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Oct 6, 2015 2:02 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Library Board Continues To Weigh Options Over Selection Process

The Westhampton Beach Free Library Board of Trustees is currently weighing options to possibly move away from an appointed board of directors toward one that allows the taxpayers to have a say in who represents them at the library. GREG WEHNER
Oct 7, 2015 12:40 PM

The Westhampton Free Library Board of Directors is currently reviewing options that could potentially move it away from a self-appointed board to an elected one.

“The board will be meeting with Suffolk Cooperative Library System Director Kevin Verbesey to look at options available to the library,” Joan Levan, the longtime president of the library board and the person who has traditionally selected those who serve on it, said this week. “Our goal is to choose an option that will best meet the needs of the library and the taxpayers of Westhampton.”

Nearly three dozen community members attended last month’s library board meeting, demanding that the five current members open up the process so that, moving forward, they are elected by the public as opposed to being appointed by those already serving on the board.

The calls for change came after former library employee Sabina Trager of Westhampton Beach said she was wrongfully fired this summer by Ms. Levan, Library Board Vice President Karen Andrews and Treasurer June Sellin for alleged misconduct; an administrative law judge with the state’s Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board ruled on August 31 that Ms. Trager did not deserve to be fired.

Since the firing, library staffers have voted to form a union and some members of the community have become increasingly vocal about the current setup, where members of an appointed board have control of a $2.8 million operational budget and other policies. There are no term limits for library board members.

The Westhampton Free Library is an association library, which is considered a nonprofit organization, and it predates more modern school district libraries. Since their facility was established as an association library, Westhampton Free Library board members, like any other nonprofit, get to decide how the facility is governed and how their fellow members are selected to serve, according to Mr. Verbesey.

In a letter appearing in this week’s Press, Hermon Bishop, a former attorney for Westhampton Beach Village, demands that Ms. Levan resign her position, adding that she is violating her post by circulating Village Board nominating petitions at the library. Ms. Trager contends that she was fired after she refused to sign a petition supporting two Village Board candidates who Ms. Levan had been supporting. He said that such action is a “direct violation” of the library’s charter, which prohibits members of the board from participating in political campaigns. Mr. Bishop also said that such action could prompt the revocation of the library’s federal tax exemption.

“The biggest issue is a $3 million budget and no accountability to the residents of the school districts where the taxes come from,” Mr. Bishop said when reached on Tuesday.

He went on to describe the library board as a “closed corporation,” where five members have complete control and Ms. Levan has the final say. “There should be democracy in the selection of trustees,” Mr. Bishop said. “The voters of the school district should have the same right as they do for the budget when it comes to voting for the trustees. All it would require is a small amendment. Ms. Levan has to give up her iron grip.”

Ms. Trager thinks that certain members of the board have served for too long. “If you look at the meeting notes from 2007, Ms. Levan and Ms. Andrews were on the board,” she said.

Though he declined to share what he’s discussed with Ms. Levan and other members of her board, Mr. Verbesey said this week that the best course the public can take is to openly petition board members to change their policies, and that includes altering the way they are selected to serve.

“Anytime the public or the community wants the library to do anything, the best thing is to start a conversation with the board of trustees and the library director,” he said. “The Westhampton Beach library is not the first library to go through this, and people need to understand that change doesn’t happen overnight.”

Ms. Levan, meanwhile, said she and her fellow board members, who also include Secretary Jennifer Mendelson and member Marth-Ann Betjemann, are now reviewing all options.

“We have nothing to hide, but need all the facts in front of us to make an informed decision,” Ms. Levan said. “Our decisions will impact how the library operates in the foreseeable future.”

The next Westhampton Free Library board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, October 14, at 9:30 a.m., in the Library Avenue library in Westhampton Beach.

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This is an excellent story and I hope that the Library board will agree to being replaced by an elected board that is diversified--having men, members of minority groups and people under 30 years of age.
By JackO'Dwyer (16), New York on Oct 7, 15 10:16 AM
1 member liked this comment
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