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Morton Grove Library lawyer scolds trustees for teen employee’s removal

Morton Grove Library Trustee David Calimag, right, is deep in thought while Trustee Cathy Peters, left, is questioned over her removal of a 16-year-old employee set to show R-rated movies.  |  Rick Kambic~Sun-Times Media
Morton Grove Library Trustee Paul Berg takes notes during a discussion on how several trustees communicated and decided to stop a 16-year-old employee from showing R-rated movies.  |  Rick Kambic~Sun-Times Media

Trustees at the Morton Grove Library did not stand behind their decision to remove a 16-year-old employee who was scheduled to show several R-rated movies in recent weeks.

Instead, the one trustee not involved in the situation and the library’s attorney voiced concerns about potential ethics violations and potential violations to the open meetings act.

“It was not ethical for a trustee to step in and do something of that nature at that moment,” said Trustee Arthur Goldstein. “The trustees work with the board and its director, not with patrons and employees.”

Trustee Catherine Peters first expressed concern over the teenage employee being paid to screen a movie she wasn’t old enough to watch without a parent present. Peters said she first asked Library Director Pam Leffler to switch employees in a July 2 email.

Peters said Leffler replied on July 5 saying she was not aware of an issue with the movie.

“I replied to her on the same day and told her my issue about the employee was not addressed,” Peters told the board. “I then emailed President Albers and began talking to individual trustees about this. A dialogue was started three weeks before anything happened, and we hoped everything would be resolved before that July 23 movie.”

“Safety Not Guaranteed,” an R-rated film, was scheduled to show on July 23 and Peters said she and Trustee David Calimag agreed the night before that someone should see if the teenage employee was showing the movie or if an adult was filling in.

After deciding that action would be needed if the girl was there, Peters said she and Calimag then called other trustees separately to confirm.

“There was nothing unilateral about this, and I think we’re all in agreement that if this was unilateral then it would be tremendously inappropriate,” Peters said.

Peters did find the girl screening the movie and asked her to wait in the library’s offices while she had Assistant Director Kevin Justie find a different employee.

Trustee Paul Berg attended the July 30 matinee, in which “Hyde Park on Hudson” was scheduled, but left after 10 minutes because he saw that an adult was screening the movie.

Peters then attended the Aug. 6 movie “Koran by Heart” because the 16-year-old employee reportedly had trouble enforcing library rules when two religious advocates began leafleting patrons during a June 11 movie about Islam.

“Did you meet with trustees to circumvent the open meetings act?” Library Attorney Frank Tennant asked Peters, also inquiring about what sort of decisions were made.

Peters said she had no desire to circumvent the Open Meetings Act, but the trustees communicated one-by-one in response to an emergency situation.

At one point Berg said the library should not have had the teenager showing R-rated movies, but the policy aspect of the situation saw no further comment from Berg, Peters, Calimag, or Trustees Barbara Novick and Carlotta Gonzales — whom were all reportedly involved.

Likewise, none of the trustees disputed being involved or admitted any fault.

Board President Mark Albers was absent from the meeting and unable to weigh in on his involvement either for or against the trustees’ actions. Albers was in Europe on business when the actions first began, and was reportedly attending to family matters during the Aug. 15 board meeting.

The meeting was quickly moved into executive session for further discussion and no action was taken upon returning to the open meeting.

No decision was made on whether ethics and Open Meetings Act violations occurred.

Earlier in the meeting, Tennant gave a presentation on the roles and responsibilities — for newly elected Trustees Novick and Gonzales — and he said trustees only have authority when meeting as a board and collectively making decisions.

“An individual trustee inside the library is to be treated as any other patron,” Tennant said. “They have no authority individually.”

Tennant also encouraged trustees to not email, meet or call more than one trustee at a time or else it could be deemed a public meeting.

The last R-rated movie in the matinee series is “Anna Karenina,” which is about a young woman in 1870s Russia who flees from her older, socially powerful husband. It’s scheduled for Aug. 27.

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