EDISON — After weeks of tension between the Edison Library Board of Trustees and township officials in regards to the library’s finances, there is a glimmer of hope things are moving in the right direction.
Councilman Sam Joshi, liaison to the library board, said there were discussions before, during and after the library board meeting on Nov. 29.
“We did find that there was approximately $760,000 sitting in a trust account that had accumulated over the past several years,” he said at a Township Council work session meeting on Dec. 10. “This was a concern to me because as per state statute it says if there are any funds (surplus) that is not used by the end of the year, it has to go back to the township or [the board] has to provide information explaining what they plan to do with that money.”
Joshi said the board agreed with his recommendation to move the money into a high interest account at Provident Bank with 2.25 percent interest. He said only $700 was accumulated in interest with the current account.
The councilman said he also wanted the township auditor to see what type of capital improvements can be done with the trust account funds.
“One of the things I had suggested is having one room designated to virtual reality and to move the library system to a state-of-the-art system,” he said.
Joshi said the Edison Township Free Public Library, which has three branches — Main, North Edison and Clara Barton – has the highest circulation of libraries in the entire state.
“We are now the most capitalized in terms of surplus funds so I want to use that money in a proper way,” he said, noting he plans to present a capital improvement plan before the library board in the next few months.
For the past two months, the council withheld funding of operating expenses calling for accountability and a meeting to discuss library finance discrepancies.
On Dec. 12, the council approved funding for library operating expenses except for library attorney fees in the amount of $3,276.
In October, Joshi had filled out an Open Public Records Act request, which showed legal bills went up from an average of $800 per month to $3,400 per month. The invoices showed a $39 bill to taxpayers for a single text message and $33,000 for camera expenses.
In light of the issues and concerns, Board Attorney William Northgrave said Mayor Thomas Lankey appointed Business Administrator Maureen Ruane as his library representative. Ruane had previously served as library representative when finance issues arose when Council President Ajay Patil served as library liaison.
Lankey had previously appointed Deepak Belani as his library volunteer representative. He rescinded Belani’s appointment on Oct. 24.
Edison’s Library Board of Trustees is an independent body that manages a $5.4 million budget — $5.2 million is allocated from the council as required by state statute.
The library is led by Jane Jiang, library board director. She was hired to replace Judith Mansbach, who retired in July. Board of Trustee members include Vasant Naik, acting trustee chair; Joyce Ship-Freeman, secretary; David Ye, treasurer; Shannon Peng, schools superintendent representative from the Board of Education; Patricia Massey, Lisa Krauze, Neville Arestani and Sue Cason O’Neill.
Ship addressed the council at a meeting on Nov. 28. She said she eagerly agrees with some irregularities in reference to day-to-day operations of the library.
“The Edison Public Library has been a separate public entity from Edison Township since its inception in 1929,” she said. “This arrangement is also codified in state statute to make sure the public library continues to execute the mission separate from politics.”
Ship said the library is moving in a positive direction toward the future adding the library celebrates 90 years in 2019.
“We have expanded the Clara Barton library hours to 37 hours,” she said. “We have 50,000 movies we have added. We also have assisted patrons with 1,600 reference questions per month.”
The Clara Barton library branch celebrated its newly expanded hours with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Dec. 11.
Also, Ship said, senior and teen advisory boards are currently being developed to better serve their needs.
Ship said she was the one who called for a performance and finance audit, which was performed May through June by Wiss and Company LLP, an accounting firm utilized by library boards across the state.
“There were over nine violations in the financial audit report,” she said. “The primary problem was the library was violating laws as it related to financial contract mechanisms. There were no receipts, employee times were not accounted for and there were no documents. We failed to have a general ledger. We did not have policies or procedures of financial reconciliations and bank accounts. We were using a charge card for payments of bills without authorizations. The payroll overpaid [employees] as far back as April. Individuals were being paid even though they physically did not show up for work.”
Ship said when all violations came to light, people were calling for the county prosecutor to take a look at the discretions. She said the board decided to take care of the problems in-house.
“Unfortunately whether knowingly or not, there have been significant financial issues and egregious behaviors,” she said, adding they will not tolerate political interference. “We don’t want criminal conduct … we want to take the library to the 21st century.”