Rocky Hill Borough Council and Citizens Seek Legal Action Against the Mary Jacobs Foundation
By Rikki N. Massand | Posted September 28, 2023 (Updated September 30, 2023)
Following an executive session that lasted almost 80 minutes, Rocky Hill Borough Council unanimously passed a resolution on Monday, September 18 to pursue legal action against the Mary Jacobs Foundation (MJF).
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday, September 26, in Somerset County Superior Court-Chancery Division, representing the following plaintiffs: The Borough of Rocky Hill; the SavetheMJL nonprofit corporation; Helen Morris; Walter J. Bradhering; Adele Batchelder; William K. Hallman; and Thomas D. Bremner.
MJF was formerly known as the Mary Jacobs Memorial Library Foundation, but changed its name and mission in May 2022.
The suit seeks removal of the current six-member board of trustees and the seating of a new board. It claims the current board of directors of the MJF has “breached its statutory and fiduciary obligations to establish, equip, and maintain a free public library open to the public in Rocky Hill, pursuant to the terms, conditions and restrictions set forth by a trust established in the will of Harold Jacobs.”
The suit further claims the current MJF trustees amended the corporate purpose and mission statement of MJF without seeking the approval of the court, which is in violation of the cy pres doctrine—a principle of law that courts use to save a charitable trust from failing when a charitable objective is originally or later becomes impossible or impracticable to fulfill according to the IRS.
The current board of trustees changed the mission from providing a library in the town Rocky Hill, specifically on Washington Street, to providing “support for projects that promote creativity, sustainability, and engagement.” The new mission supports projects that “ensure the environmental and physical sustainability of the area, and promote peace, understanding, and generosity,” according to a MJF press release dated May 16, 2022.
The new mission would “continue to benefit the community by providing funding for community-based projects that enhance the [geographic] areas in and around Rocky Hill,” according to the MJF press release.
The MJF also listed the building on Washington Street for sale. The plaintiffs seek an injunction to the stop the sale of the building and property.
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The Mary Jacobs Memorial Library was founded in May 1971 as a result of a generous gift from Harold Jacobs in order to honor his wife’s memory and provide benefit to the community of Rocky Hill—the town where she grew up. They are buried in the Rocky Hill Cemetery.
The plaintiffs argue that it is clear from the plain and specific language of the Jacobs Trust that the intent of the trust was to provide a library for the benefit of the residents of Rocky Hill, and no other purpose.
Harold Jacobs purchased the property located at 64 Washington Street, Rocky Hill and funded the erection of the current library building on that site. The purpose for which the corporation is formed is to establish, equip and maintain a free library open to the public in the Borough of Rocky Hill, which library shall be known as the Mary Jacobs Memorial Library, and by no other name.
This corporate purpose remained unchanged from 1972 until January 28, 2022, when the current board filed a certificate of amendment of its certificate of formation.
According to the complaint, MJF’s financial documents show that the original endowment from the Jacobs estate of $800,000 has grown to the present amount of approximately $3.4 million (plus approximately $200,000 in cash). The annual investment income earned is approximately $100,000. Further, the value of the library building was appraised at $3.5 million in April of 2019.
Since 2011, Montgomery Township and the Rocky Hill both voluntarily contributed funds for the operation of the library, Rocky Hill has further directed its mandatory library tax to the SCLC in addition to voluntary municipal contributions to the library.
The Mary Jacobs Foundation
Cary Dawson of Rocky Hill, who became president of the foundation in 2018, and MJF Trustee Michelle Jacob responded to an email from The Montgomery News, saying that they could not comment because they had not yet been served with the lawsuit as of September 26.
According to the MJF website, the current board is comprised of six people: Cary Dawson;
Michelle Jacob; Smitha Parakkal; Crissy Blanos; Phil Kartsonis; and Rasheeda Pretto.
As The Montgomery News went to press on September 26, it received the following statement from MJF by email.
“The Mary Jacobs Foundation has heard rumors for months about a potential lawsuit brought by the governing body of the Borough of Rocky Hill. We are saddened by this development, but we have not seen a copy of any lawsuit and therefore cannot comment on it.
“The [MJF] board has been working to build community by voluntarily providing a location for the library branch when no one else was willing to, and working with the Somerset County Library Commission to ensure that it would provide some level of library services in the borough for at least two years after the Montgomery Library opened.
“The Mary Jacobs Neighborhood Library, a branch of the Somerset County Library System, has been beautifully renovated and is open Mondays from 10 am to 2 pm; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 2 pm to 6 pm; and Saturdays from 10 am to 2 pm (hours set by SCLS).”
“The Mary Jacobs Foundation was established to honor Mary Jacobs’s memory and enhance the community. The [MJF] trustees of the foundation intend to continue this mission and defend itself against the attempt to stop its efforts to benefit the community.”
Kevin Hart, from the Stark & Stark firm based in Hamilton Township, has a retainer agreement to provide legal services to the borough related to MJF. ■
[This article was updated on September 30, 2023. The MJF has six trustees (not five). A clarification was also made regarding the appraisal of the MJF building.]