Appointed Musical Chairs

The Board of Trustees of the Westhampton Free Library informed those in attendance at the March 16 Board Meeting that the issue of an elected board will be placed on the agenda and discussed at the April 13 Board Meeting.

Interestingly and conveniently, we were informed at the start of the meeting during the Correspondence section of the Agenda when Tom Moore was addressing emails sent by taxpayers, that the trustee terms listed on the website are incorrect, specifically those of Barbara Matros and Susan Rosenberg. Their terms now expire in July 2017, not in July 2016.

After taxpayer Sabina Trager questioned the change in terms during the Period of Public Expression, even asking how this now effects the terms of the three newly appointed trustees, Danielle Waskiewicz, the Library Director, stated that she went back through the Board Meeting Minutes beginning in 2004 and discovered through those minutes, along with referencing the Library’s Charter from the 19th century and the Library’s By-laws, that the terms had been incorrect.

There were then attempts to explain how all/many of the seven trustee terms need/may need to be changed.  Understandably, some of us found it very confusing and not at all transparent, especially because it seemed that the Board and the Director weren’t quite sure of the situation themselves.  Bottom line–there will be no elections any time soon.  Again, very convenient for the Board.

For information, reviewed after the meeting: The Charter states that trustees “shall be elected by the corporation, one each year to serve five years.”  The Library’s By-Laws, amended in January 2015, in Article 1: Officers, Section 3, state “The officers of the corporation shall be chosen annually at the meeting of the Board of Trustees…to serve for two-year terms.” In Article 3: Trustees, Section 1, it states “The Trustees shall be elected at the annual meeting of the members for a term of four years.” Article 3, Section 3, states “Newly created trusteeships and vacancies occurring in the Board of Trustees may be filled by a vote of the majority of the Trustees then in office, and a Trustee elected to fill a vacancy shall be elected to hold office for the unexpired term of his or her predecessor.”

It looks to us that for years the Library followed the length of trustee terms set forth by the By-Laws, but have now decided to honor the wording of the Charter.  Again, very convenient.

According to the October 30 Meeting Minutes there was “a motion to accept the resignation of Joan Levan as President and appoint Susan Rosenberg as Trustee…made by Andrews and seconded by Moore. Approved.”  If we are to follow the Library’s By-Laws, why isn’t Ms. Rosenberg the President?  Or, if Mr. Moore was elected to fill a vacancy and Joan Levan’s term of President expired in July 2016, why is the new presidential term until 2019?

If the Library Director had to go back through a dozen years of Meeting Minutes, it isn’t very transparent.  Instead, it sounds like a game of appointed musical chairs.

Mr. Moore, who stated on October 30, 2015  that he has “serious reservations on moving to an elected board for something that has worked for over 100 years,” put forth two weak arguments as to why the Board should remain appointed:

  1. He continually says that it is difficult finding volunteers to serve on Boards.  He stated that the Board received only three applications to serve as trustee and all three individuals were appointed on February 16, 2016.  We have stated this to him before–because of the current appointment process some individuals choose not to submit applications because they know they will be denied an appointment.  We know of three additional individuals who were interested in becoming trustees but knew they would not be chosen.  So why bother submitting an application?  The method of appointing is flawed.
  2. He stated that, for example, some school board members are elected term after term and they serve for years because not many people are interested in volunteering and then we have the same individuals serving on the school board.  He misses the point.  Those individuals are elected, others are free to run, and the taxpayers are exercising their basic right to vote.  Everything is right with that picture in defense of ELECTED boards.

Let’s paint a new picture.  Let’s say that our Village Mayor runs unopposed this year.  Should we not have a mayoral election simply because she runs unopposed?  Should we ask the taxpayers if the mayor should now be appointed, maybe by the Village Trustees?

We hope for a meaty, informative discussion of elected boards vs. appointed boards in taxpayer funded institutions and not just a few cursory sentences at the April 13 Board Meeting.  For greater accountability and transparency, we’ve emailed both the Board and the Director of SCLS requesting that the SCLS Director be present at the April 13 meeting.