Bellwood Public Library director Jacqueline Spratt during a meeting last month at the library. | Michael Romain/VFP
Thursday, July 20, 2017 || By Michael Romain || OPINION || @maywoodnews
Residents who value the Bellwood Public Library should learn what’s currently happening at this institution immediately. Start by reading our reporting here. Conduct your due diligence. Do some independent research. You can find the library’s meeting minutes at the library’s website here.
You may well arrive at a conclusion similar to mine, which is that a contingent of people, some of whom don’t even live in Bellwood, are so determined to secure control over the library’s budget that they are doing things that may well be illegal.
They are most certainly doing things that are unethical and unbecoming of citizens who believe in the common good. They even tried to intimidate me, albeit subtly, while I was reporting on the aforementioned article.
I don’t live in Bellwood but I know that the patrons of a public library should not bear the burden of a small group of people’s recklessness. A summer reading program, for instance, should not all of a sudden entail a cost because board members wanted to hire a well-connected ‘consultant’ to fix a bathroom. This is a hypothetical scenario that nonetheless describes the real-world implications of corruption.
When money in the library’s budget is spent on bloated contracts, patrons feel the effects of that action in the form of new, or increased, fees. That’s money that could go toward legitimate capital expenses and operating costs and new, or enhanced, programming.
But this civil problem won’t be dealt with by the police. An outside authority, like a judge or a state agency, has to intervene and make a legally binding decision. Some citizens have already filed complaints with the state, but finding resolution through this process is slow and winding.
What may hasten it, however, is if a lot of residents file complaints with a single state agency and keep the pressure on — make the proper authorities know that a lot of people in Bellwood have a problem with a small group of people trying to take control of an institution that should be free and open to the public, and that should operate in transparency.
In particular, call the office of the Attorney General’s Public Access Counselor: 1-877-299-FOIA (3642) and tell them you want to file a complaint. Tell people who you know to call and complain. Tell them to tell people they know to call and complain.
Most of all, don’t be intimidated. Show your face at library board meetings. Request the contact information of every library board member. Email them. Call them. All of them. Repeatedly. Ask questions. Watch how the money is being spent. Do not allow funds to be spent on unduly expensive, unnecessary and unethical contracts.
Only people acting as free and informed citizens can solve this crisis. Absent citizen power, what will eventually happen is what we’re seeing at the national level — public ruin for private gain.
Most people were surprised at the election of Donald Trump, but they shouldn’t have been. The conditions for Trump’s rise were in the making for decades and they festered because not enough citizens were informed, alert and vigilant. Not enough people took action. Those same people looked up on November 8, 2016 and were in shock by something that shouldn’t have been very shocking.
Close your eyes and imagine the Bellwood library looted into oblivion — its doors permanently closed, the lights forever off, the common good that it encapsulated foreclosed on by private greed. Now open your eyes. And act. VFP