During a heated exchange with Melinda Rachlin during a meeting of the Trustees of the Rahway Free Public Library, Mayor Ray Giocobbe threatened to cut funding for the library in retaliation for objections raised over a political job appointment.
City funding accounts for 95 percent of the total library budget and Giocobbe made the threat after Rachlin questioned the Mayor’s decision to award a political patronage job to one of his supporters rather than to a more qualified independent applicant.
The 32,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art facility opened for service on March 22, 2004, next to the City Recreation Center at City Hall Plaza in downtown Rahway, but due to a lack of investment in maintenance since Giocobbe became the city’s chief executive, the building is visibly deteriorating.
At issue was the appointment of a successor to Gail Miller as director of the Rahway Public Library.
Rachlin and two other members of the board wanted to hire Ian Sloat, who was director of the Mountainside Public Library for more than three years and previously he was the Innovation Catalyst Librarian at the Trenton Free Public Library.
Giocobbe engineered a vote in which the majority of board members supported hiring Carteret Library Director Joseph Norris, who Trustee Derrin Palmer wanted to offer $120,000 as a starting salary.
When Rachlin suggested that politics played a role in influencing some of her colleagues to support Giocobbe’s choice, the Mayor forcefully responded, berating the 67-year-old volunteer and threatening to strip $400,000 from the library budget.
Eventually, Norris withdrew his name from consideration so he could remain the Carteret Library Director at a salary of $103,269.
It is not clear from public records why he did not take the job in Rahway, but the discussion indicated that he hoped to hold two jobs at once.
The explosive library board meeting has become an issue in the upcoming Democratic primary election for mayor, in which Giocobbe faces progressive challenger Casey Probus.
“This is such an embarrassing, deeply shameful, and inexcusable condition for our city, where a library building that is falling apart before it is even 18 years old,” said city resident Michael Williams.
As an experienced innovation catalyst librarian, Sloat was considerably more qualified for the job, having worked with emerging technologies and being aware of larger trends, developing entrepreneurial habits, and getting outside the limited perspective or ‘curse of knowledge’ that inhibit inventing the future of libraries.
As an observer who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation put it, “Sloat has the ability to implement a vision to bring our library into the 21st Century while Norris had the backing of Middlesex County Democrats.”
Although Giocobbe has not yet carried out his threat to deprive the library of municipal appropriations, relations have been strained for the past year and there is visible decay on the facade and dangerous erosion on the front stairway leading into the building.