A Disastrous Board President

Board President Carolyn Drblik at the Niles-Maine District Library is not my favorite person. You can tell that because the very first thing I did upon being forced to resign is block her in my phone so I never had to see that toxic name pop up again.  I could be mean-spirited and mention a lot of very unflattering things that reflect her general poor judgment and some life choices that backfired badly…but it’s really not the point. The point is that she is on the verge of wrecking a beloved cultural institution in a community that desperately needs it. So I will stick to the relevant facts that explain what motivates her.

The first thing to know about Carolyn Drblik is that she has been convinced since she began as trustee eight years ago that things are terribly wrong at the Niles Public Library District/Niles-Maine District Library. She has been certain from the beginning that we are somewhere on the continuum between very stupid to very corrupt. This has required her to disregard all of the evidence, which includes the Board seeing every payment made to every vendor every month; full financial reports presented to the Board every month; a glowing annual audit ever since Greg Pritz took over; scrupulously maintained internal controls between the Business Manager, Business Coordinator, Executive Director, and Board; the opportunity to question every expense, and so on. It led her to file dozens of time-eating FOIA requests for documents, often for documents that don’t exist since the misdeeds she was looking for don’t exist.

Carolyn spent her first two years as Board Treasurer, and I always remember her triumphantly waving a check in the air as if to say, “Aha! I found it!” It turned out to be the monthly fee for offsite document storage at Iron Mountain. It suited the purposes of the Board President at that time to have Carolyn take up lots of staff time by requesting lots of reports, so she asked for things like a calendar of the paid time off for all of the managers and supervisors, which took many hours to put together in her requested format and which was never referred to again. She was certain that the library was being cheated, and when it turned out everything was documented and appropriate, she just ignored it and tried again.

She was sure that the staffing levels at the library were all wrong and the taxpayers were being bilked, so she and her buddy Danette insisted on doing a staffing and operations survey in 2015. Her original choice for consulting firm was forced out by the Board President (hoping for a lean consultant instead) but they finally agreed upon the consultants used by the Village. Yet when the results of the Matrix staffing and operations study came back, she was again disappointed and has never referred to the survey again. That’s because when they compared us to seven similar libraries, we were about in the middle on everything—not the highest, not the lowest. Kind of like Niles itself.

Later, when that Board President and his sidekick were not reelected, Carolyn and Danette were no longer in a voting block and Danette stepped down in preference to her role as Village Trustee, setting off six long years for Carolyn of being in the minority. (This was despite the fact that in my experience, most of the library trustees are fairly conservative economically.) She fought back by revealing information given in closed session (violating the Open Meetings Act) and writing periodic letters to the editor bashing the Business Manager and me as any good boss would do. Though running for a second term in office herself, Carolyn helped Joe Makula with his unlawful petition limiting library trustees to one term, and continued to try to figure out just what nefarious activities we were up to.

Because Carolyn was on the losing side of so many votes, it was impossible for her to take any pride in the library’s accomplishments as most trustees would. I suspect that was in part because her circle of super-conservative friends were counting on her to hold the line on painting the picture that “spending at the library is out of control!” So if we were designated one of America’s Star Libraries year after year, that just meant that we were trying to do too much. If we did what we called the “Reimagination Project” and made processes more efficient and added the cutting edge Creative Studio with a great staff to help low-tech residents with the necessities of a high-tech world, she was unable to brag about it because that would mean we were doing something right. Over the past 8 years there have been hundreds of examples.

So, here we are. Carolyn pretends to herself that now that she is Board President, she can finally discover what terrible things we have been up to. To aid her in that effort, she forced through the appointment of a completely unqualified friend of hers who not incidentally campaigned for her three new voting block members. People have focused on the IT aspect of the work he was charged with, but in fact his role is to examine all of the library’s operations—in other words, everything. I believe this in part because after many years of FOIA requests she never FOIA’d an IT equipment inventory. So that’s not where her attention really is. As others have speculated, her crony will no doubt will suggest what she already decided she wants, and more foolish changes will be implemented.

Carolyn is also running the board by trying to force every motion through with her four votes and not giving the other three trustees the relevant information in advance, causing them to walk out of the 9th board meeting in 6 weeks. She is exclusively using a private email account to conduct all library business, not turning over the FOIAable documents from that account, and not turning in relevant documents to the library to keep on file. The more information she has, the more paranoid she becomes about protecting that information from, you know, the Board. The staff. The residents. The taxpayers.

One nice thing I can say about Carolyn is that I know her to be someone who cares about social justice. Everything she is doing now, and everyone she is working with now are completely out of sync with any kind of social justice goals. Joe Makula made that very clear with his white supremacist views on serving a diverse community in the candidate forum. I can only believe that what she’s getting from her circle in the way of approval, support, and feeling important and powerful outweighs everything else she believes in. Personally, I think the Mayor should remove her from the Community Relations Commission given her hypocritical behavior toward much of the community. And by the way, the Attorney General should be investigating her constant texting during meetings (I heard a lot of pings behind my shoulder where former Maine Township trustee Carrabotta was sitting) as well as her making calls to her puppet master during the four-hour executive session when he was not elected to the Board and has not been hired as a library attorney. Again, such hypocrisy.

Carolyn, because she cannot believe that anything negative that happens could possibly be attributed to her missteps, blames “negative” comments for spoiling the roll-out of the plans she and Joe have come up with. She can’t understand that simultaneously cutting hours, firing staff, making the librarians responsible for cleaning and shelving (in a very un-ergonomic way from 2 foot tall rolling bins), and not letting staff go out in the community any more are all inherently extremely unpopular proposals. She can’t believe that aligning her interests with Joe’s means she is being tied to all of his crackpot, unworkable plans. Though she knows perfectly well that schools don’t have school buses sitting around waiting for field trips, and assisted living facilities don’t have bored staff who are standing around waiting to replace the outreach staff, she pretends to believe it’s a good idea to keep in Joe’s good graces, so of course it has to be someone else’s fault that they are completely losing the PR battle.

I’ll gladly take some credit for that. I am continuing to beat up on these people via social media because getting rid of me was just the beginning. There is no way I can stand by silently watching as they fire beloved and underpaid staff, cut vital services, and try to put Niles-Maine into a death spiral.

Next time: The Sheep and the “Friends” of the Library

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7 Responses to A Disastrous Board President

  1. Mary Krueger says:

    Thank you Kathy for sharing this perspective of the current Library Leadership. I had no prior knowledge of Caroline until this past month and in that short time I have great concerns about many actions she has taken in this short time since these newly elected board members have been seated. I have know you for well over 20 years and trust your knowledge and actions regarding the library. Having served as an elected School Board Member in the Niles Community myself, I have an understanding of the role and operations of serving the community in such a role. Il look forward to getting involved to aid in any way possible to provide my experiences as well as to become more informed and educated regarding this board’s actual legal role and responsibilities.

  2. Warren L Stahmer says:

    I love reading your posts! Keep me posted.

  3. StephenB says:

    Susan, I’m holding you fondly in sympathetic thoughts. Steve

  4. Nora A Loredo says:

    We will miss you and hope you are back where belong soon.

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