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Oct 30, 2015 1:01 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Levan, Two Others, Abruptly Resign From Westhampton Free Library Board On Friday

Susan Rosenberg, Tom Moore and Barbara Matros were appointed to the Westhampton Free Library Board of Trustees after Joan Levan, Math-Ann Betjemann and June Sellin resigned on Tuesday Morning. GREG WEHNER
Nov 3, 2015 10:28 AM

Embattled Westhampton Free Library President Joan Levan, who has been publicly lambasted for her unfair handling of employees and her appointed board’s long-unchallenged autonomy, abruptly resigned her position Friday morning.

After fellow board members June Sellin and Marth-Ann Betjemann announced their resignations—at which time they were immediately replaced Barbara Matros and Tom Moore, the husband of Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore—Ms. Levan, the longtime leader of the now five-member board, announced that she would also be stepping down.

Ms. Levan’s announcement was met by a loud round of applause from the nearly 50 members of the public in attendance for the meeting, which was originally scheduled for October 14 but was abruptly pushed back more than two weeks at the direction of Ms. Levan. She has not offered an explanation for the last-minute postponement.

Ms. Levan, who had served on the board since 2004, was then replaced by Susan Rosenberg, a 40-year area resident who, prior to retiring, was employed as a math and science teacher with the Westhampton Beach School District. Ms. Rosenberg also served on the executive committee of the Westhampton Beach Teachers Association.

Ms. Rosenberg, Mr. Moore and Ms. Matros will join Jennifer Mendelson and Karen Andrews on the five-member board.

The push for an elected library board, and the subsequent demands for Ms. Levan’s resignation, began earlier this fall and primarily from the supporters of Sabina Trager, a former library employee who was fired this past summer on grounds that she broke the library’s confidentiality policy by discussing raises with her coworkers. However, an administrative law judge with the state’s Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board ruled on August 31 that Ms. Trager did not deserve to be fired because she did not discuss confidential information, as had been charged by Ms. Levan and other members of the board.

In his decision, Judge David Kim states that the former library administrative, who was employed for more than three years, qualifies for her unemployment benefits because she did not discuss confidential information. The ruling, which overturns the initial determination by the state Department of Labor, does not call for Ms. Trager’s reinstatement, however. It only notes that she now qualifies to receive 26 weeks of unemployment benefits.

Ms. Trager’s firing led to the unionization of library employees, a step that was taken, she previously said, in order to protect other employees who could be targeted by the board.

Ms. Levan has not returned calls or emails seeking comment since Friday.

In a Letter to the Editor appearing in this week’s Press, Ms. Levan writes that she and the other board members have been “subjected to half-truths and outright lies” and that she endured a “veiled threat” to her personal safety. “These attacks have escalated to a point beyond reason,” Ms. Levan wrote, without offering specific details.

Ms. Levan also indirectly referenced Ms. Trager in her letter, stating that the former worker—whom she does not name—has been orchestrating the movement against the board. Ms. Levan wrote: “What has been the real issue here? A disgruntled former employee has turned a personal vendetta into a call for change in an institution that has thrived since 1897.”

In the same letter, Ms. Levan, whose term was set to expire in June, said she resigned early so the new members of the board could begin with a “clean state” and so that they could govern without the daily distractions and interruptions.

Originally, Friday meeting attendees had expected the board to discuss the feasibility of converting the library board from an appointed board to an elected one. Library officials previously stated that an earlier meeting had been rescheduled to this past Friday to accommodate Kevin Verbesey, director of the Suffolk County Cooperative Library System.

Mr. Verbesey, who was not in attendance Friday, originally had been invited to discuss the process for potentially altering how library board members are selected, according to Westhampton Free Library Director Danielle Waskiewicz.

“I was asked a few weeks ago to attend a meeting with the Westhampton Free Library board to discuss various board governance options,” Mr. Verbesey wrote in an email on Friday. “I was then told earlier this week that the board had reached some conclusions on how to move forward and they felt my presence at the meeting was no longer needed.”

After the resignations were announced Friday, the board had planned to move immediately into executive session, but an outcry from several residents, including Peter Zegler of Westhampton, prompted them to change course and hold the public session first. Bob Trager of Westhampton Beach then kicked off the questions about where the new board stood in terms of converting to an elected library board.

“I have serious reservations on moving to an elected board for something that has worked for over 100 years,” Mr. Moore replied. His wife, Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore, resigned her position on the library board earlier this year.

Some critics of the library board, and its current system of internal promotion, have pointed out the library has become a political recruiting ground for Westhampton Beach Village candidates. Ms. Levan is a former village trustee, as is former library board member and village trustee Hank Tucker, owner of Holey Moses Cheesecake in Westhampton.

Several others in attendance then questioned how the board came to appoint the newest members, suggesting that Ms. Levan would still retain some sort of control because she hand-picked those to replace her and the others.

Tempers flared at times, culminating when Mr. Zegler yelled at the members of the new board and demanded that they hold future meetings in the evenings, rather than the morning, to accommodate taxpayers. He also accused the board of stonewalling on the meeting time issues, yelling at one point: “You’re all f---ing liars!”

About 45 minutes after Mr. Zegler’s outburst, the board said it would hold future meetings in the evening. In an executive session that was held immediately after the public hearing, the new board approved a schedule of evening meetings that will kick off on Wednesday, November 18, at 7 p.m.

Also during the executive session, Mr. Moore was appointed the new president of the library board, Ms. Rosenberg was named the treasurer and Ms. Matros was appointed trustee. Ms. Andrews and Ms. Mendelson, meanwhile, will continue to hold their positions as vice president and secretary, respectively.

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What gives? I understand that a major issue is that these people are appointed and not elected. I further understand the library is not a mickey mouse operation but a new facility with millions in revenue. According to the 2013 U990 (there is not one for 2014 hmmmm), they don't get paid to serve on the Board. Is there more here?
By Hambone (512), New York on Oct 30, 15 1:38 PM
We should all thank Joan for her years of deicated service.
By westhamptonboy (227), Westhampton on Oct 30, 15 1:51 PM
uh, who cares... Meep meep. Small town, small minds
By whatapity (106), Tuckahoe on Oct 30, 15 4:15 PM
It's all good for you to minimize the issue, but as you are allowed in Tuckahoe, the residents should be allowed to elect their board members. Your library, The Rogers Memorial Library, a free association library like the Westhampton Free Library allows such.
By Alterius (19), Westhampton Beach on Nov 2, 15 3:41 PM
Now that Joan Levan is free from her position she is also free to elaborate on all the "half truths, lies, and personal safety issues". Of course she has nothing to elaborate on. Joan- lets hear it all. Ill give Tom Moore about 6 to 12 months with the "skeletons" he has in his closet not to mention his wife's position in the Village.
By realistic (465), westhampton on Nov 3, 15 1:13 PM
The library no longer may operate as some small town private venue or fiefdom. Transparency is a mandate. So too is civility and swearing by the public at the board graceless. The folks here have more class than that. Create an accountable, elected board, what are you afraid of?
By JimmyKBond (156), Hampton Bays on Nov 4, 15 8:47 PM
Hot Tubs,SALE, Southampton Village, SouthamptonFest weekend