A noted police presence flanked the panel of library trustees. In a vacuum, it might have been an odd sight. But in the basement of the East Cleveland Library, where political in fighting has crested as public scandal, the shadow of the law was a small comfort. Two board members had, after all, predicted "chaos" at the meeting.
And it began with this: Sheba Marcus-Bey was abruptly fired on Dec. 30, 2013.
She had worked as executive director of the East Cleveland Library; some have said she saved the place from falling apart. She boasts an impeccable work performance record, free from even the most passing of warnings. "There's never been any communication from the board; I never got any reprimands about my performance," she tells Scene.
President William Fambrough, Charles Bibb, Edward Parker and Devin Branch (all men) tilted the 4-3 vote against Marcus-Bey. Mary Rice, Leontine Synor and Terra Turner (all women) voted against the move. The majority did not provide an explanation for her termination during the meeting. In fact, attendees in the audience say that they were threatened with police intervention when they began asking questions.
What followed has been a wave of community backlash and ongoing folly for the board. The duo of Fambrough and Branch, in particular, have wreaked havoc on the institution over the past several years, patrons say. They capped 2013 with a cherry.
On New Year's Eve, of all days, the board called a surprise meeting to name an interim director (Monisa Ramseur). Sunshine Law pertaining to 24-hour notice prior to any public meeting in Ohio was ignored. Later that week, Marcus-Bey stopped by the library to claim her personal effects, but found herself locked out of the building. Somebody had changed the locks. One patron reported that the library was now keeping odd hours, with those in control opening and closing the building at will.
The whole mess trickled upward to the East Cleveland Board of Education, which governs the library board. Members there voted to remove Fambrough and Branch from their positions. The duo has rejected the dismissal, with Fambrough stating publicly that it's not within the school board's purview to can him.
"The school board has no oversight over library affairs whatsoever," he told the Call and Post.
An air of distrust is settling over the library. In one of the poorest and most economically depressed cities in the state, the institution of a functional library is of profound importance. Patrons have told Scene that they're feeling less safe in the building now.
"I knew it was going to be tough and difficult, as far as getting on a path to credibility. I was interested in getting us back to being recognized as a fine institution, as we once were," Marcus-Bey says. "I was working to stir us out of a political pit.
But she found herself caught in the middle of an imbalanced power structure, saying that employees sometimes wouldn't follow her authority.
She says that the board of trustees over the years began acting as though it controlled the day-to-day operations of the library. That's never the intent of any board - corporate or otherwise.
A meeting set for Jan. 13 - the night when armed officers framed the trustees - was rescheduled for Jan. 20. And on that night, attendees arrived at the library to find a piece of paper and none of the leadership -- the meeting had been pushed back again, to Jan. 22. More of the same rollicking confusion.For Marcus-Bey and many more in the community, however, these latest developments represent more of the same: the familiar negative churn that's halted progress in East Cleveland for years.
"This behavior reflects badly on East Cleveland," Marcus-Bey says. "I just hope it can be a stable library and that people can respect the fact that the public really needs a library."