Persistence is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “to go on resolutely or stubbornly in spite of opposition, importunity, or warning.”
Without a doubt, John Freed has been persistent in his efforts to acquire information on the $800,000 Capital Investment project that resulted in the construction of the elevator at the Pember Library and Museum of Natural History in Granville.
Not allowing public participation at Granville Village Board meetings in-person due to COVID-19 restrictions, Mayor Paul Labas read a letter to the board sent by Freed requesting action to be taken by the board as a measure to protect the village’s taxpayers.
“I have tried for one-and-a-half years to get information,” Freed wrote to the board. “The Pember Library has taken a path of autonomy.”
Freed explained he had been denied by Pember chair Mary King in a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request claiming the Pember is not subject to FOIL requests.
The board and village attorney Mike Martin all agreed that this is not true. As a village-owned property, according to both the 1909 charter and deed, and distinguished as a public library, Martin said there should be no debate.
Martin provided insight to the board and Freed saying they individually could file Article 78 lawsuits against the Pember and force a court ruling for the information being sought after to be released. Considering the Pember receives about a combined $32,000 a year from town and village taxpayers, Martin and the board believe this information should be accessible.
“The public has a right to know,” Martin said.
Freed stated in his letter that he was told by Kevin Engel, a lawyer in East Greenbush representing the Pember, that Engel informed Freed “he wrote what he was told to write.”
Labas said he’s tried twice to call Engel to no avail.
In the Dec. 31 issue of the Granville Sentinel, the “Controversy plagues the Pember” article reveals Bob Tatko, the former treasurer for the Pember and project manager for the elevator construction, and King both felt they and the Pember board do not feel supported by the village board.
Village board member Gordon Smith, the village’s liaison for the Pember, addressed the negative speech addressed towards him and claimed there is a lack of respect on the Pember side.
“My time is valuable, just as everyone else’s,” Smith said in regard to Tatko and King saying Smith only attended three of 81 public Pember board meetings. “To get respect, you have to give respect… they (Pember board) don’t feel they’re supported? They don’t feel a physical presence? Give me a break!”
Smith said that he and other village board members were not invited to the grand opening of the elevator in the summer of 2019, calling the lack of respect hypocritical.
“There was not a village representative at the grand opening,” Smith said. “I’ve been on the board when I finish this term for 20 years. I’ve never been so disrespected in my life.”
Board members Dan Brown and Dean Hyatt and Labas said they all want to squash the beef with the Pember representatives in some sort of sit-down discussion to hash out their issues with each other. The three said the Pember serves as a historical gem and attraction to the community and that the deteriorating relationship is now severing and dividing the community members to pick a side.
“I’m frustrated because this is not good for the village, obviously,” Hyatt said. “This is not good for the Pember, obviously. We (have to) sit down and work together on this.”
Dan Brown said he has contacted Washington County officials to get a clarification on whether they view the Pember as village property but has not received confirmation to this point. Brown then said the village taxpayer’s liability is his number one priority as a trustee.
Clashing his fists together over his head, Brown said the conflict needs to come to an end.
“It’s time to stop,” Brown said. “(The Pember) is a huge asset to the village of Granville.”
Labas publicly said that Tatko has an active lawsuit against the village, claiming the village had acted nefariously during the trustee position special election on Sept. 15. Tatko has FOIL-requested information from village clerk and treasurer registrar Rick Roberts, all of which was complied to if legally feasible
“This office has provided every bit of FOIL information,” Labas said. “I’m asking that we look into this deeper… it’s damn old.”
Despite no official action being taken, Labas ended the lengthy conversation with an adage.
“United we stand, divided we fall, it’s as simple as it gets,” Labas said.