Bellwood Public Library is in a Crisis Only Citizens Can Resolve

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

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4 thoughts on “Bellwood Public Library is in a Crisis Only Citizens Can Resolve

  1. Wow! First, I read about the corruption of Bellwood District #88 on former Superintendent Rosemary Hendricks, and now reading about the Bellwood Public Library. I don’t know where would I be, if I didn’t have a public library to access free books, DVDs, and CDs and it was very rewarding about the access of free stuff with the public library.

    I agree with what you typed Michael, that it is up to the residents of not only Bellwood, but all the Proviso Township to attend the library meetings, school meetings, and town hall meetings to hold the officials accountable. I have been posting this for almost a year and I can’t think of anything more abstract to say. That is definitely the only way that residents can see some progressive changes in their community.

  2. Thank you so much. I love our library and I don’t want to see the services degrade. The library offers so many services to the community. Bellwood citizens have to be aware of what is happening at the library. In the past, I attended the board meetings sporadically and the meetings were conducted in a professional manner. When Chuck Baxter started attending the board meeting there was a change and I have attended every meeting. I became appalled at the lack of knowledge the trustees, showed regarding state laws regarding public library boards and their own bylaws which were outdated. When the public pointed out examples of exorbitant spending on the part of trustees for conference travel we were ignored. We pointed out that Chuck Baxter should not be talking to the employees of library as their representative and they did not know that this is against the law. Employees of the library should not fear losing their jobs because of politics. I saw our library board becoming puppets. They did not listen to the community they were elected to serve, but instead listened to their political advisor. New trustees were elected in April 2017 and the board has not had a meeting yet. President Clements should have had a regular meeting 60 days after the election to organize the board. Two regular meeting were scheduled and she did not attend. She and new trustee Janice English have not showed up for any meetings except the one on June 29, 2017. Janice English has not showed up at any meetings as a NEW trustee, yet she showed up at an illegal meeting and voted to fire Library Director Spratt. She doesn’t know anything about the director and her job performance. She hasn’t been to any meetings!
    Again, thank you for helping get the word out to the citizens of Bellwood.

    1. WANDA GIPSON: Wow! I applaud you Ms. Wanda Gipson for attending the board meetings at the Bellwood Public Library, and showing the board members that you are not intimidated by their political dictatorship to the citizens of Bellwood. Reading your comment, I find it really disturbing how corrupt and unethical that the trustees are at the Bellwood Public Library. What I am amazed is why is IL State Representative Emmanuel “Chris” Welch is not putting the fire on the trustees to cooperate with the residents of Bellwood. I do remember him stating that he was somewhat apart of saving the Maywood Public Library, when it was about to be closed for good due to budget cuts. Once again, it is politics on how to update your good public image of standing up for working people. SMH

      Keep up the amazing work Ms. Gipson and continue to fight against the corruption at the Bellwood Public Library. It is not only the residents of Bellwood need to pay attention, but also pay attention with the school boards, high school boards, town hall meetings, and etc. That is the only way that the residents are going to see progressive changes if they don’t participate in their local government. People will miss out on a lot of things on what is happening.

  3. To Michael Romain:

    Good news! The library board of trustees have finally changed in the Bellwood Public Library. Mary Clements is no longer the President, she was replaced by Dorothy Clark-Smith. Regina Greene is no longer the Secretary, and Billy Elliott is no longer a trustee. Major props to the residents of Bellwood for standing up to the injustice of the former board! Their voice was heard and some progressive change happened. It’s only the beginning. Please attend the town hall meetings, board of education meetings, and etc. Don’t be intimidated!

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