Letter: Oppose Library Profiteering and Cronyism


The following letter was sent to the Amherst Town Council on December 5, 2023.

Dear Town Council:

There are a bunch of reasons why borrowing an additional $9.8 million on behalf of the Jones Library expansion is fiscally irresponsible and should be opposed on December 18.

  1. It is now beyond dispute that the town will spend more than the $15.8 million cap previously promised.  We learned in last week’s Revised Cash Flow that Amherst expects to pay $24.8 million including interest payments. When the Town Council last authorized borrowing, the financial model assumed a 2.8% interest rate. It now assumes 4.25% — a big difference.
  2. There is still much missing information on which to base a decision such as a model that shows how the DPW and fires station projects will be impacted.
  3. Proponents have been holding up a bogus $20+ million repair alternative that includes no value engineering and no commitment from the library.

But there is an even more disturbing issue. That is the undemocratic process that has led us to where we are today.  Here’s a brief history:

  • In 2014-15 two fundraisers, Kent Faerber and Matt Blumenfeld pitched to the trustees the idea of pursuing an Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) library construction grant.  So far so good.
  • The MBLC requires that the library’s long-range plan support any grant application, so the fundraisers and trustees came up with a new 5-yr plan claiming that a community the size of Amherst needs at least an 87,000 sq. ft. building. This number would have Amherst with its 17,000 full time residents build the 5th largest library in Massachusetts, after Boston, Worcester, Cambridge and Newton. This encouraged a large chunk of grant money, but also required a large commitment of taxpayer funds from the town and a large fundraising commitment.
  • In 2018, with funding approval coming up, four Jones Library Capital Campaign (JLCC) fundraisers – Faerber, Blumenfeld, Claudia Canale-Parola and Ginny Hamilton — helped co-found the PAC Amherst Forward.  Fundraisers come with large contact lists and social media networks as well as access to people who will donate money to the PAC and lobby for the library project whether it is cost-justified or not.
Amherst Forward leaders when PAC was formed in 2018.  Source: archive.org
  • In subsequent town council elections Amherst Forward, using endorsements, mass mailings, advertising and voter tracking software, succeeded in helping pro-library-project-funding majorities win town council seats.
Eight Amherst Forward candidates sit on the current Amherst Town Council.
Source: facebook.com/amherstforward
  • Last week we learned from the Finance Committee that the JLCC intends to pay out $1.05 million in campaign expenses. With personnel expenses representing 90% of campaign expenses, Amherst-Forward-JLCC professional fundraisers stand to earn more than $900,000 for their lobbying efforts.
Capital Campaign expenses will total $1M by June 2027.  Source: amherstma.gov

If this isn’t a conflict of interest and a perversion of our local democracy, I don’t know what is.

Please do the right thing. Vote NO on spending more tax money on a library project propped up by profiteering and cronyism and find a more affordable and equitable way to fix up the Jones Library.

Jeff Lee is a resident of Amherst

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5 thoughts on “Letter: Oppose Library Profiteering and Cronyism

  1. Doesn’t this self-dealing behavior ring a bell? Perhaps the past




    is prelude: a bellwether of things coming soon to Amherst as well?

    For whom does the bell toll? It tolls, perhaps, for those trying to toll us!?!

  2. Cronyism? Profiteering? BS! The comment by Jeff Lee is an unwarranted, personal attack on people who have long been advocates for the Jones Library. I believe they first volunteered their efforts in promoting the Library. At some point their time reached a level that justified reimbursement for their work, and I am personally glad that they are now being compensated (although it would not surprise me to learn that they put in more time than they are paid for). Fundraising does not magically occur; it requires long hours of sustained, often frustrating, effort. My sister-in-law, my spouse and I have pledged $100k to the Library renovation and expansion. I am very glad that Ginny, Kent, Matt, and Claudia are working to make that happen.

  3. John, you are certainly entitled to support the Jones Library project, but the record shows that fundraisers were making money off the project as early as 2015. Check out the Development Committee’s agendas and you will see that there were meetings in both 2015 and 2016 where “Financial Development Agency Contract” (Matt and Claudia) was on the agenda. Conveniently there are no minutes posted for these meetings.

    Only the fundraisers, trustees and director know why they overstated the need for space in the renovation, at one time pushing for a 110,000 sq. ft. building — 3rd largest public library in Massachusetts. Call it what you want, but $1 million possibly divided among four JLCC fundraisers seems like profitable work. If the money is distributed more widely then all they have to do is produce a detailed accounting of who is getting paid what, as requested in a Public Record Request that the Library ignored.

    I would be more accepting of the fundraisers’ efforts if they weren’t asking for $15.8 million (plus interest) from taxpayer funds — one of the three largest tax levy commitments of the 22 state library projects since 2016. And to protect this commitment of town funds they formed Amherst Forward which has worked to get candidates supportive of this massive spending elected. That is where the cronyism comes in.

  4. Thanks, Jeff, for your reply. Yes, $900k is a lot of money. However, based upon what you have written, it appears that the period during which it will be expended began in 2015 and will end in 2027, or twelve years. When considering the length of time, the amount that has to be raised, and that there are four people committed to it, it does not seem that unreasonable to me.
    I can’t tell you if the choice of these people is the best, but I know Kent and Ginny well enough to feel confident in their skills and dedication. I assume the Library board knew what it was doing in selecting the four fundraisers.
    I was not involved in organizing Amherst Forward nor do I vote for its slate. Your note implies that AF was founded with a sole focus on the Library project. I don’t believe that is true. I think that Katherine and Ginny, the original co-leaders, were primarily focused on supporting the schools. The assertion that this was all a ploy to give Ginny and others lucrative consulting positions is very unfair, as well as untrue.
    You are welcome to express your strong opposition to the Library project or specific elements. Criticize the Trustees for decisions they have made. But I think that personally attacking people who are working hard to support it is not justified.

  5. Hello John. The project’s recent Revised Cash Flow shows $800,000 of the $1 million in JLCC expenses being paid after August 1, 2023. I have not “attacked” any individual fundraiser, as the campaign has not disclosed how this money is being distributed. But to safeguard against impropriety, this information should be made public.

    Regardless of motive, the fact remains that the bigger the library project, the more funds that need to be raised, and the greater the potential earnings of the fundraisers, and most importantly, the greater the burden on local taxpayers and impact on other town priorities. The public has a vital interest in full disclosure and a say in whether continuing to throw money at the current project is a good idea.

    True that the library project is not the only thing that Amherst Forward lobbies for, but with four JLCC professionals on its leadership team, not to mention a library trustee and a couple others with indirect ties to the library project, the PAC’s bias is beyond question. The combination of the fundraisers’ profit potential and political advocacy is a clear conflict of interest and should be prohibited, whether you support the building project or not.

    I do want to thank you for your pledge to the library. Until this project, private donations and grants have sustained library repairs and improvements while requiring only a minor commitment of funds from the town’s tax levy. I believe you can appreciate that excessive town spending will fuel a continued rise in property taxes which in turn will make housing in Amherst less affordable.

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