A newly-appointed member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library Board is accusing the library system's administration and his fellow board members of recklessly spending taxpayer money.
Chance Wilson, who was appointed to the board in May, is calling out library officials for earmarking $94,900 for an digital interactive education tool, called an OmniGlobe, for the downtown River Center Branch Library and another $35,000 for office furniture for the library system's deputy director.
The money for both was allocated in the library system's 2018 fiscal year budget.
"The administration has been telling the board 'we want this much money' and the board just rubber stamps it," Wilson said. "This shows how ineffective the library board is. There is no supervision or scrutiny."
Both Library Director Spencer Watts and Jason Jacob, president of the library board, denied Wilson's accusation.
Watts also noted that cheaper options for the OmniGlobe have surfaced since that money was allocated, and that the library system ended up spending only $12,600 on the office furniture.
"I don't know why that much was allocated (but) everything was purchased through public bids or state contracts," Watts said. "It's not exactly like any of it is anything luxurious. It's nice, but nothing beyond what we already have."
Watts said the furniture was purchased for a conference room that was converted to office space and had to be outfitted for its new role.
Wilson is pushing back on spending more than $90,000 on an amenity for the downtown library, arguing the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum down the street already has an OmniGlobe.
The construction on the downtown branch is already well over $19 million due to a mishap that halted construction for nearly a year and has resulted in litigation that is expected to drag on for years.
The request to increase the compensation cap for the private law firm representing the city-parish in its legal dispute over the downtown Rive…
When Wilson asked board members to justify the expenditure for the OmniGlobe, which he said happened before he joined the board, he was told the museum has an entry fee for visitors whereas the library wouldn't so more people would get to learn from and use the technology.
An OmniGlobe is an interactive program that can project various earth science and ecological-related mapping topics onto a huge globe.
Watts said the downtown library branch, which is still under construction, was designed to have an emphasis on science and technology. He added that when the idea to have an Omniglobe was first being discussed, the Louisiana Arts and Science Museum didn't have one.
"We have a more diverse population we service," Watts said. "This project would be very attractive to middle and high school-aged students. A lot of those students may come to the library 10 to 15 times a year where they might go to the science museum only a few times a year."
Jacob points out that the money set aside for the OmniGlobe hasn't been spent and that the library system is looking at cheaper alternatives around the $50,000 range.
"That price will probably be significantly lower," he said. "We're doing our due diligence. I think we've done a good job of keeping the numbers straight and trying to save as much money as possible."
Wilson said everyone is backtracking now by bringing up the cheaper options because he called them out about approving the allocation. He also accused the library administration of concealing its spending from the Metro Council, which has finial approval over the library's annual budget.
"We've had three-hour work sessions on our budget, which are open to the public," Watts responded. "He could have asked some of these questions then, but didn't."
Wilson also was taken to task by several board members at the meeting. Board members Donald Luther and vice president Candace Temple chided Wilson for running to the media instead of sticking around for budget talks during a recent three-hour meeting.
“I think you need to take advantage of working with the staff and not try to grandstand in this forum,” Luther said. “But an email chain is not an open meeting.”
Temple added: “Most people who contact (the media) do that after they feel like they have exhausted all their options.”
Wilson responded by saying the public sentiment he’s seen so far is that taxpayers don’t want their money spent on the OmniGlobe.