clubhouse, east hampton, indoor, tennis, cornhole, bar, happy hour, bowling, mini golf

Story - News

Apr 14, 2016 12:59 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Library Board, Residents Exchange Barbs Over Vote To Keep Appointed Members

Herman Bishop addresses the library board on Wednesday night. BY ERIN MCKINLEY
Apr 20, 2016 8:49 AM

Westhampton Free Library Board members last week voted to reject a change in the way in which they are selected to serve, opting to remain an appointed body rather than an elected one—a decision that angered several audience members.

The resolution to maintain an appointed board, which was unanimously approved by the seven library trustees, upset the estimated 15 people in attendance, and prompted yelling from those sitting on both sides of the dais—heated exchanges that included personal attacks against board members, shared definitions of the word “democracy,” and even visible eye-rolling, all before President Thomas Moore called a five-minute recess that did little to quash the building tension.

“I make a motion that we recess for five minutes for cooler heads,” Mr. Moore said loudly as he attempted to be heard over the multiple shouting matches that began once the board opened the public comment section of the meeting.

Mr. Moore, the husband of Westhampton Beach Mayor Maria Moore, was appointed president in the fall, replacing longtime board leader Joan Levan, whose actions—including alleged electioneering on library grounds prior to last year’s village elections—prompted library supporters to repeatedly call for the board to switch from an appointed to an elected one.

According to the three-page decision made by board members, which was read aloud by library trustee Barbara Matros, they have decided to remain an appointed board, because to do so would be in the best interests of the library, which is an association library. Ms. Matros explained that switching from an appointed to an elected board could put the library at risk of potential lawsuits challenging its status as an association library, and also subject the facility to stricter state-mandated guidelines, including following civil service law when it comes to its employees.

There are four different types of libraries in the state, though an association library is the only private entity. The other three—a municipal library, a school district library and a special district library—are all public institutions and therefore subject to additional layers of rules and regulations when it comes to labor laws, bidding and general policies. Public libraries also have three defining characteristics: they must have elected boards, they must secure at least 60 percent of their revenue from the public through a budget vote, and must ensure financial accountability.

The Westhampton Free Library, though a private entity, already boasts two of those three characteristics, and switching to an elected board could lead to the forfeiting of the library’s association status—a situation that could force it to bid on every project of purchase over a certain dollar amount, and pay all employees prevailing wages. Together, that could end up costing more money down the road, according to board members. The library’s budget for this year totals $2.8 million.

“This real possibility is perhaps our greatest reservation about changing to an elected board,” Ms. Matros said while reading the board’s decision last week, referring to the possibility of losing association status. “According to the Handbook for Library Trustees regarding lawsuits and other risks: ‘It is the board’s responsibility to reduce risk to a manageable level so that service programs or even the survival of the library is not threatened. A poorly managed incident, lawsuit or a judgment against the library can have consequences far beyond the immediate impact of the event.’”

The library board has been in a state of constant flux since the fall, when Ms. Levan and fellow board members June Sellin and Martha-Ann Betjemann all resigned from their volunteer posts after being on the receiving end of complaints over their perceived unfair treatment of employees, as well as their long, and unchallenged, tenures.

The library’s three dozen employees voted to unionize in September, months after Ms. Levan fired former library administrative assistant Sabina Trager after alleging that she violated the institution’s confidentiality policy by discussing raises, which were later made public, with her coworkers. In September an administrative law judge with the state’s Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board ruled that Ms. Trager, who was in attendance last week, did not deserve to be fired and therefore qualified for unemployment benefits, which she received for six months. Previously, she said she was targeted by Ms. Levan because Ms. Trager declined to sign a petition for two Village Board candidates that had been backed by the former library board president.

Now, the board is a seven-member entity, and all members have been appointed by the other sitting members. Board members also pointed out that all of those who applied for seats on the board were picked to volunteer.

Things grew heated during the public comment portion of the meeting last Wednesday night, April 13, when Ms. Trager’s husband, Robert, called for the resignation of Mr. Moore and all the other board members who think they should continue to be appointed to their positions. His statement prompted a back-and-forth between other audience and board members, the latter of whom accused Mr. Trager of personally attacking them, while Remsenburg resident Wendy Wax, who was sitting in the audience, accused board members of lying.

The exchange escalated, with board member Jennifer Mendelson, who serves as the board’s secretary, angrily leaving the room and Mr. Moore calling for a short recess.

“I find it very hard to understand why you think, as you have said, that the appointed board has worked for over 100 years, because clearly it has not,” Mr. Trager said. “I think that when you look at the prior board, with all due respect to Ms. Mendelson—you are a fine person, but part of the prior board—we had three members that were appointed by the disgraced president.”

But the board said it has made several changes to accommodate the changing nature of the facility, including switching to evening meetings so more people could attend them, and creating a negotiating committee tasked with working with members of the library’s new employees union.

The board also voted last week to change the term lengths for trustees, increasing the four-year terms to five years, as outlined in the original library charter. Under the change, Ms. Mendelson's term now will expire in July 2016; Susan Rosenberg’s and Ms. Matros’s terms expire in July 2017; Mr. Moore’s expires in July 2018; Mary Anne Yutes’s term expires in July 2019; and Robert Santucci’s and Eric Mirell’s terms will expire in July 2020.

The board also unanimously voted to petition the state to allow them to set term limits; presently, board members can serve as long as they are reappointed. It also agreed to create a bylaw revision committee that includes Mr. Mirell, Ms. Yutes and Mr. Moore; they will be charged with creating new rules, including the possible introduction of term limits.

If no new bylaws have been adopted by January 2017, they will be the subject of the board’s first meeting of the year.

“The difficulty is that it would be a hybrid of a traditional association library and a public library, and the consequences of going in that direction are still unknown,” Mr. Moore said this week, explaining his board’s reluctance to make the switch. “There are some that have gone to elected boards, and I am sure those consequences will play out in the coming years. This is an issue that will remain open for consideration as the board pays attention to what develops elsewhere.”

You've read 1 of 7 free articles this month.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

It should be also noted the Trustees provided a handout as to why they are opting to remain a hand-picked appointed Board. The handout stated "Should it elect trustees, it would "emulate" completely a public library. Why could this be a problem?" They then stated the following which totally blows my mind; "Public libraries have to comply with civil service and public procurement laws and regulations. In short, this means that all purchases over a certain dollar amounts must be publically bid and ...more
By Bobt (47), WHB on Apr 14, 16 2:09 PM
Speaking personally, not as a board member, I have to say that The behavior of you and your minions last night was disgraceful and childish. During the heated exchange some of them actually were giggling in glee. I take my responsibility seriously and was appalled by their behavior . You seriously want to help the library? Do some volunteer work get involved with some of the good work the library does in the community. No wonder Tim Moore made the comments about the contentious election.
By emirell (2), Westhampton on Apr 14, 16 4:46 PM
minions> Is this guy serious?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on Apr 16, 16 9:24 PM
1 member liked this comment
Why don't you get over yourself, and your sanctimony? you should be ashamed of yourself and the actions of the board at the last meeting. Every time anyone questioned the decisions, conclusions or actions of the board, they were met with sarcasm, abuse or ridicule, especially by shoe banging Comrade Rosenberg. I have been a volunteer for community organizations for most of my entire adult life, and for every one that has been funded by tax dollars, they have always had an elected board. Despite ...more
By Alterius (19), Westhampton Beach on Apr 18, 16 12:17 PM
2 members liked this comment
Mr Mirell your characterization of the concerned taxpaying citizens as "minions" is an example of how the Board treats people and I see you are now a part of that theatre. Tom Moore's disrespectful behavior toward tax paying citizens has been pointed out numerous times and the article states "prompted yelling from those sitting on BOTH sides of the dais," "visible eye-rolling," and Mendelson "angrily" left the room. When I got home and read the paperwork the board handed out I was appalled to learn ...more
By Bobt (47), WHB on Apr 14, 16 6:07 PM
The WHB Village has a budget of roughly $10M. The library which is funded primarily by taxes has revenue of $2.7M (2015). Seems to me that something that is so large in relation to the Village Finances requires community input.
By Hambone (512), New York on Apr 14, 16 9:54 PM
1 member liked this comment
Speaking personally again I agree. The board meetings were moved to a time easier for people to attend as was requested, at the last meeting there was input from the community and one of the results of community input was CPR classes are being scheduled, More input is more than welcome . Come on down you will find a very responsive staff and board.
By emirell (2), Westhampton on Apr 14, 16 10:55 PM
I think you missed the point. "input" was not to be read as "let me hear what you think and I'll do what I want". I would love to serve on the Board but 1. I live in Quiogue 2. I live there from June through August.

The School Board is elected..why not the library?

While it is nice to offer services to benefit all (my specialty is finance and operations), the reality is no Board member who is present for 25% of the year can fully represent their constituents.

Recognize ...more
By Hambone (512), New York on Apr 16, 16 8:59 PM
1 member liked this comment
If you live in Quiogue (not Quogue), you can serve on the board. If you are a resident of the WHB school district and are registered to vote, you can serve on the library board.
By susgeek (41), Speonk on Apr 17, 16 3:02 PM
good to know but I am not registered to vote in WHB
By Hambone (512), New York on Apr 18, 16 10:02 PM
This is democracy hijacked. Five of the six very newly appointed trustees had never attended one library board meeting prior to their recent appointments. In good faith, with due diligence, the board should have called a town hall meeting, requesting taxpayer input on the appointed vs. elected board issue. Residents for a Free Westhampton Free Library researched holding a public referendum, asking the taxpayer what they want to see in library governance. Unfortunately, because the library is ...more
By st (128), westhampton beach on Apr 18, 16 5:23 PM
well argued

I wonder how many of the Board members have library cards?
By Hambone (512), New York on Apr 18, 16 10:04 PM
Regarding the trustee application process, the Board states "an election could not have produced different results," "no one has been excluded from service," "there is no surfeit of candidates clamoring to join the ranks of the Board of Trustees," and "the service area [is] as broadly represented as possible." All those statements are false. There were additional taxpayers interested in serving as trustee but did not submit an "application" to join the private club 1) because they believe in elections ...more
By st (128), westhampton beach on Apr 19, 16 8:14 AM
southamptonfest, hamptons funraiser, southampton rotary