Editor's Notes: And Now Here's The Rest Of The (Library) Story
Someone needs to remind Saugatuck-Douglas Librarian Martha Boetcher and certain members of the local library board that revisionist history only works if no one else knows the true facts they are attempting to conceal from the public through sheer hubris.
Two weeks ago I wrote column informing the public about a “secret” that library officials were well aware of - but were adamantly and arrogantly opposed to - namely that an individual representing a national nonprofit organization had for several months been talking to various city officials, community leaders and philanthropists about bringing a state-of-the-art, national/international-level educational curriculum research center, museum, outdoor natural area, arts-focused/music-oriented area (think Meijer Gardens), and library/research complex to Douglas that could possibly mean a multi-million-dollar, year-round economic boost to local businesses, B&Bs, the local tax base, etc.
The only thing the organization’s rep requested was that her name and the name of the organization be kept confidential until they were ready to announce this proposed plan publicly.
Legal and business reasons for that request - the usual ones provided by most organizations or businesses looking to come into a new area - were given, which everyone readily agreed to.
When it came time for that representative to meet with the local library board - and after she had secured a pledge of confidentiality from its members as well - she laid out what she (and all other local officials in on the proposed project) thought was a terrific proposal:
* If the library board was in agreement with the proposed project, the national organization would bring its considerable efforts, own dollars and ability to seek state and federal grants into play that could possibly pay for some/most/all of a new library the board was already seeking to have built through a planned upcoming millage request of local taxpayers.
A proposed project? Absolutely. What project isn’t when first brought to the table. But keep in mind this national organization did not ask for any local government leader, business person, library board, etc., to put up one thin dime to keep the project in play.
Additionally, the national organization’s rep did not ask any local government official, business person, philanthropist or library board official to sign any document pledging their support.
The rep merely laid out the scope of the project for all to see, discuss and see if they could come away with initial verbal support so as to keep pursuing this incredible project. No hard sell. No hidden agenda. No competing with any existing local business or group. They were just looking for community wide support in its initial stages.
The cost and scope of the grandiose library for the area the library board wanted local taxpayers to pay for: $5.1 million to build a 12,500-square-foot complex and hundreds of thousands more to operate it through a bond/millage paid by local taxpayers through the next quarter century! All on the taxpayers’ dime, mind you.
And lest we all forget, the libary board and its well-intentioned fundraisers - Friends of the Library - had promised to raise $1 million in private funds to help offset the overall cost of a new library. The reality: they say they raised just a little over $300,000; $195,000 of which would go to buy the land.
Confused at what she later described as a “rude and arrogant” negative response from the library officials, the representative put more incentives before them:
* the national organization did not want to take over the local library; it would absolutely remain under local authority.
* it would be preferred, but the library building itself did not have to become part of the new proposed educational complex site being looked at in Douglas, but could be located on the land the library board was then planning to build it on - acreage near the existing library that the board had an option on at that time to purchase for $195,000.
* the local library board would also be given a seat on the new proposed complex’s board of directors so they could have a say on how the entire newly proposed center would operate.
Not interested, library board leaders once again brusquely responded.
And here is where it gets more interesting - and deceitful - on the part of Ms. Boetcher and the library board.
Shortly after Ms. Boetcher and her library board compadres soundly trounced the idea of supporting further exploration of the proposed national project for the Saugatuck/Douglas area, Boetcher called library officials in another nearby city where the national organization rep had previously been having discussions about the project, informed them of the organization’s interest in the Saugatuck/Douglas area and then asked them to send her architectural renderings of a proposed new library they were seeking to build there.
City officials, the rep and others confirmed Boetcher’s despicable violation of trust.
That conversation between Boetcher and the other city’s library personnel - made despite her promise of confidentiality to the project rep - caused a tidal wave of anger and resentment among the other city’s leaders, prompting them to call the organization’s rep and others related to the proposed project with spiteful, rage-filled vehemence.
Was that part of Boetcher’s plan to try and damage or kill the proposed project in Douglas? Don’t know. Only she can answer that. But her complete lack of integrity in violating her pledge of confidentiality for her own purposes most assuredly caused the national project’s rep to react angrily toward Saugatuck/Douglas.
“I’ve never in my life had someone be that deceitful and dishonest in all my dealings with public officials on proposed projects such as this!” the rep told The Local Observer.
Oh, and the architectural renderings of the other city’s proposed library? Boetcher and her library colleagues showed it around saying how horrible it was and how that design would be just plain wrong for our local area. Another stab at the local proposal even though the other city’s library design had absolutely nothing to do with the proposal for our area? You decide.
Here’s the real kicker.
Two weeks ago on Aug. 1 - four days before the election when local residents were to vote on the two library ballot proposals where the board was seeking its $5.1 million building costs plus operating expenses from the pockets of local taxpayers - I wrote a column on the front page of The Local Observer telling readers what their library leaders were purposely failing to tell them: there was a chance they didn’t need to tax themselves silly to pay for this local library board’s ego-driven behemoth of a new building and operation.
The library board and some of its supporters immediately attacked our newspaper - verbally and in quickly-churned-out library emails and letters - saying how unfair it was that I reported such “misleading” information giving them no chance for rebuttal before the Aug. 4 election.
Misleading? Boetcher herself even conceded in a telephone call to Felicia Fairchild, the executive director of the Saugatuck-Douglas Convention & Visitors Bureau - and the appointed and key point person responsible for working with the proposed national project’s rep - on the day my column ran that it was completely accurate and then asked how I would know all those facts.
Which is it Ms. Boetcher? I’m probably simple minded but I don’t understand how I can go from being completely accurate in what I wrote to “misleading” readers when you later put out some public spin to try and save the then-upcoming vote for the library funding.
Have any doubts about what I just wrote? Ask Ms. Fairchild, who by the way is the single most important reason the Douglas area is even in the game for possibly getting this proposed project here. Whether it materializes or not, Ms. Fairchild has gone above and beyond to try and bring this proposal to fruition. The entire community owes her a debt of gratitude!
Here’s another big news flash for my library friends: I don’t work for the library and The Local Observer isn’t here to help you deceive the public! I exposed the “secret” in my column as close to the election as possible so it would have impact and resonate with the voters and they would be informed of all that was happening behind the scenes before they cast their votes.
My highest responsibility as a newspaper editor is to inform the public of things that could impact any decision they may make - most especially at the voting booth. Armed with ALL the info - not the select, self-serving bits and pieces the library officials were doling out - voters could choose for themselves, I wrote.
Library board members had every opportunity - and yes, more importantly, the responsibility - to let the public know about even the possibility there could be private/state/federal grant money available to pay for a community library BEFORE they voted on the library’s two ballot (tax) measures.
I use the word “deceive” above very judiciously. And here’s why.
When I was first asked to meet with the proposed national project’s rep earlier this year at approximately the same time she began meeting with local community and government officials, I told her - before she shared with me any information - that I could not agree to keep any information secret from the public if there was something local residents needed to be made aware of.
The rep readily agreed. “I completely understand,” she said. “I’m not here to keep the public in the dark about what we are doing. There are just some legal and business reasons why we aren’t announcing this publicly just yet. That’s why I’m asking for confidentiality for now. As long as you can agree not to use the organization name or my name until we are ready to announce all this publicly, you can certainly share any of this information with your readers when and if you see fit.”
I asked her if any other local people who pledged confidentiality could do the same. “Of course,” she replied.
The bottom line to all this is your library officials could have simply done what I did and ask for an okay to share the general information - including the possibility of outside money for a new library - with those people they are supposed to represent: the taxpaying public. I was given the okay as they would have been.
And by the way, the local government officials, business leaders, philanthropists and others who promised confidentiality to the rep, all are people of honor and kept their pledge. They are to be commended.
The difference between them and your local library board is that they were not asking local residents to cough up $5.1 million plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in operating funds for the next two decades and beyond without telling the full story.
Also, Librarian Boetcher doesn’t get to have it both ways. She violated her confidentiality pledge when it suited her (by contacting the other city), but now claims after the secret has been let out of the bag that she couldn’t tell voters about it because she pledged confidentiality. A good friend of mine uses a phrase that sums it up nicely: a two-faced dance!
Oh, and one more thing. Let’s not let the veil of altruism float down too softly upon Ms. Boetcher or other library personnel.
If voters had passed the recent millage requests for both the building and operational costs, it is not out of the realm of possibilities that an appreciative library board might up the salary of its librarian. Bigger building. Bigger responsibilities. Bigger paycheck. Is that another reason to keep pertinent info from the voting public to try and ensure passage of the library millages? Don’t know. Ask Ms. Boetcher.
Shortly after voters resoundingly defeated both library millages Aug. 4th, Library Board Chair Steve Oakley was quoted as saying, “We need to understand why people voted no. We need to figure out how to deal with that and turn it around.”
Just a helpful suggestion from someone who does, in fact, support libraries, but not boondoggles: Start with the proposed multi-million-dollar pricetag and 12,500-square-foot building for a small community library that technology is continually driving ever closer to unneeded redundancy, as it is in many communities throughout the U.S.
You may also want to reread this column, Mr. Oakley. You just may find some of the answers you’re looking for.