November 20, 2013 - Brandon Twp.- Paula Gauthier resigned as library director Nov. 14, hours before she was to attend a special meeting and explain to the library board why the library has not received state aid revenue for the past five years.
Her resignation contained no answers and instead has prompted more questions, an administrative lockdown, and the opening of an investigation.
"We wanted answers from Paula— quite honestly, this falls on her shoulders," said Ann Schmid. "We have zero answers right now. Our list of questions keep growing. We are working diligently to figure all of this out."
Reached by phone and asked why she had resigned as Brandon Township Library director, Gauthier said only, "It was time for me to retire."
The board notified Gauthier via voicemail on Nov. 13, when she was out sick, that they would be holding a special meeting the next evening to get answers in regards to the library not receiving state aid revenue. Her resignation to the board came via e-mail at 7:58 a.m., Nov. 14. Two minutes later, at an 8 a.m. meeting, she announced the decision to library staff. Gauthier said that her resignation was not a spontaneous decision, but refused any further comment.
Bill DiSessa, a spokesperson for the Michigan Department of Education, confirmed that the library was denied state aid.
"The Brandon Township Library for several years was denied the state aid to public libraries by the Library of Michigan because we did not have the college transcripts that would have been required from the now former director for us to deem her certified at the necessary level," he said. "It's my understanding that the library requested state aid for the past five years, but was denied each time for the same reason."
DiSessa said the denial would have been sent to the library, but not directly to board members.
As a class 4 library, serving a population of more than 12,000, but less than 26,000, the township library is required to have a library director that has a level 2 certification. According to the Library of Michigan, a level 2 certification requires a library director to have a master's degree or its equivalent from a library school accredited by the American Library Association.
Gauthier was named the library director in 2006 after JoAnn Gavey was fired following complaints she harassed employees and mishandled policies and finances. Gauthier had previously been with the library since 2001 as adult services department head and then as assistant library director. In an interview with The Citizen when she was hired as library director, Gauthier said she had earned a master's degree in library science from the University of Michigan in 1986.
"We are investigating how she was vetted when she was hired and when she was promoted, whether anyone checked her credentials," said Schmid.
State aid revenue received varies by library and also from year to year. Schmid said that based on what the board can tell so far, the township library has lost $35,000 total due to not receiving state aid revenue the past five years. Additionally, the board has learned that the library has also not received money from the universal service fund, a federal program that supports technology in libraries. It is unknown at this point how much money the library may have missed out on from this fund, as well as why the money was not received.
Voters approved a property tax rate increase of .2261 mills for the library in August 2012, with 1,574 yes votes to 1,312 no votes. The approval brought the total levy to 2 mills for the library, and in September 2012, the library board approved a 2013 budget with matching revenues and expenditures of $928,562 which included the additional approximately $90,000 in revenue garnered with the increased millage. With those additional funds, the library increased hours of service to include Fridays and increased spending on collections.
Schmid said she can't project whether the library board would have asked voters for the millage rate increase if the library had been receiving the state aid revenue and universal service fund money.
"We assumed at that time we were getting that money, so I don't think it would have changed (our request)," she said.
Verna Cole, library board trustee, discovered the discrepancies at the Oct. 28 regular library board meeting when reviewing the proposed 2014 library budget. Cole, elected to the library board in November 2012, had seen the 2012 budget and 2013 budgets and knew the library had not received state aid revenue. Thus, when she saw the 2014 proposed budget with expected revenue from the state aid fund figured in, she wondered why the library could expect money in 2014 if they had not received it in the previous years. She questioned Gauthier on this point and while she can not recall Gauthier's exact response, Cole said, "the answer didn't make sense to me."
Over the next few days, she researched state aid and among her discoveries on the state website was a complete list of libraries that received state aid in 2011, as well as the amount of money they received. The Brandon Township Library, which is part of The Library Network, was not on that list.
Schmid said the board never saw denial letters for the state aid revenue, nor was it caught by the township's auditors, who she said never gave any flags or indications that anything was amiss.
"We didn't have any audit that said we were significantly short previous to this discovery," she said. "I don't know how the shortage was made up. Monthly, the board is given income statements and a checks and balances register. We did have questions this summer and had extra meetings with the auditor and were told everything was readjusted so we would be fine. They didn't make any indications that there was something wrong."
"We are obviously going to ask for a forensic audit from the auditing firm," Schmid continued. "The only answer we received was a resignation. Our main goal is to move the library forward."
Colleen Stringer, a long-time library employee and adult services librarian, has been named acting library director.
The next library board meeting will be at 7 p.m., Nov. 25, at the library, 304 South St.
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville