The Trustees of Forbes Library value a productive relationship with Northampton’s City government.  The current unfortunate dispute resulted from the Trustees’ receipt of a January 28, 2016 opinion of City Solicitor Alan Seewald concerning library governance.  That opinion (and Solicitor Seewald’s more recent arguments to several state agencies regarding the Trustees’ status) reflect an attempt to unilaterally alter the terms of the historic relationship between the City and the Library, as established under the Will of Charles E. Forbes.  As Trustees, one of our responsibilities is to ensure Judge Forbes’ wishes are respected.  We are therefore determined to prevent the unilateral imposition of these changes on the library.  We seek to preserve the public/private partnership which has existed since 1881, when the City agreed to accept the express conditions of Judge Forbes’ bequest.

Ongoing negotiations with the City regarding the annual appropriations and capital improvements budget have been fruitful.  This dispute is not about that.  The Trustees have always understood and agreed that the City makes the determination regarding library appropriations.  The Trustees have also always provided all financial information requested by the City.  Neither is this dispute about transparency or adherence to the state’s Open Meeting Law.  The Trustees voted in 2009 to follow the provisions of the Open Meeting Law, and amended their by-laws accordingly.  This was done notwithstanding the fact that the Commonwealth has twice concluded, in 2007 and 2008, that Forbes is not an arm of city government or a municipal department, as City Solicitor Seewald is now asserting.

We are disheartened that this dispute has reached the point of litigation.  But we also recognize that only the Probate Court can definitively interpret the provisions of Judge Forbes’ Will and Trust.

Judge Forbes charged the Trustees with managing, preserving, and overseeing Forbes Library.  We take that task very seriously, as we do our role in preserving the fundamental notion that a free public library must be independent of governmental control and political influence.  Were the Trustees and the Library to become enveloped within City Government (as the City Solicitor is arguing is or should be the case) then there could be no guarantee that in the years to come, the City would continue to fulfill the obligation to support the library it formally accepted under Judge Forbes’ Will.  We look forward to a quick return to the strong relationship that this historic partnership has produced.  And we remain deeply committed to providing the people of Northampton with the quality of services they have come to expect from Forbes Library.

Contact: Russell Carrier/ 586-8048


or Janet Moulding / / 413-587-1016


From the Daily Hampshire Gazette: