ATLANTA — The Atlanta Public Library will contest an order to repay a $25,000 state grant resulting from a conflict of interest for a library trustee.
The secretary of state’s office sent a certified letter to library board President Randy Brooks on Oct. 23, providing written notice that the grant money must be repaid to the Illinois State Library within 90 days.
In the letter, Amy Williams, from the state's Office of the General Counsel, said the office found that library board member Bill Thomas owns a building that was renovated through the grant and therefore had a financial interest in it.
“They are seeking an administrative hearing on the matter, which is their right,” said Dave Druker, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office. “We are working on scheduling a date.”
The library is leasing Union Hall, located across the street from the library, from Thomas for $1,000 per month. The building previously was the headquarters for Teleologic Learning LLC, a company that Thomas founded.
Library officials agreed to lease the building for 20 years, satisfying a term in requirements of the Live and Learn grant for proof of a longstanding commitment to a property. State officials say there is no proof the library made payments to Thomas, however, thereby voiding terms of the lease.
Without a long-term lease in effect, the grant requirements were not satisfied.
The grant was one of 17 distributed to Illinois libraries in 2015 by Secretary of State and State Librarian Jesse White.
In its grant application, library officials said that more space was necessary because there is no room for growth for current programming despite rising demand. Existing spaces are inflexible and inhibit the variety of programs offered, they added.
The grant money was used to renovate the facility and provide access to the building next door, the Atlanta Museum and Palms Grill Café. Both are run by the Atlanta Public Library District.
Brooks declined comment on the matter Wednesday.
“The board's position at this time is that since a hearing is pending on this issue, it is premature to comment,” said library Director Cathy Maciariello. “The library will be happy to respond once the issue is fully resolved.”
In June 2017, the board voted to explore purchasing the building. According to board minutes, Brooks was not present at the meeting, and Thomas left the meeting room for that discussion.
Subsequent board minutes indicate a purchase was discussed but never acted upon.
Thomas could not be reached for comment.
In July, minutes from the meeting indicate the board addressed the potential conflict of interest after receiving questions from local residents during the meeting.
The meeting minutes include this statement: “The board noted that all board members file financial disclosure forms with the county clerk and no interested party ever participates in discussions or decisions that might be covered in these statements.”