Correction: Contrary to the original version of this opinion piece, the library director is appointed by the library board, and not the county executive, though he does appoint the board. Yet the library, like the health department and social services department, operates under state law and the library system is overseen at the state level, even though the great bulk of its funding comes from the county. Also, according to Christie Lassen, communications director of the Howard County library, there was no charge for the event, no guest list and anyone who showed up could attend.
In recent years, we have become all too familiar with the phrase: “Democracy dies in darkness.” Such is the case with the new controversy surrounding the unethical closure of the Howard County Central Library for a private sorority event. Since last week, emotions have been high and sadly, facts have been minimal. Here’s what happened and why it matters.
The event happened last October when Howard County Library Director Tonya Aikens
—an appointee of Howard County Executive Calvin Ball– decided to close the Central Library four hours early so that a private organization could use the entire facility. The event was “by invitation only” and in spite of the Library’s policy of accommodating private events, this event was among the first to require the closure of the entire Central Library.
Why? That is exactly the question that was pursued by the county auditor, Craig Glendenning (no relation to the previous Maryland governor). The auditor sought to find answers and ultimately delivered a report to the Howard County Council. The report has since been removed from the Howard County government website.
The report also triggered a series of articles in a publication owned partially by Democrat former county executive, Ken Ulman. It also initiated two public statements by Democrat members of the Howard County Council, Opel Jones and Christiana Rigby, who each called for the immediate termination of the county auditor. And just last Thursday on February 23, a small group of protestors gathered at the Howard County Central Library demanding the firing of the county auditor and accusing him of “Jim Crow-era” racism.
How did we get here?
Craig Glendenning has been the Howard County Council auditor for over ten years. He is tasked with ensuring that county funds and resources are used ethically and in accordance with the Howard County Code. No one likes being audited, but Mr. Glendenning has been a key player in maintaining transparency and accountability in our local government.
The auditor’s report questioned the apparently non-compensated use of a public building, resulting in denial of service to the public, by a private organization. Whatever his eventual findings, investigating such alleged misuse is the auditor’s job. All county agencies have, at some point, come under the auditor’s scrutiny. There has been no reported occasion of a department refusing to cooperate with his efforts… until now.
Bizarre Claims and Real Facts
Calvin Ball’s appointed Library director Tonya Aikens has now made the bizarre claim that the library is a state agency and thus not under the auditor’s jurisdiction. She and her supporters also allege that she has been targeted because she is an African American woman in a position of power.
Aikens is not the first African American woman to head a Howard County agency, and not even the first African American woman to serve as Howard County Library Director. She is merely the first to claim that she is above reproach and immune to accountability. Her claim to be head of a state agency is unfounded, as the library’s own website says that it is an “allied County agency.”
The library is governed by a board of directors whose members are appointed by the County Executive, and the library’s budget is submitted to the County Council and paid out of the County’s General Fund. The library is a county agency, and Ms. Aikens has been derelict in her duties by failing to cooperate with a legitimate audit.
Recent claims by two Howard County Council members for the immediate firing of the auditor are unfounded and cheap. Rather than seek truth and accountability, they seek to bolster their political credentials and call for the termination of a man who merely did his job. The chilling effect of their irresponsible rhetoric will have lasting damage in our efforts to establish more accountability in local government institutions.
There should be no room for such foolishness in our public libraries or in our political discourse. These libraries are meant for our children and our community, not a private party. The auditor’s report underscores the broader need for an independent Inspector General (IG)—no different than the IGs in Baltimore City and Baltimore County—to uphold the principles of good governance. Auditors deserve to do their work without the worry of arbitrary termination. I urge readers to write to the Howard County Council [firstname.lastname@example.org] and urge them to support the county auditor and stand for transparency and accountability