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Judge OKs smaller board for library

Wednesday, June 07, 2000

By Jan Ackerman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

With the stroke of a pen, an Allegheny County Orphan's Court Division judge redesigned industrialist Andrew Carnegie's 101-year-old plan for governing the public library he endowed to Carnegie.

Yesterday, Common Pleas Judge Walter R. Little granted a motion reducing the size of the board of trustees of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library from 17 to 12 members and eliminating the position of lifetime trustee.

"If Mr. Carnegie were alive today, he would take this action to streamline the board," said T. Lawrence Palmer, a senior deputy attorney general for state Attorney General Mike Fisher's office. The attorney general's office monitors trusts to make certain the wishes of the deceased are being carried out.

"In terms of the changes in society, the court has the authority and discretion to grant this petition," Little said as he approved changes to the 1899 declaration of trust drawn up by Carnegie.

The changes were requested by some members of the library's governing board, who are working with numerous community groups to try to raise $5 million to restore the gigantic library. The library, which opened on May 1, 1901, needs a total overhaul, and representatives of foundations have told the board that it needs to revamp the way it does business if it wishes to attract donations and grants.

"I am relieved," said Elizabeth Martin of Crafton, president of the board of trustees and a trustee since 1985. She said getting a quorum to hold meetings had been a constant problem. This year, she testified at yesterday's hearing, the trustees were able to get a quorum only once.

With a 17-member board, nine needed to be present to constitute a quorum. With the new 12-member board, only seven members need to be present to do business.

"We have not been able to elect new officers," said Martin, adding that the lack of a quorum has stymied other efforts, such as hiring a library consultant to help plan the renovation.

The modifications call for nine members to be elected for three-year terms and three members to be appointed by Carnegie council. There will be no life trustees.

"We are not the Supreme Court," Martin said after the hearing.

While no one formally objected to the plan, Glenn A. Walsh, one of the lifetime trustees and the library's historian, already had submitted his resignation, to become effective if the judge modified the trust agreement.

"I do not feel I can continue to serve on a board that decides to breach this trust," he said after the hearing.

Walsh said that when Carnegie stipulated that he was going to give a huge gift to Carnegie, "the least the trustees could do is come to a meeting at least once a month."

Martin was sorry that Walsh decided to resign.

"He is a very valuable volunteer who does an awful lot," she said.

Walsh said the Andrew Carnegie Free Library in Carnegie was one of five libraries that Carnegie endowed; home communities of these libraries were not required to publicly subsidize them. The others were in Munhall, Braddock, Duquesne and Dunfermline, Scotland, Carnegie's hometown.The Duquesne library was razed in 1968.

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