Last month, the New City Library Board of Trustees entering into renegotiations with Library Executive Director Chuck McMorran, whose four-year contract ends in August.
At Thursday night’s board meeting, many spoke out against the decision during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“Among his many assets that impressed the board was his ability to work with people in conflict and find common ground. He listened to all points of view and then made a decision based on what is best for the library,” said Harry Bloomfeld, treasurer for the Friends of the New City Library and former board member. “Chuck has always understood that the board makes policy for the library, and that it is his and his staff’s responsibility to carry out that policy to best serve the people of our community.”
Jim Cropsey of New City ran through some of McMorran’s accomplishments during his time as director, including the new easy-to-use checkout system, getting all new rugs for the library and working to get the library opened just eight days after a flood.
What confused, and eventually angered, many at Thursday’s meeting was that no reasoning was given for voting against bringing McMorran back. During the executive sessions in February when the board discussed the issue, they went over evaluations done last fall on McMorran’s performance, the results of which caused Jeffrey Greenberg, chair of the Ad Hoc Committee to Evaluate the Performance of the Executive Director, to conclude that McMorran was doing a “good job” as director.
Six of the eight board members at the time filled out the survey, which graded McMorran’s effectiveness on a scale of one to six in eight categories:
Customer Service and Community Relations
Administration and Human Resources Management
Financial Management and Compliance with Law
Board of Trustee Relationship
Personal Qualities/Professional Development
Staff and Personnel Relationships
Technology and Innovation
During themeeting, Trustee Ed Kallen read from the minutes of the past meeting when the evaluations were discussed, telling the crowd that the members gave McMorran excellent ratings, totaling 232. He also received satisfactory ratings of 65, and no needs improvement ratings. The committee’s suggestion based on the evaluations was to enter into negotiations to bring back McMorran. However, when a vote was conducted at that Feb. 16 meeting, three voted against it while just two voted for. Greenberg and Kallen voted yes while Matt Mulrooney, Tom Ninan and Olahannan Poulouse voted no.
Another vote was held at a special meeting on Feb. 28, once again failing to enter into negotiations with McMorran. At that meeting, Greenberg and Kallen voted in favor, while Mulrooney, Ninan and Joseph Reiter voted against.
This further angered many in the crowd, with one woman saying she didn’t understand why the vote didn’t pass if McMorran received no “needs improvement” votes.
“What’s the problem with Chuck, or is there a problem someplace else?” Cropsey said. “Before the public comment ends, I think you owe it to the community to tell us why you’re not offering to renew Chuck’s contract.”
Others in the crowd also demanded those on the board that voted against negotiating give their reasons. President Terri Thal didn’t vote because as board president she only votes to break ties. She said that while normally trustees don’t respond to the public comment portion of the agenda, she felt they should make an exception and she invited any of the trustees who voted no give their reasoning. None of them did.
The crowd kept asking for the reasons why McMorran wasn’t being brought back, and kept not getting an explanation. A lot of the audience's comments were directed at Thal despite her not voting. Thal said she couldn’t answer questions for other trustees, nor could she force anyone to give their reasons.
“I can’t speak for them,” she said. “I don’t even agree with them.”
The public comment portion of the agenda continued with more people speaking in favor of McMorran and wanting to know why his contract wasn’t being renewed. Cropsey said he hasn’t heard one library employee say anything negative about the director. Bloomfeld said there are multiple reasons why it doesn’t make sense to get rid of McMorran.
“It would be hard to justify the expense and disruption incurred by a search for a new director when we already have one who has been doing an outstanding job and has made many positive changes to our library,” he said.
Eventually Greenberg attempted to answer the question.
“I was not one of the people that voted against, but I will give the best explanation I can as to why those individuals who are not identified voted against entering into negotiations,” he said. “Their position was, not withstanding the evaluations that the majority of the board completed, that there’s a morale issue at the library and that is attributable to Mr. McMorran.”
Even still, the crowd had questions. Reiter said it wasn’t the time of the meeting for debate, and board members aren’t supposed to discuss personnel issues publicly.
McMorran, who sits in at board meetings as the director, sat there silent throughout the meeting until it was time for his director’s comments, which occur at the end of the reports each meeting. McMorran said the meeting was running a bit long so he’d keep his comments short, and he didn’t address his contract. He declined to comment on the situation after the meeting as well.
“I’m very happy to report that the February circulation was the highest of any February in the last five years. That also represents a 19.6 percent increase over the last three years, and that is totally contrary to any kind of national or local trend, where all our neighbor libraries are seeing a decrease,” McMorran said during his report. “Program attendance likewise was the highest February in the last five years. The other item of significance, I’m not sure of the explanation, but the in-house computer use was also the highest February of any month in the last five years."