A library Party, an Auditor’s Report, and a bad situation in Howard County

A library Party, an Auditor’s Report, and a bad situation in Howard County

Photo from Howard County Library System Facebook Page

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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.

Background

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.

Source: Copy of Event Invitation from Auditor’s Report

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.

Source: Error Message from 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.

Conclusion

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 [councilmail@howardcountymd.gov] and urge them to support the county auditor and stand for transparency and accountability

About The Author

Sheila Jennifer

sajenn3@yahoo.com

Sheila Jennifer is a longtime resident of Columbia, Maryland. She is a retired legal publications editor with the National Archives and the Federal Register. She has also served on several state and local boards such as the PTA Council of Howard County and the Governor's Commission on African Affairs. In 2022, Sheila was elected to the Howard County Republican Central Committee and ran unsuccessfully for County Council in District 2.

12 Comments

  1. Todd

    “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.’ This doesn’t matter. That doesn’t make it a state agency and the county code specifically states that the auditor can investigate any department, agency, or office receiving funds from the county. Which it has many times (example: State’s Attorney Office in 2017). Additionally, while HCLS may state there was “no guest list” now, it’s curious the event notice currently on their website lists online registration.

  2. Carole

    Follow the rules like everyone else! Calvin Ball needs to step up and, if not fire this woman, publicly reprimand her for using the race card! I for one, do not know Tonya Aikens, or have I ever heard of her before. Therefore I did not know, until she pulled the “race card”! It doesn’t matter what race one is, FOLLOW THE RULES, you are not an exception because of race! STOP making excuses! The rules in this case were clearly written and need to be adhered to! No one is above the law or the rules!!!!! We are all one for the good of EVERYONE!!!! ( side note: I wonder if Ms. Aikens is part of this sorority??? It was not stated, but makes one wonder if this is why they, the sorority, was given this special deal, hmmmmm)

  3. Renven

    To correct the person above it was 4 hours early. For the record I am a black woman, a Democrat and a resident of Howard county and former HC school parent. This woman needs to step down and or be fired. The auditor was/is doing his job and it’s exactly how it should be. It’s also concerning that the she has now falsy claiming the library falls under a different jurisdiction when it clearly does not, has whiffs of the he start of ‘change the facts’ administrations. This may be a tough one for Mr Ball but he needs to step in and ask her to step down. He needs to keep his hands clean of this type.

  4. Emily

    If the facts in the title are incorrect, it should be re-written. All of these corrections makes a lot of this article seem half-researched. :/

    • Len Lazarick

      I agree. I just changed it to “library party” and “a bad situation.”

      • Todd

        For reference, the original title said “private party.” Whether or not the library recognized it as “private,” the sorority did. They advertised at as such (it’s still listed as “by invitation only” on their website) and the two social media posts post-party on Instagram and Facebook (now taken down) listed it as a “private.”

        The library did nothing to advertise the event unlike other major so-called partnership activities. Instead they buried it on their calendar page. Hence, likely no one but the sorority members who received the “invitation only” attended. We’ll never actually know what would have happened if someone attempt to crash this perceived private party.

  5. Bill Campbell

    It appears that Howard County needs an Inspector General (IG), like Montgomery & Baltimore Counties. Every entity receiving County funds should be subject to IG audits, & be required to cooperate with such audits, or suffer severe penalties, including termination. Ms. Jennifer’s article is well written & appears to be objective. Furthermore, EVERY County report should be available to the public & NOT hidden! We need more transparency. It is a shame that a minor incident should be magnified by administrative hubris & race baiting. It reminds me of the Watergate Scandal.

  6. LL

    Does that mean that public facilities can be used for private parties now?
    “Rules for thee not for me.”

  7. KENJA

    TWO HOURS EARLY CLOSING FOR AN ORGANIZATIONAL FUNCTION WHO PAID…AUDITOR FISHING…AGENDAS PLAYING THEIR PARTS…EASY TO SEE WHAT’S GOING ON…I SUPPORT THE LIBRARY COORDINATOR…LIVED HERE FOR 10+ YEARS…IN-FIGHTING EXPOSES POWER GRABS…THERE IS MORE THINGS IN COLUMBIA TO WO?RY ABOUT…

    • Calvin

      For your disjointed statement, I can only assume that you fully support corruption by public officals.

    • Todd

      4 Hours early. But who’s counting.

    • Donald L Davenport

      The ” use of the building was non compensated “.

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