DOUG ROSS: E.C. library is scene of political warfare

2011-03-18T00:00:00Z DOUG ROSS: E.C. library is scene of political warfareBy Doug Ross doug.ross@nwi.com, (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 nwitimes.com

If you want to see a political war in microcosm, start watching the East Chicago Library Board. Everything for a major drama is there — including bloodshed.

Well, there's bloodshed if you consider bloodletting the same thing. On Wednesday, four Library Board members voted to fire Director Manuel "Manny" Montalvo.

The board — at least those four members — also voided contracts for legal services with Carmen Fernandez and Rogelio "Roy" Dominguez. It's all part of the changing of the guard in East Chicago, which is a very messy and lengthy process.

Fernandez was a city attorney in former Mayor George Pabey's administration. Dominguez is a former Lake County sheriff. See? It's all about politics.

The four board members who took all these actions — Clifton Johnson, Toni Smith, Sallie Davis and Hector Cavazos — also voted to restore a public comment period at future board meetings. Good for them.

Meanwhile, former Library Board member Ricardo Garcia — who last week was replaced by Cavazos, met in the library's meeting room with board members Adolfo Velez, Raul Sanchez and Richard Novak to discuss insurance benefits for board members.

The Indiana State Library's hand is at work in this power struggle. The state library has sent letters to the board, through Montalvo, directing the board:

• To stop paying insurance benefits to Library Board members, at the library's expense. That's a violation of the state law that forbids compensation for serving on the Library Board.

• To allow a newly appointed board member to take his rightful place on the board instead of trying to keep the old board member in place.

For more background reading, the State Board of Accounts audit of the library, released last month, sheds light on an additional issue — Montalvo's lavish travel expenses. The state agency is seeking $12,378.87 in reimbursement from Montalvo over questionable expenditures.

So what did Montalvo do Wednesday when the board fired him, effective immediately? He instructed the library staff to place Charles Moore on administrative leave, take his keys and disable his computer. That didn't happen.

Moore, a longtime employee, was named interim library director Wednesday.

This was quite a political battle, but the war continues.

Mayor Anthony Copeland, who is trying to remove Pabey's stamp on the city, faces a tough fight in the May 3 primary election.

Montalvo promised, on his way out the door Wednesday, to seek court action. "You can't do this," he told police officers escorting him out of the library. "We'll file suit against the city."

That would most likely be a wrongful termination lawsuit, one of many filed against the city as a series of changes in the mayor's office has resulted in changes in the city's payroll as well.

Well, it's East Chicago. What else would you expect?

Editorial Page Editor Doug Ross can be reached at (219) 548-4360 or (219) 933-3357 or doug.ross@nwi.com. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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