The Howard County Library System’s Board of Trustees is refuting almost all questions raised by the county auditor last week about a potential misuse of public resources to hold an Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority event in October 2022.
The library board on Wednesday released its own report on the community event, and criticized the county auditor for overstepping his authority in pursuing a probe; and for issuing a summary document last week that contained racial references that community members have found offensive.
“When the County Council’s investigative arm writes a letter to the Chairman of the Board of Trustees stating that it must be given unfettered opportunity to interview Library staff and review Library records to evaluate a Library decision concerning use of one of its facilities for an event, suggesting that the Council’s ‘budgetary control over the Library’ is the means by which such a request will be enforced, that is the type of
political influence that is prohibited by statute,” the report said.
Howard County taxpayers provide about $27 million for operations of the library, but the institution is technically an agency of the state.
Later on Wednesday, the chair and a member of the County Council released a joint statement that called for the “immediate termination” of County Auditor Craig Glendenning.
The auditor’s report “is comprised of accusations, inaccuracies and impressions,” said Chair Christiana Rigby and Council Member Opel Jones, saying they are “deeply concerned with the leadership, impartiality and judgment of the auditor and the lead investigator.”
The library board determined that no public resources were used for the sorority event, which was held in a second-floor space in the Central Branch library devoted to equity issues. However, the board said that it would re-examine policies regarding closing facilities early. The Central Branch was closed at 2 p.m. for the sorority event, even though library officials said they told organizers it must be open to the public.
In October, Glendenning investigated an anonymous tip about the sorority event. The tip erroneously said that the library CEO, Tonya Aikens was a member of the AKA sorority. Some online materials stated that the event was invitation only. In a report released last week, Glendenning said he was unable to complete the inquiry because of lack of cooperation from the library.
But library officials said last week they would complete their own review, which was released on Wednesday. The review said that it was Glendenning who refused to cooperate, and the library report disputed most claims in the auditor’s summary and criticized his office’s tactics and lack of transparency.
“This third-party charitable organization was a proper use of library facilities, consistent with policies established by the Board of Trustees,” said the library report, signed by Antonia Watts, chairwoman of the library’s Board of Trustees. She is also the chairwoman of the Howard County Board of Education.
Glendenning declined to comment for this article.
Glendenning’s report questioned whether the sorority received special treatment, and described a surveillance operation by his staff on the night of the event, repeatedly making references to “African-American women in white dresses.”
AKA is a traditionally Black sorority, although membership is open to all college women. Its members wear white at some events.
Jones had previously called the language in Glendenning’s report inappropriate and racially insensitive. In the statement released Thursday, Jones and Rigby said Glendening’s audit “damaged the community’s trust and diminished the credibility” of the auditor’s office.
The library trustees echoed those concerns, writing “the committee has serious concerns about an investigative organ of the County Council being tasked with monitoring and reporting back to the council the race, ethnicity, or manner of dress of individuals or groups that attend HCLS facilities or events.”
The references to “African American women in white dresses” has infuriated Black leaders in Howard County. Community leaders are scheduled to hold a news conference in front of the Central Branch library on Thursday where they will also call for the firing of Glendenning and demand a public apology to Aikens and to the sorority.
The auditor is hired by and reports to the five-member County Council.
The library has said it routinely hosts events for outside groups and does not charge for the space. The library said AKA covered all the other expenses associated with the event.
The trustees’ report confirmed that and detailed other organizations that have used the library system’s space free of charge, including the Bonsai Association, Howard County Public Schools and the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.
The trustees did note that the Central Branch closed four hours early for the event and the report called for a review of the system’s early closure policy in the future.
The library also has said that as a state agency, it’s not under the purview of the county auditor, instead answering to its Board of Trustees.
“[The library investigation] exceeded the legal authority of the Office of County Auditor, and was contrary to the legal requirement that the Board of Trustees independently operate library facilities free from political interference,” the report found.
The Trustees’ report confirmed the library’s assertion and found that Glendenning was unwilling to cooperate with the board, not the other way around.
The library report said library system President and CEO Tonya Aikens answered questions from Glendenning via email in early October. The library then contacted Glendenning about next steps but did not hear back until January, when auditor’s staff showed up at the Central Branch in January, asking questions about the event.
The report said the board contacted Glendenning, saying it was willing to work together on the investigation, but Glendenning insisted on remaining independent of them.
“If members of the (county) council had concerns regarding the October 7, 2022 event, or wished to forward concerns received through the auditor’s office tip line, they could have raised these concerns directly with HCLS management or with the Board of Trustees at any time,” the library report said.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article identified Opel Jones as the vice chair of the Howard County Council. Jones is not currently serving as the council’s vice chair. The article has been updated.
The library is not an agency of the state, “technically” or otherwise.
Ms. Aikens and her staff should be fired! But not for this incident! How about dereliction of duty in managing the library and failing its staff and making the library a decent place to work!
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