While the Westhampton Free Library has continued to offer a great array of materials, programs and cultural excursions, its Board of Trustees has, in the last six months, had to handle litigation, field demands to change its method of selection and respond to the employees’ determination to unionize. The Board is basically new. Three of its members were appointed in October, three in February and a fourth is a veteran trustee.
In October, an essentially new board was faced with a public request to change its manner of selection from appointment to public election. While the board understood that the public required more accountable library governance, it needed to research the consequences of a move to an elected board. In the spirit of accountability, the board changed its meeting times to evenings at the public request, instituted a new application process for prospective trustees, advertised online, in the press and in the library publications to recruit new trustees. Three people responded to the outreach. All three volunteers were seated, bringing the total number of trustees to seven. The library is a private not-for-profit. Like many not-for-profits it receives both public support and private donations. Just like other not-for profits, the board itself seeks candidates to serve and appoints trustees who are dedicated to the continued mission of the library.
The Board of Trustees has rejected the notion of a public election primarily because such an election could jeopardize the private status of the library. Public libraries must abide by Civil Service regulations regarding employees and public procurement laws and regulations. While it emulates a public library more and more, the Westhampton Free Library becomes a hybrid, public/private entity. The complete Report on Library Governance issued at the April 13 meeting elaborates the legal challenges to organizations that claim “private status” in an effort to circumvent the requirements of public entities. The two cases cited were resolved in favor of private status because the boards were appointed, not elected. Furthermore, there has not been huge a response to the Trustee recruitment effort. Three candidates who were qualified and interested applied. All three were seated. An election could not have produced different results.
According to Thomas Moore, Board of Trustees President, “While the board is not saying ‘never,’ it is saying that an election simply for the sake of having an election, when no one has been excluded from service, has no advantage, and only carries the risks of unanticipated legal consequences.
The Library’s current Absolute Charter requires five-year terms for Trustees, but the current By-Laws provide for four-year terms and are not in conformity with the Charter. To rectify this discrepancy, the Board has proposed an amendment to the By-Laws whereby five-year terms will be adopted until the Charter is amended to allow for both shorter Trustee terms and term limits. The process to amend the Charter involves petitioning the State Board of Regents and is expected to take six months.
A By-Laws Revision Committee, comprised of Eric Mirell, Mary Anne Yutes and Thomas Moore, has been appointed to prepare By-Laws to be adopted by the Board once the Charter has been amended to allow for shorter terms. While the specifics have yet to be determined, the committee will be considering Trustee terms of three years with a maximum limit of two years.
In further library business, Library Director Danielle Waskiewicz received notice that the Westhampton Library Staff Association is prepared to begin meeting to negotiate the first collective bargaining agreement in the library’s history. A Library Negotiating Committee was named at the April 13, 2016 meeting.
Media Contact: Marie Weiss, (631) 836-0990, firstname.lastname@example.org