Calumet City Library slated to reopen late in October (Calumet City, IL) — Calumet City Mayor Thaddeus Jones said the city’s library would reopen on or around Oct. 25 after ordering its closure for an investigation into alleged financial malfeasance.
Jones ordered the shutdown on Oct. 8 noting library board members “discovered malfeasance” occurring in the facility, he’s quoted as saying in the Northwest Indiana Times. He alleged they found computers purchased by employees for personal use in addition to other unnecessary supplies. At the Oct. 15 regular board meeting, Jones said he contacted the secretary of state’s office to help investigate the situation. That came after the new library board, five members of which were appointed by Jones, voted for a forensic audit.
Jones also said some of the library’s problems stemmed from its hours, with it being open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., “which didn’t allow for students to go in,” he said.
“(The secretary of state’s office) will be out here next week, working with our police department and our special prosecutor to ensure we have transparency and also to ensure the kids of Calumet City will be able to use the library,” Jones said.
But George Grenchik, a former library board member of five years who was recently fired by Jones, has disputed the need for the library’s closure and the need for an investigation. He thinks the mayor is using “weaponized forensic audits” to meet his political ends, he said.
He’s skeptical of the investigation because the board’s former director Jennifer Hovanec, who resigned last week, made important strides in keeping the library transparent, especially as it relates to financial matters. Her resignation also came amid a year where the mayor asked four members of the previous board to resign, Grenchik alleged, noting two other members had to be replaced on the board due to expiring terms, a process he witnessed.
The mayor, who has the power to appoint library board trustees, brought his appointments to a Sept. 30 special board meeting. Grenchik said he nominated Darlene Gray-Everett to be president, in part because she was the longest serving library trustee. After that nomination didn’t pass, the board named Scott Nnamah as president in “quick succession,” he said.
“He just so happened to have a speech prepared that he pulled out of his pocket and in quick succession the secretary and vice president were nominated,” he said. “It became obvious this was a done deal.”
A week later, Grenchik said a friend told him they were sending library employees home. He made his way down there to find Nnamah and three other trustees already there with public works employees. He said he was told they had to close the library because it’s director resigned and that there would be a criminal investigation. Soon after, he spoke to the mayor on the phone who advised him to leave the premises of the property, he alleged.
“I kind of understood what was going on and I asked him if he would advise the other three members of the board if they would be advised to leave the premises and he just cut to ‘leave the premises or I’ll have you escorted out.'”
Later, he got a text from the mayor noting he was relieved of his duties as a trustee for “obstructing an investigation,” he alleged, noting two armed police officers delivered a similar message to his home.
Amanda Lopez, a library employee, said it was open to the public that day when Nnamah and two public works employees came in and spoke to a few people on staff. After that a manager told them to come up to circulation because they were going home for the day. Lopez said staff members were supposed to wait on a phone call to return to work but no one has gotten one yet.
To Lopez, the library’s closure “has a domino effect.”
“The library closing impacts the community a great deal because there have been people who can’t get into the library who use our computers regularly for their jobs, their personal lives,” she said. “It also affects all the other libraries in the area too because we have interloans that we can’t send out that are at the library currently.”
The library also has served as a safe haven for the homeless, the city’s youth and it’s seniors, said Grenchik.
Sean Howard, the city spokesperson, did not respond to requests for comment.
Calumet City Library slated to reopen late in October