Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Brooklyn Tech Librarian Is Fined for Promoting His Daughter’s Book

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/10/21/nyregion/22librarian_600.jpg
Tina Fineberg for The New York Times

Robert Grandt, a librarian at Brooklyn Technical High School, put his daughter’s book on display and mentioned it in a newsletter.

By ALISON LEIGH COWAN

Published: October 21, 2008

For 39 years as an educator, Robert Grandt has been promoting other people’s books. So this year, when his daughter helped create a graphic novel of “Macbeth,” Mr. Grandt could not resist bragging a little in the newsletter he distributes as a librarian at Brooklyn Technical High School.

Mr. Grandt’sdaughter, Eve Grandt, co-illustrated a version of “Macbeth.” He said he was taken aback by conflict-of-interest charges. "I was just so proud of my daughter for writing it," he said.

“Best New Book: Grandt, Eve, ‘Shakespeare’s Macbeth — The Manga Edition,’ ” he wrote under the heading “Grandt’s Picks.”

He also placed a few copies of the book at a library display table, and posted a sign: “Best Book Ever Written.” If someone were interested, they got a book free.

But one person’s parental pride is another panel’s ethical transgression.

On Monday, the city’s Conflicts of Interest Board announced it had settled a case it had brought against Mr. Grandt for promoting his daughter’s work. He agreed to pay a $500 fine and admit in a three-page stipulation that he had violated the city ethics code.

Mr. Grandt, who said he was an unwitting villain, was disappointed the board did not see things his way.

“There are so many things going on they could investigate,” he said in an interview, “and they had nothing better to do than allege that my daughter would have gotten 20 cents in royalties if someone bought the book. But nobody did. I gave out free copies. I was just so proud of my daughter for writing it.”

The New York City Charter warns public servants about taking actions in their official roles that benefit them personally, and the conflicts board is empowered to interpret the code and bring cases. Last week, for example, the conflicts board ruled that City Council members would not violate the charter if they were to vote to extend or abolish the term limits now scheduled to remove them from office.

Mr. Grandt, on the other hand. ...

“It’s unbelievable,” the 61-year-old former social studies teacher said.

Officials of the conflicts board declined to comment on their reasoning.

Mr. Grandt, one of three librarians at Brooklyn Tech, said he had donated many books to the library, including a copy of the book by his 28-year-old daughter, her first as an illustrator. The book, published in February by Wiley Publishing, is a drawn version of the Shakespeare text, an approach that, among other things, might entice young readers’ interest in the classics. Adam Sexton is listed as author and Candice Chow as co-illustrator.

A reviewer on Amazon wrote that the book was “far superior to Cliff Notes or the old Classic Comics” as a primer on the play.

Mr. Grandt said his daughter was paid a few thousand dollars for her drawings. “There are so many good ones,” Mr. Grandt said, flipping through the illustrations, some rather gory. “I like these full-page ones. They have a Gothic air to them.”

Mr. Grandt said he did not envision that putting a few copies of his daughter’s book on a table or promoting it in the newsletter last spring would cross the line.

“I’m supposed to, as part of my job, display new books and encourage the kids to read new books,” he said. “So here, I displayed my daughter’s book and encouraged the kids to read it and am told that I had done something illegal.”

Trouble first surfaced in June, he said, when he was summoned to an assistant principal’s office. Representatives from the city’s Department of Investigation were there to ask about the book.

In August, the conflicts board sent him a letter telling him he could lose his job and be stripped of his teaching license. He recalled the board wanted to impose a $1,000 fine. Mr. Grandt could not find a lawyer to represent him for less than that amount, but he and his wife, a legal secretary, were ultimately able to negotiate a lower fine.

The biggest punishment, though, according to Mr. Grandt, was feeling he had no choice but to remove the book from the school’s library.

“I decided not only would I take the table down, but I’d better remove the book from the catalog and take it permanently off the shelves,” he said, figuring “that would be the best course of action.”


IN THE MATTER OF ROBERT GRANDT

COIB CASE NO. 2008-609

OCTOBER 17, 2008

SUMMARY: The Board fined a Librarian for the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”) $500 for using his position to promote a recently-published book illustrated by his daughter. The Librarian acknowledged that in the April/May 2008 edition of his school’s Library Newsletter, which newsletter it was among his job duties to prepare, he included a section on “Best New Book” featuring the name of his daughter and her recently-published book. The Librarian also acknowledged that, around the same time, he set up a table in the school’s library with copies of his daughter’s book and a sign stating “The Best Book Ever Written” with the name of his daughter and her book. The Librarian admitted that his conduct violated the City of New York’s conflicts of interest law, which prohibits a public servant from using or attempting to use his or her position as a public servant to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant or any person or firm associated with the public servant, which would include the public servant’s child. COIB v. Grandt, COIB Case No. 2008-609 (2008).

STIPULATION AND DISPOSITION:

WHEREAS, the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board (the “Board”) and Respondent Robert Grandt wish to resolve this matter on the following terms,

Respondent Robert Grandt states the following:

1. From June 2, 1969, to the present, I have been employed by the New York City Department of Education (“DOE”), most recently as the Librarian assigned to Brooklyn Technical High School.

2. During that time, I have been public servant within the meaning of Chapter 68 of the City Charter (“Chapter 68”).

3. Among my duties as Librarian at the Brooklyn Technical High School, I prepare a bimonthly Library Newsletter. In the April/May 2008 edition of the Library Newsletter, I included a section on “Best New Book” that listed in large bold typeface the name of my daughter and of a recently-published book that she illustrated.

4. In or around the time of the distribution of the April/May 2008 edition of the Library Newsletter, I set up a table in the school’s library with a sign stating “The Best Book Ever Written” and the name of my daughter and of her book. The table included a display of a few copies of my daughter’s book.

5. I represent to the Board that at the time I took these actions, I did not realize that they represented a conflict of interest. I took these actions out of pride for my daughter. 2

6. Nonetheless, I acknowledge that by using my City position as a Librarian to promote a book illustrated by my daughter, I violated Chapter 68, specifically City Charter § 2604(b)(3). City Charter § 2604(b)(3) states: “No public servant shall use or attempt to use his or her position as a public servant to obtain any financial gain, contract, license, privilege or other private or personal advantage, direct or indirect, for the public servant or any person or firm associated with the public servant.” Pursuant to City Charter § 2601(5), a person “associated” with the public servant includes a child.

7. In recognition of the foregoing, I agree to pay a fine of Five Hundred Dollars ($500.00) to the Board upon signature of this Disposition, by money order or by cashier, bank, or certified check, made payable to the “New York City Conflicts of Interest Board.” 8. I agree that this Disposition is a public and final resolution of the charges against me. 9. I knowingly waive on my behalf and on behalf of my successors and assigns any rights to commence any judicial or administrative proceeding or appeal before any court of competent jurisdiction, administrative tribunal, political subdivision, or office of the City or the State of New York or the United States, and to contest the lawfulness, authority, jurisdiction, or power of the Board in imposing the penalty which is embodied in this Disposition, and I waive any right to make any legal or equitable claims or to initiate legal proceedings of any kind against the Board or any members or employees thereof relating to or arising out of this Disposition or the matters recited therein. 10. I confirm that I have entered into this Disposition freely, knowingly, and intentionally, without coercion or duress, and after having had the opportunity to be represented by an attorney of my choice and having declined that opportunity; that I accept all terms and conditions contained herein without reliance on any other promises or offers previously made or tendered by any past or present representative of the Board; and that I fully understand all the terms of this Disposition. 11. Any material misstatement of the facts of this matter, including of the Disposition, by me or by my attorney or agent shall, at the discretion of the Board, be deemed a waiver of confidentiality of this matter. 12. The Board accepts this Disposition and the terms contained herein as a final disposition of the above-captioned matter only, and affirmatively states that other than as recited herein, no further action will be taken by the Board against Respondent based upon the facts and circumstances set forth herein, except that the Board shall be entitled to take any and all actions necessary to enforce the terms of this Disposition. 3

13. This Disposition shall not be effective until all parties have affixed their signatures below.

Dated: September 25, 2008 /s/

Robert Grandt Respondent

Dated: October 17, 2008 /s/ Steven B. Rosenfeld Chair NYC Conflicts of Interest Board