October 20, 2014

Judge Gives Brooklyn Public Library a Tongue Lashing

A Brooklyn Supreme Court justice recently drew inspiration from Mel Brooks in order to better skewer the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) and its top administrators.

A man named David Rodriguez had filed suit (Rodriguez v. Brooklyn Public Library) in March 2010 against the library, alleging that he had been injured in an April 2009 car crash that involved a library-owned van. In June 2011, BPL sought to have the suit dismissed, claiming that the library was a municipal corporation and entitled to a “notice of claim” within 90 days of any incident, failing which any suit becomes void.

In his November 29 ruling on the BPL motion, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Arthur Schack wrote that the BPL argument was “disingenuous and borders upon being frivolous, because it is completely without merit in law.”

And Schack was just warming up.

Schack dissected the library’s finances and history, noting that the city did not create BPL and making reference in his analysis to the “robber baron-turned philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.”

Schack said that the library is “a private, separate legal entity controlled by an independent Board of Trustees.” He noted that the library is “dependent upon the City of New York for its existence,” but it does not receive all (only 62 percent) of its financial support from the city, which distinguished it from a case (Bovich v. East Meadow Public Library) that the library’s lawyers had based much of their municipal corporation argument on.

Schack goes on to say that the city is not “the employer of Library personnel” and the library “is not a government or public employer” within the meaning of the Taylor Law. He also said the fact that BPL is privately insured is “further evidence that BPL is a corporation, distinct and separate from the City of New York.”

But the judge then turns his attention to the library’s 2010 tax forms (and Mel Brooks) in order to take a rather bitter swipe at the salaries of the library’s top administrators (the bracketed comments are from the judge):

Further, according to the BPL’s Federal 990 Income Tax Return for fiscal 2010, BPL’s Board of Trustees, despite ending fiscal 2010 with a $1,107,9801 deficit, approved paying $1,781,686 in total compensation to nine key employees. This is 1.68% of total revenue and 2.24% of the $79,529,880 for salaries, other compensation and employee benefits. This included total compensation of: $254,959 to Dionne Mack–Harvin, then Executive Director; $228,757 to John Vitali, Deputy Director of Business Administration; $221,258 to Judith Nichols, Deputy Director of External Affairs [a euphemism for a lobbyist]; $214,858 to Mary Graham, Deputy Director of Public Service; $196,086 to Lawrence Jennings, Director of Human Resources; $172,033 to Selvon Smith, Director of Information Technology; $166,672 to Lay Cheng Lee, Director of Information Technology; $164,788 to Aron Bukspan, Director of Major & Capital Giving [a professional fundraiser]; and, $162,275 to Vintress Brown, Director of Finance. The compensation of the new President and Chief Executive Officer, Linda E. Johnson, has yet to appear in a Federal 990 Income Tax Return available to the public. If BPL is a “municipal corporation,” why does it have a professional fundraiser, who receives more in compensation that every New York State judge, including the Chief Judge of the State of New York? These salaries are not indicative of those usually paid by a “municipal corporation.” To paraphrase Mel Brooks’ famous quote, “It’s good to be the king!”, when he played King Louis XVI of France prior to the French Revolution, in the 1981 film satire, History of the World: Part I, “It’s good to be operating a deficit running non-profit, receiving 62% of its revenue from the financially challenged City of New York!”

Schack dismissed the library’s motion, concluding that it was “nothing more than an attempt to deny plaintiff Rodriguez his day in Court.”

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley (mkelley@mediasourceinc.com) is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.

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