VALPARAISO – It started out as a simple request. At least Valparaiso Village Board of Trustees member Mike Blazek thought it would be simple.
After the situation had been brewing for about seven months, the village board held an open discussion during its regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 12 to address issues with the library board regarding officially-requested expense statements.
With 20-plus audience members listening in, Blazek told his side of the story all the way up to why he made the motion at the Dec. 8 village board meeting to suspend the library funding until the village board received the full library statements. The motion did not pass.
Blazek provided the audience with an explanation for his Dec. 8 motion, including copies of library invoices and a full timeline starting in June.
Blazek said he was frustrated during the December meeting because the library director had still not provided the village board with the full Amazon statements from November 2019 to current. That was why he made a motion to “suspend the village participation of payments for the library,” he said.
If the motion had passed, the library would have had to pay its bills out of its own account including labor, heating, cooling, water, sewer and other maintenance related bills, until the full statements were provided, Blazek said.
According to the minutes of the Dec. 8 meeting, the motion read “to suspend library funding until detailed receipts are provided as previously requested” and lacked the name of who made the motion. The News learned that Blazek made the motion in a comment he made on the “Valparaiso Nebraska” Facebook page explaining why he made the motion.
During last week’s meeting, Village Clerk Cheryl Rieck announced that she had fixed the minutes to include Blazek’s name.
Blazek said he and the village board look over invoices from the library during the portion of the meeting where the board approves expenses. He said these invoices would generally be statements from Amazon each month.
In some instances, the statements did not seem to be complete, Blazek said.
Some of the invoices also lacked a reference to describe what was purchased. This made Blazek hesitant to approve the invoices.
“I cannot honestly approve this statement with this amount of information that was given,” Blazek said on Jan. 12.
Library Board President Erica Kobza said that the library had sent the statements they had on Dec. 17. Blazek said the village board still has not received the full Amazon statements from November 2019 to Jan. 11, according to his timeline.
In an email correspondence dated Jan. 6 between Library Director Lori Springer and Rieck (provided to The News by Blazek), Springer asked Rieck which bills had missing pages. Rieck responded that she did not know, but the statements Springer provided only added up to $1,591.66 out of the $2,543.40 that was paid to Amazon.
Springer provided the board with instructions on how to interpret the bills, but there was still confusion.
Blazek said he had called the Nebraska Auditor of Public Accounts earlier on Jan. 12 to ask a few questions about the situation. He learned that each account has a tax ID number that identifies who owns the account. Blazek then called the bank to request this information and learned that the village’s tax ID number is on the library account.
During the meeting Blazek also said that, in his own findings, 83% of the library funding in 2020 was from the village and 17% from the library board funds.
Last June, Blazek asked Rieck to request from Springer the full expense statements dating back to November 2019. He continued to email Rieck about updates and the topic remained on the village board’s agenda until August.
Rieck had forwarded Blazek’s emails to Springer, but did not receive a response, according to Blazek.
During the Sept. 8 village board meeting, the trustees agreed that Blazek could go to the library to request the statements since they had not yet received them.
The next day Blazek went into the library to visit with Springer and ask for these statements. Blazek said that Springer changed the subject to talk about some maintenance issues in the library. Since it was Blazek’s first visit to the library, he said he took a look around before revisiting the statement issue.
Springer cited a library statute to Blazek, telling him he could not have the reports, but that they needed to be officially requested from Kobza.
Kobza claimed that Blazek was “intimidating” and “disrespectful” toward Springer in an article published in The News on Dec. 23. Blazek denies this claim, calling it untrue and slanderous during the Jan. 12 meeting.
The village board approved the official request for “a copy of the all library invoices/expense for 2019-20 fiscal year as an accountability of funds” during its October meeting. The letter was sent to Kobza on Oct. 31 and she said she received it on Nov. 5.
The village board met for its monthly meeting on Nov. 10 and at that time the full statements had not been provided. Kobza said she informed the board that Springer was working on the budget at the time and would not be done with it for another two to three weeks. Kobza said she told the board that they would have the full statements by the January meeting.
However, Blazek said Kobza promised the board during the November meeting that the full statements would be completed and turned in to the village office in time for the December meeting.
When the statements were not provided by the December meeting, Blazek said he was frustrated, which is why he made the motion to suspend library funds.
“There was no motion to defund the library, no motion to close the library,” Blazek said. “All I was doing, and I stated it in the meeting, is a shot across the bow to make the library understand that we were serious, we wanted these and after six months of asking that’s long enough.”
The motion did not pass because of a tie vote. In response, a Facebook page called “We Love our Library in the Valley” was created with the goal of “providing the facts as we understand them and bring together people who value our library.”
Blazek said that after speaking with the village attorney, he was informed that the “We Love our Library in the Valley” Facebook page would need to be removed since it was not approved by the village board and it represents a village entity. Blazek said that if it does not come down and the personal attacks on him and the board do not stop, there will be a cease and desist letter.
In the previous article, Kobza said that she was confused as to why there was a request for the statements since Rieck receives the statements in order to cut a check for the library.
In the same village ordinance Blazek provided, which states that the village board appoints library board members for a four year term, it also states that, “All actions of the Library Board shall be subject to the review of the Chair and Board of Trustees of the Village.”
The ordinance continues
by stating that the library board is responsible for “making such reports and performing such additional duties as the Board of Trustees of the Village may designate from time to time.”
“I’d think a simple request of asking for additional pages to a statement being submitted for our clerk or our board to approve is well within what our ordinance states,” Blazek said.
Blazek said he isn’t trying to accuse anyone of anything, but that the village board is there to ensure oversight.
“There needs to be checks and balances,” Blazek said.
After the information was presented, solutions were offered by audience members. They included requiring a library board member to attend all village board meetings, a library audit and sending bills straight to Rieck.
No motion was made during this meeting in regards to the library statements, but the village board did request that Springer provide Rieck with the Amazon password and that the remainder of the statements be provided. Village Board Member Dan Homes said a formal library audit could happen, but only if the password and statements are not given to the board.
Village Board Member Jeff Draper also said that the village board needs to make sure that the state statutes and village ordinances align in the future.
Village Board Chairman Jim Rezac also asked Kobza to have someone from the Nebraska Library Commission come and talk with the village board at its next meeting. Kobza said it’s a possibility in the future.
Village Board Member Bev Bartek also said this is a good opportunity to gel the village board and library board to be a cohesive unit once the Amazon statements are completed and the library board has viable members, since many of the library board members terms have ended.
“We are a unit and we need to work together,” Bartek said.