Mr. Ismail responds
To the Editor:
This letter is in follow up to the letter ("Mr. Ismail Misinformed") published in the Grosse Pointe News on Dec. 25 from Mr. John Hughes of Grosse Pointe Park in which he took exception to my published comments on the use of taxpayer funds by our public library board.
First, Mr. Hughes states that my comments regarding library fundraising were "both negative and misleading," yet he doesn't state what was negative or misleading.
The facts and figures I published were based on information presented during the recent League of Women Voters open meeting during which time library board member Kay McDonald, library foundation member Vicki Granger and former library board member Fran Schonenberg fielded questions from knowledgeable and concerned residents.
The facts presented by the residents in attendance regarding the amount raised by the library's in-house fundraiser, the salary of this fundraiser and the additional $18,000 per month the library is paying an outside public relations firm were not refuted or denied by any of the library board representatives.
I don't know whether Mr. Hughes attended this very important meeting. As a resident with a keen concern for where my tax dollars are invested, I found it a real eye-opener and wish that I had the foresight to videotape the meeting for others to observe.
Mr. Hughes then goes on to say that "...we are fortunate to live in a community with many positive attributes. His comments reflect extreme negativity on his part."
I agree that we have a community with many positive attributes. The difference we seem to have is that my mind set that nothing is perfect and everything can be improved is, in the mind of Mr. Hughes, "extreme negativity."
Mr. Hughes then goes on to state that he supports the library system and then goes on to state that the board includes a Harvard law graduate, a former school superintendent and a certified public accountant.
I have never questioned the career choices of the library board members or the success they have enjoyed in their careers. I have questioned the logic of some of their decisions, many of which have cost taxpayers many tens of thousands of dollars and have destroyed the morale of our valued librarians.
During the league meeting, when some of the financial decisions of the board were brought to light, one of the board representatives made it clear to the attendees that all of the library's books are audited.
As the certified public accountant on the board can attest to, financial audits go to certify the financial integrity of the financial statements prepared. They do not "audit" the business decisions made by the board or how business decisions are made.
An example of the kind of concerns I posed was the type of controls that were in place to control the millions being spent on construction and related professional fees.
My example posed to the panel was the fees paid to the architect of the new Woods library. The original circular driveway presented to the city of Grosse Pointe Woods for plan approval did not meet the national building code. Rather than following this code in his original design, the library's architect chose to reduce the diameter of the circular portion of the driveway.
As expected, the city denied the design as unsafe and not in compliance with the building code. The city actually went to the expense of setting up traffic cones to demonstrate to the architect that his drive as designed would not allow an EMS van to get through the driveway even though there is no ambiguity into the building code on this issue.
As fate would have it, a UPS van happened to pull into the Woods parking lot as the cones were being set up. The UPS van couldn't even turn around between the cones.
While I have no knowledge as to how much the redesign of this driveway held up the plan approval process and was incorrectly "blamed" on the Woods building inspector, my query to the library board reps was whether the architect's bill was accurately adjusted to deduct for the architect hours billed, the library staff time wasted and the related reproduction costs for all the new sets of plans which had to be prepared.
Understandably, the library board reps didn't know, and no one has ever gotten back to me as to if what could be many thousands of dollars was ever charged back to the architect. I have not had the time to FOIA these records, but I can guarantee you that this kind of item will never be picked up in any kind of audit by any accounting firm.
With regard to Mr. Hughes' comment that I have not attended a library board meeting, he is correct. Until I received calls and e-mails from a number of concerned residents requesting that I attend the League of Women Voters meeting with the library board representatives, I had no knowledge of any concerns other residents had with the expenditures of the library.
If concerned residents had not sought me out and asked for my involvement, I, as many in our community, would have never known about the spending concerns many residents now have.
With all due respect to Mr. Hughes' comment that I have not contacted anyone from the library board to clarify the facts, I suggest that he contact someone who attended the league's meeting. The sole purpose of the meeting was for the library board to clarify facts, and those board representatives in attendance did their best to do so.
However, many questions were left unanswered. I know of no attempt by library board reps at the meeting to get a hold of any of us at the meeting to follow up on any of the unanswered questions posed at the meeting.
It was not my responsibility to call other library board members to find out if the answers that were provided the attendees of the league meeting were correct. If after the meeting, or after any of my writings, any of the library board representatives or any member of the library board had issue with anything I have published, it is not as if I am hard to find.
My picture, phone number and e-mail address are published weekly in the Grosse Pointe News. I live at 799 Lochmoor and eat breakfast at the Pancake House most mornings at 6:30 a.m., sitting at a two-person table at the back of the restaurant. I welcome any board members' comments and their company at breakfast. Feel free to stop and share your concerns with me at any time convenient. When I don't hear from someone, I have to assume that the facts I have been provided and on which I have based my comments are correct.
People in this community who know me, the foundation board member who attended the meeting and the publishers of the Grosse Pointe News know that if I am in error in a statement I make, I will go out of my way to correct and mend the error. To date, no one in any way related to the library board has provided any information of any kind to me to refute anything I have written reporting the information shared at the league meeting by the residents and the library board representatives.
Lastly, Mr. Hughes hasn't done much homework on me when he makes a statement in the last paragraph to the effect that I should use my energy to "promote positive momentum in the community."
As our school system, the Services for Older Citizens, Special Kids, the Grosse Pointe Historical Society and many other nonprofit organizations in our community as well as residents who need a helping hand know, I am out there working and using the resources I have to benefit our community every day.
My love of this community is why I spend so many hours away from my family and business attending community meetings and sharing my findings with other concerned residents by phone, e-mail and fax.
I hope that the above clarifies my position on Mr. Hughes' letter for all of your readers and shows that I am correct in assuming that I am not the only Pointe resident who wants to make sure that our taxpayer dollars are being used in the best possible way to make Grosse Pointe a better place to raise our families.
Ahmed V. Ismail
Grosse Pointe Woods
Ahmed V. Ismail
January 01, 2004