Based on what he has deemed at least a gaping lapse in good ethics and fiscal accountability, Mayor Tony Fiore has asked Middletown Township Public Library Board of Trustees President Randall Gabrielan to step down from his post immediately.
A letter from the mayor — as head of the governing body, which appoints library board members — stating the resignation wish was penned last Wednesday.
Calling the move pure “political retribution,” Gabrielan, who is also the Monmouth County historian, said he has served on the board for about 25 years and has no plans to go anywhere until legal opinion on the matter Fiore cited has been rendered.
That matter is that, according to Fiore, it was brought to his attention that Gabrielan has been selling paperback history books he authored to the library at retail cost, submitting vouchers for payment and signing off on and authorizing the payments as board president — in essence, paying himself with township library funds. The books retail at about $20 each, Gabrielan said, adding that he does not make that entire profit.
The matter at hand, as the mayor sees it, though, is not that he sells the books to the library, but how he has gone about it. Copies of the vouchers forwarded to Patch show Gabrielan’s signature in the "claimant's certification" box, authorizing the purchase order payment. His signature also appears in the "municipal certification" box on some of the vouchers forwarded.
Under Gabrielan's signature in "municipal certification" box is Sherry Miloscia's signature, library board treasurer. Miloscia recently resigned from the library. She stated no reason for her resignation. There is a spot asking for "official position" of the vendor in the "certification" box and it is not filled in by Gabrielan.
Saying that he sees nothing wrong with selling his books to the library, since “the library normally purchases books,” Gabrielan added that the matter of submitting and signing the payment vouchers is something he never consciously thought of as wrong, nor was he ever advised that in all his time on the board.
He added that he would never knowingly jeopardize his position on the board what he said was his long-standing untainted reputation as someone who is invested in the library and community for a couple of decades.
“I’ll leave that opinion up to counsel,” he said. “As for selling the books to the library, it’s all part of what I do (as an author).”
Gabrielan also sent the following written statement to Patch:
“Since the matter has been referred to counsel neither I nor the mayor should say much, especially about the assertion over my sale of my books to the library, books that they desired for the library's collection, would have been purchased anyway and which constitute a sales practice that the township has been aware of for years and the present mayor's board representative since early 2011.
This issue is about money, not the trivial sums of my books, but of the township's efforts to seek total domination of the library board and library expenditures. As a defender of the library, the independence of its finances and the right of the library to use its funds for the benefit of the library that serves the entire population, I stand in the mayor's way.”
Still, Fiore, after hearing about the potential problem and seeing the paperwork, said he did not want to chance even a hint of an ethics breach, at the very least. He added that if a township official or employee did the same thing, both he and the public would be fierce about holding them accountable.
“Mr. Gabrielan’s actions as a board member in this situation appear inappropriate and unethical,” the mayor said. “To me, this is a serious breach of ethics. There is no tolerance for any lack of ethics or questionable judgment in serving the public interest and Mr. Gabrielan should resign as such.”
Foire pointed out that the board’s function is primarily to oversee the operation of the public library’s budget. So, as the mayor sees it, as presiding member of that board, Gabrielan’s action of signing off on his own bills is “highly questionable.”
However, the mayor added, “it’s not for me to decide, so I’ve taken the information and passed it on to the state Department of Community Affairs’ Division of Local Government Services and every other appropriate authority (township and county administrative and legal) that I am obligated to pass it on to. I have no choice to do so, because it’s the right thing to do.”
The request for Gabrielan’s resignation, in the meantime, the mayor said was a safeguard until official word is given on the subject.
Gabrielan called the move a political power game because he was very vocal last year in his opinion that the library should not hand over $500,000 of its surplus to the township to balance its 2011-12 municipal budget to stave off some layoffs.
The mayor said it has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with ethics. “I’d like to point out that Mr. Gabrielan chose not to have legal representation at the library board meetings,” Fiore said. “If he had, this matter may have been avoided altogether when the vouchers were presented at the meetings and legal counsel was there to render an immediate opinion.”
The library board is comprised of nine members. There were seven until this year, when the Township Committee decided to add two members, as a measure of added representation for residents, the mayor had said. The governing body appoints library board members. Gabrielan was appointed roughly 25 years ago, when there was a different political make-up on the committee.
For the past near 20 years, the governing body has been mostly all-Republican, with the exception of a few years recently with a couple of Democrats being elected. With Fiore’s election to a first term, the dais became all-GOP again.
“This request for resignation is an act of political retaliation prompted by my opposition in 2011 to the Township Committee's demand that the library turn over surplus funds (which did not come from municipal appropriations) to the township and the failure of the mayor's new expanded library board of trustees to elect one of their number, none of whom has any library board experience, to the presidency of the board at the January 18th library board meeting,” Gabrielan’s statement said.
The mayor added that he intended to call for an independent audit of library financial records. So far, the records that township officials have seen indicate spending upwards of $700 on the books.
Patch will follow-up on this issue as developments arise.