings to ensure good relations and communications between the groups, and to deal with issues (whether real or perceived) in an expedited and tactful manner. Small issues have resulted in resentments and mistrust. Moving forward, we need to be constructive in communications and resolution of conflicts.
4. Fourth, identify the vital information that each group needs from each other in order to fulfill their responsibilities.
Let me assure you that while some of you may believe that you tried to do what I have just outlined prior to taking the vote to sever relations with the Friends, the FOIA papers clearly show that is not the case.
The Friends have been a vital part of the community since 1988. Returning the Friends to the Library will help heal the divisions in this town. It is imperative that we come together in good faith to heal and rebuild the relationships to fulfill the short-term and long-term goals to support the Library and the contributions to our wonderful community that we use the library for.