This article has been updated to include comment from the New York State Library, and the actions of the town council.
The Massena, NY, Town Council met on June 13 to reopen the Massena Public Library The library has been closed since June 11, according to NorthCountryNow.com, after resignations from the library board left it incapable of conducting business.
The council unanimously decided to retain retired Director Paul L. Schaffer on an interim basis, allowing the library to reopen for its regular hours, according to the Watertown Daily Times. Schaffer will work three hours a day at a rate to be determined at a meeting next week, Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said. Gray also said he expected the town to pay employees for the closed days and treat it as a paid leave. Youth services librarian Elaine A. Dunne-Thayer previously said the employees were told to take vacation days during the closure.
The council held off on making any appointments to the board because one council member could not be present.
Lisa J. Bero is the only member left on the board of trustees, according to the Watertown Daily Times. In addition to Pamela Ouimet and Barbara DeLine’s resignation on May 29, Board President John Acton, Vice President Richard Geiser and recent appointee Michael Gleason all resigned last week, citing personal reasons.
However it seems clear that political stresses played a role as well. Acton said in his resignation letter, “The clearly targeted subversion of the new director selection process by a few disgruntled employees and a rogue board member […] is extremely disturbing to me.”
The board was in the process of selecting a new director to succeed Lynn M. Fountain, who resigned last week after only one year in the position. Gray said the search for a new director would likely be tabled until a new board is installed, according to the Daily Times.
Bero recently disclosed misconduct charges pressed against her by Geiser for allegedly breaching confidentiality, participating in a petition to name Dunne-Thayer as the library director, and “inability to function with other members.” Bero denied all charges.
The mass resignations left the library in a dilemma because no one is sure who is in charge of appointing the replacement board members. North Country Library System Director Stephen Bolton and Town Attorney Eric Gustafson are working together to resolve the issue. Gustafson said one portion of New York’s state education law indicates that the town council makes appointments to the board. Each January, the town board selects new library board members or reappoints existing ones. However, another part of the law says the New York State Board of Regents could fill unexpired terms on a library board if it lost a quorum, which Massena has.
Said Bolton, “I can’t remember an instance where a library board has gotten down to one person.”
Tom Dunn, director of communications at the New York State Education Department, told LJ, “There is no precedent for this particular situation that the State Library is aware of. Our understanding is that the Town Council is moving expeditiously to appoint a new library board and we expect that the library will reopen soon. The new library board would then appoint an interim director until a new permanent director is hired. If the Town Council does not take action within a reasonable period of time, the NYS Board of Regents has the authority to appoint a new board of trustees for the library.”
Some 18 people have expressed interest in joining the board, according to the Daily Times. At Wednesday’s meeting, Gray said he hoped the council would be able to appoint an entirely new board, thus ending the tenure of Bero, who was unanimously appointed by the council within the last six months.