The Cape Cod Foundation two weeks ago transferred $650,000 to the Falmouth Public Library Support Fund. This transfer makes official the end of a long, drawn-out legal battle for control of the money, which was raised by a group of well-meaning residents who cared deeply about Falmouth’s libraries. This legal battle is an embarrassment to the town. It was a shameful campaign by library trustees, who are public officials, to wrest control of a private fund. It was from the start meant to be a fund to benefit the library, but it was a private fund nonetheless.
The Falmouth Library Foundation was established when the main library was renovated. The renovation was paid for with town funds and a state grant, but those funds were restricted to construction, not for furnishings and computers. The foundation raised about $1.5 million, about $900,000 of which was donated for furnishings. That left $627,000.
The remainder went into an endowment for the trustees to tap when particular needs arose. The remaining funds were from day one meant to be an endowment, and that was made clear to donors.
The trustees made little use of the endowment in the first year or two, and the foundation board, feeling it useless to meet periodically for no purpose, decided to place the endowment into guardianship of the Cape Cod Foundation.
The library trustees did not want an endowment; they wanted to draw down on the fund at a rate of 10 percent a year. So they filed a lawsuit.
Six years later, the trustees still do not have access to all the money they wanted. The money is now under the stewardship of the Falmouth Public Library Support Fund. Six years later the trustees are pretty much where they started, less some amount spent on legal fees. How much was spent in legal fees no one is saying.
But the fight is not over. Now the arena has shifted from the courts to politics. In addition to two current library board of trustees, three former trustees—two of whom were involved in the lawsuit—are sitting on the 10-member support fund board.
It appears that library trustees, past and present, are angling for another grab at the money. If so, it is unconscionable. The library board, which is under the sensible leadership of Bob Ripley, a former finance committee member, should amend the articles of organization to limit the number of library trustees or former trustees to two sitting members.
The intent of the original library foundation and all the generous residents who supported it should be honored. And any attempt to subvert that should be labeled for what it is—a dishonorable money grab.