Farmington Community Library spent more than $64,000 with a Southfield-based law firm last year, after putting about 80 percent of staff on furlough.
Farmington Voice filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in February for invoices from several consulting firms, after officials amended the library’s 2021-2022 budget to include $600,000 in professional services. That’s up from $61,950 in 2019-2020 and $181,764 in 2020-2021.
Between June 2020 and February 2021, trustees authorized more than $230,000 in payments to four firms: Barnes & Thornburg, MCCI (communications consultants), Pepper Consulting, and MBM Technology Solutions.
Furlough and outsourcing
To put the spending in context, trustees voted on April 23, 2020, to furlough all but essential employees, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Library staffing is still down from pre-COVID levels, by about 50 percent.
In September, officials acknowledged that three information technology (IT) staff members had been suspended. Also that month, director Riti Grover, who started work in January 2020, said the library had hired Troy-based MBM Technology Solutions “to thoroughly assess our current network and data security, and support our IT needs.”
Trustees approved an exit package for the IT staff members in late October.
Trustee Danette Duron-Willner asked for some boundaries on outsourcing last November, after trustee Bob Hahn questioned an invoice from Barnes & Thornburg. The board approved a motion to “significantly limit dependence on outsourced vendors” by the end of first quarter 2021.
Here’s a closer look at spending over the past 10 months:
‘Help and guidance’ on personnel issues
Trustee Bill Largent has said that he first contacted attorney Frank Mamat of Barnes & Thornburg to deal with a matter that arose during a personnel committee meeting.
“I’ve known him for 25 years,” Largent said in November. “Riti interviewed him. We operated under the emergency authority provided under closed session to deal with the issue at the time, and we’re still dealing with that issue.”
Grover said she used the firm when the library needed “help and guidance” with personnel issues and Foster Swift, a firm on retainer, was not immediately available.
Mamat did the bulk of consulting work, at a $325 per hour rate. The library paid the firm a total of $64,187.50 for services labeled “labor advice”.
Heavily redacted invoices show multiple phone calls and emails with Largent and Grover, and attendance at board committee and full board meetings. There’s an item labeled “explore new IT contractors” in mid-August.
The first bill, dated August 28, begins with a June 15 item labeled “Attn to FCL issue and calls with Bill L”. It shows Mamat’s attendance at the board’s “Strategic committee” Zoom meeting on June 24 and that he reviewed and analyzed Zoom chats from board meetings.
The largest invoice, for $23,140, came in October, and included attendance at personnel committee and special board meetings. The firm closed out its work with the library in November, when Mamat attended another full board meeting and finalized details of an exit agreement.
NEXT: MBM Technology work totals $84K through February