Otis Porter loves Falmouth. As a teacher of history and social studies in the Falmouth Public Schools for three decades, a dedicated Police Department employee for more than 48 years, and an elected member of the Library Trustees dating back to 1970, his credentials as a dedicated and knowledgeable Falmouthite are nearly unparalleled.
As a 27-year old bibliophile during a year when the first Earth Day was celebrated and Apollo 13 launched its fated mission toward the moon, Otis sought – and won – election to the Board of Library Trustees, a position he held continuously and honorably for 25 years. After hanging up his library cleats in 1995 and relaxing for a few years, he then opted for a repeat, and was once again elected as a leader of our local library in 2008. He continues to serve today. He also serves as the Chairman of the Scholarship Association of Falmouth, which helps dozens of Falmouth youth better afford higher education every year, and has also served stints as a volunteer with the Woods Hole Historical Collection and the Falmouth Historical Society.
Simply put, Otis knows Falmouth. He knows our people and our community. He certainly knows the Falmouth Public Library.
Jerry Fanger’s affection for books got its nascence in a bit of a different fashion, but his life story and love for public libraries also led him to eventual election on the Board of Trustees. As we sipped coffee and I enjoyed a Portuguese omelet overlooking our verdant and vibrant library lawn from the Country Fare Restaurant this week, Jerry recounted a story for me about his early commitment to public repositories of information and publication. As a young Army enlistee at Fort Benning in 1955, Jerry was struck by the irony and injustice of driving by the majestic public library in Columbus, GA to arrive at his destination, the much less impressive “colored only” library, where his Army buddy, who possessed a Master’s degree in English from Columbia University, was forced to go. The angst and passion still present in his voice, Jerry recounted how that event shaped him, and his commitment to public libraries has never wavered since then. Since 1994, Jerry has made his home in Falmouth, and for the last five years, has brought his business and legal acumen as a retired securities and trust attorney to the Board of Trustees.
Armed with similar passion and experience, The Cape Cod Foundation, an exemplary example of a community foundation, has been raising and distributing funds to charitable, civic, and arts organizations on Cape Cod – and in Falmouth – for nearly a quarter century. Their list of directors and advisors is loaded with notable locals whose legendary volunteer work and career success rival Otis and Jerry.
With all of this civic and community commitment, the trustees and the foundation are nonetheless and regrettably the center of an ongoing acrimonious (and very public) dustup. What gives?
At the center of this donnybrook is a substantial amount of money, approaching $600,000, left over from the library’s successful renovation a few years back. The trustees, in cooperation with their non-profit arm, the Falmouth Public Library Foundation, raised more than 1.8 million dollars to help furnish the expanded and renovated Main Branch on Main Street. The largesse and support of donors large and small, raised money to furnish this public jewel, and to keep it shining for years to come. At the conclusion of this extraordinary achievement, the excess funds were deposited with the Cape Cod Foundation as a vessel to hold and distribute the assets.
At some point thereafter, the acrimony began. Around the time that hostilities unfolded, the Trustees were the fortunate recipients of another unrelated gift – a reported $200,000 from a deceased Falmouth benefactor. Those funds were entrusted to an organization other than the Cape Cod Foundation. And so it began.
Jerry reports that there is in place a designated fund agreement for the Library Foundation funds, which is a pretty standard legal document for community foundations. The Foundation says the agreement, which was validated by the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth, is ambiguous. It may be, but what’s clear to me is that the loser in this battle of charities is the jewel of our Main Street. As the attorneys pile up the billable hours, the funds, donated by generous Falmouthites, are not being put to their intended use, and the antagonism and unfriendliness between two stellar organizations festers and grows. Instead of using their experience and expertise to better the library, Otis and Jerry, a couple of really great guys, are expending energy on fighting some other great folks. It just doesn’t make sense.
The website for the Cape Cod Foundation states that it “is a community foundation whose mission is to build permanent charitable resources for community betterment through informed grantmaking and civic leadership.” The community betterment and civic leadership in this case would be to solve the problem. Without the courts. Without acrimony. Without further public nastiness.
The money at the center of this was donated by locals for a local cause. That’s indisputable. In this complex, litigious, and sometimes just generally grumpy society of ours, wouldn’t it be wonderful if that fact overrode the legalese and turf battle preventing the library access to its own funds?
At the center of every conflict – including this local one - are human beings, human egos, and human feelings. I suggest these human beings put their human egos and human feelings aside and just work things out – for the benefit of the rest of us humans on this sand bar of ours.