For the second straight New City Library Board of Trustees meeting, a majority of the public comments portion of the agenda were people speaking in favor of Library Executive Director Chuck McMorran.
At an , the board voted against renewing McMorran’s four-year contract, which is up in August. During the public comment portion of , many expressed confusion as to why McMorran wasn’t being brought back. At Thursday night’s meeting, more supporters for the director spoke up in his defense, including a few past board members.
“The presence here tonight of several former library trustees is evidence that we’re greatly concerned about the actions of the board,” said Harry Bloomfeld, a former board president.
Bloomfeld said he felt that board members were putting their “personal interests and political agendas” ahead of the library’s best interest.
“They’re supposed to be representing the community and not their own interests,” he said.
He also said he didn’t understand why they didn’t renew McMorran’s contract since before voting, the board filled out evaluations of how he was doing as director. In the evaluations, McMorran received only “excellent” and “satisfactory” ratings, but no “needs improvement” ratings from the board.
John Krenitsky, another former board president, didn’t understand why just five people voted to enter negotiations to renew McMorran’s contract. At one of the executive sessions, three people voted against entering negotiations with McMorran while just two voted in favor of it. The board has nine members, but Board President Teri Thal does not vote unless it is to break a tie.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Krenitsky said. “This is one of the most important votes you can have.”
Krenitsky also demanded each board member say how he or she voted and why. At the March meeting, many in the crowd were angry because those who voted against entering into negotiations wouldn’t give their reasons. At the March meeting, after heated discussion with the crowd, a few board members said that it was a private personnel matter, which was brought up against Thursday night.
“What’s so private? Everyone, including Chuck, knows he’s been fired,” said Jim Cropsey of New City. “What we don’t know is why?”
At the March meeting, Jeffrey Greenberg, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee to Evaluate the Performance of the Executive Director, said he thought one of the reasons for the no vote was because some feel there is a morale issue at the library, which is attributable to McMorran. But Greenberg said he’s not sure if that is the actual reason, as he voted in favor of bringing back McMorran.
Ron Seidenfrau, who also spoke during the public comments, announced that a new group is forming in the community called New City Library Watch.
“This group was formed because we feel your decision to remove the library director showed poor judgement and was not in the best interest of the library and the Clarkstown taxpayers,” he said.
Seidenfrau said now the taxpayers are going to feel their decision even more because of the cost in searching for a new director, which he felt was unnecessary given the job McMorran did.
“The library is a nicer place to visit now than it was three years ago when Chuck started as director because of the many new ideas of our departing director, which, incidentally, were approved by this board and instituted by them,” he said.
The group is still forming and doesn’t have a website just yet. But they plan on attending library board meetings, taking their own minutes and trying to hold the trustees accountable for their actions. Cropsey said the members will go to meetings to watch what the board is doing and find out the reasoning for their actions.
“What we expect as members of the public is that you would be representing us. You’re not doing that as far as I can see,” he said. “First of all, you’ve done a unilateral action without any reasoning. You went against your own votes of confidence and we’re going to have to spend money to find a new director, and that poor guy is going to have to report to you.”
Later in the meeting, under New Business on the agenda, the board discussed setting up a search committee to seek McMorran’s replacement. While Thal was talking about who to appoint as chair of the committee, an argument broke out amongst the board members about whether or not there was an actual committee yet. There wasn’t, and so the discussion turned to who should make up the committee. Thal wanted a mix of board members, library employees and people from the community, most likely from the Friends of the New City Library, a group that provides advocacy, increases public support and raises money for the library.
Last time the board formed a committee to search for a new executive director, which ended up being McMorran, the committee was made up of just board member and library employees. But at that time, the Friends of the New City Library hadn’t formed yet. The vote to form a committee was turned down by a vote of 5-3. Some who voted against said they didn’t think there was a thought out plan for how to conduct the search, so they didn’t want to form a committee yet.
Trustee Tom Ninan then made a motion for the library to enter a hiring freeze until they find a new executive director. Thal asked what would happen if all of a sudden five employees all left at the same time. Ninan said if such a situation were to arise, they could call an emergency meeting to work through the issue. Greenberg reminded the board that last time they looked for a new executive director, the search lasted more than a year. He also has concerns about the library’s union contract. If a union employee leaves, he’s not sure if the position can go unfilled.
The hiring freeze motion passed 6-2 and Greenberg called it “reckless.”