I-TEAM: How and why local library execs are traveling the US, internationally

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CLEVELAND (WJW) -- The FOX 8 I-TEAM has found that people running the Cleveland Public Library system are going on trips around the country and even overseas. So, we investigated how many trips and why, since your tax money pays for most of it.

Records show that over the last three years the Cleveland Public library has sent staff and board members to places including Greece, Denmark, Israel, Poland and Malaysia.

The library also sent a dozen and a half people to a conference in Washington, D.C., a dozen to Seattle and more.

Our findings surprised taxpayers.

One woman reacted with, “I did not know they were doing that.”

Another said, “I don’t understand why you need to send so many people.”

We sat down with the Special Assistant to the Director and asked why so much money is spent by the Library on travel.

“We value learning opportunities for staff," Timothy Diamond said. “Our mission is to be the center of learning for this community, the people’s university. So in order to do that, we have to be a center of learning ourselves.”

Still, we asked why 19 people had to go to one conference.

Diamond responded, “That’s good.” Adding, “We’d like to send more.”

In 2017, the Cleveland Public Library spent $64,000 in tax money for travel and conferences. Last year, it spent $80,000.

Back in 2017, taxes for the library went up.

Library executives say the tax increase is going toward renovating and updating all of the library’s branches, more than two dozen.

They argue that staff members go to conferences to learn about cutting edge technology with computers and electronic versions of books, as well as to get other new ideas.

Some of what’s happening at the East 131st branch is modeled after what some libraries are doing in Israel.

Still, maybe where you work you have to do more with less. And consider, the Cleveland Public Library is sending people to international conferences, yet we also found international conference sessions can be watched on-line right here at home.

This comes to light after we recently showed you that the Executive Director earns $220,000 a year. Eleven other top staff members make between $119,000 and $143,000 a year.

Executive Director Felton Thomas, Jr says, “2019 was an important year for us. Our 150th anniversary. We are also in the midst of a facilities master plan.”

He told us some of the travel involves sending staff to other library systems to see what they’ve done with their buildings.

In fact, records show 15 people went to the Free Library in Philadelphia and 9 to a Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

Nonetheless, Felton Thomas, Jr. insists the Cleveland Public Library is not wasting money.

He said, “We believe the library can be a better library if we have a way to expand the culture.” And, “We believe we have done a really good job of making sure that we stay within our budget and only spend what is necessary.”

Cleveland Public Library leaders also point out their system has earned national and international recognition.

But as the miles and the costs add up, taxpayers expect every dime spent to come to back to one priority.

As one library customer put it, “Use taxpayer money in a way we can all benefit from.”

Continuing coverage, here.

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