February 19, 2018

Boston Mayor Wants More Control Over Boston PL Trust Accounts

By Norman Oder

  • Clash with departing library head
  • $54 million total
  • Is this political interference?

The clash between Bernard Margolis, president of the Boston Public Library, and Mayor Thomas Menino, who engineered Margolis’s departure as of June 2008, has been ratcheted up; as the mayor now wants greater control of BPL’s 180 trust accounts, valued at some $54 million. Rather than have the library board decide how to use the money, in accordance with the bequests, city officials would first review specific invoices.

While there have been no complaints about the library’s stewardship, according to the the Boston Globe, city officials say they lack a detailed accounting of the spending. Margolis told the Globe, “I can’t stress the library’s trusts independent of the political process.” Margolis has accused Menino’s administration of political interference in the library’s operations and in requiring certain hires, and the State Ethics Commission is investigating.

The mayor appoints the board of the library, and the city provides about $28 million of BPL’s $40 million budget, according to the New York Times. City officials will present their case to the library board at a March 11 board meeting. “The trustees will never voluntarily relinquish the control of those trust funds or the right to ascertain donor intent, which is sovereign,” board chair Jeffrey B. Rudman, appointed by Menino, told the Globe. “What we owe City Hall and what we owe the public is transparency.” However, one trust fund donor told the Globe that the city’s move might prompt her to ask for the return of her family’s $110,000 donation. The leader of the Associates of the Boston Public Library, which creates and underwrites programs, told the Times the mayor’s plan was inappropriate.

The Globe, in an editorial today headlined Better books at the library, opined, “But heavy-handed or not, the administration is right to suggest that the city’s library system suffers from a lack of transparency.” The Boston Phoenix was more critical of Menino, suggesting that the mayor had gone after the library because he had been unable to achieve more pressing reforms: “The library has been—oddly enoughthe only sector of the municipality (as opposed to a union) that has tried to resist Menino when it believes that principle is at stake.

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