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Library director defends spending to promote taxing district

The head of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Thursday denied accusations inferred from a comptroller’s audit that the library board squandered $422,777 promoting a failed plan to promote the library as its own taxing entity.

Mary Jean Jakubowski, director of the system, told members of the Legislature’s Community Enrichment Committee that a tremendous amount of good actually came from the expensive but failed effort to create a special library taxing district, including improved communication and cooperation among members of the library system’s 23 independent boards of trustees.

“The library system is working as one,” Jakubowski said.

At least Jakubowski showed up for her hearing with lawmakers. At a subsequent meeting of the Finance and Management Committee, Edwin Gonsiorek, director of the county’s weights and measures division, rebuffed lawmakers’ invitation for the third straight time.

“At this point, I’m shocked that Mr. Gonsiorek chose not to appear today,” said Legislature Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca.

“We had sent him correspondence that we would subpoena his appearance if he didn’t show to today’s meeting,” added Lorigo, who also is chairman of the finance committee.

In a comptroller’s report released in June, Gonsiorek was accused of presiding over a division that routinely issue fines on local stores based on inspections that were never actually conducted.

County Attorney Michael A. Siragusa said he advised Gonsiorek to attend, but could not compel him to do so. A career civil servant who has worked nearly three decades for the county, Gonsiorek is also a member of the Civil Service Employees Association, whose leadership advised him not to appear, Siragusa said.

Meanwhile, earlier Thursday, Lorigo spent the better part of an hour trading barbs with Jakubowski over the June audit of the library. Based on a string of email exchanges Lorigo uncovered between Jakubowski and a New York City-based consultant who advised the library in its pursuit of a special taxing district, he charged that she squandered more than $100,000 in taxpayer funds in an attempt to exert political influence in the 2011 county executive’s race.

Jakubowski denied the charge and said she was extremely offended by the accusation.

“I find it offensive that you were having this conversation in emails with a taxpayer-funded lobbyist,” Lorigo countered.

Jakubowski insisted that Lorigo had misconstrued the context of the emails between herself and consultant Libby Post, chief executive officer of Communications Services.

“I will attest in a court of law, swearing on a Bible – if that is what you prefer – that neither the library, nor the library director, nor any of the administration, nor any of the board of trustees – to my knowledge – had any endorsement towards any political candidate at any time,” Jakubowski said.

A big part of the aim of the special taxing district, Jakubowski said, was to remove the library from the variable political considerations of the county executive’s office and the County Legislature by offering county residents an opportunity to vote directly on the library’s annual operating budgets themselves.

“Right now, we sit in the middle of the political football,” she said.