The 2012 New City Library Board of Trustees held a very tense first meeting Thursday night with the board having trouble coming together to vote on things like adopting the last meeting’s minutes and adjourning. In the end, the last meeting’s minutes weren’t adopted, but the board did adjourn.
“This is the most divided board I’ve ever seen,” said Terri Thal, president of the 2012 board.
The division came before the board even started its first meeting. On Thursday, prior to the 2012 board’s meeting, the annual meeting of the Library Association took place with members of last year’s board. During that meeting, there was new business on the agenda to appoint the board’s attorney, auditor and designate an official newspaper.
Board member Tom Ninan said he didn’t understand why the 2011 board got to make appointments for positions that the 2012 board will work on. A few other trustees agreed with his reasoning, and eventually the three items were tabled until the second meeting.
At the board meeting, the divide appeared even earlier, when the last meeting’s minutes were going to be adopted. At the board’s last meeting on the new board voted on officers for the 2012 board. But at that meeting, only five of the nine board members were present. That still, however, gave the board a quorum and allowed them to vote for the officers, per the board’s bylaws. The board voted on four officer positions: president, vice president, secretary and treasurer.
But Ninan doesn’t think the board should’ve voted on officers at that session because of the absences. Ninan was one of the four board members not at the December meeting, and said he had a family issue to take care of so he couldn’t make it.
Ninan said that usually the nominating board, which is made up of three trustees, suggests nominations to the board for officer positions, and then they vote on those. At the December meeting, only one member of the nominating board was present, Jeffrey Greenberg. The third member, Matthew Mulrooney, was the chairperson of the committee, and couldn’t make the meeting either.
Without the nominating committee fully present, Ninan said they couldn’t present their full nominations, and so the board didn’t know if there were actually multiple candidates for any of the positions. At the meeting, each position had just one announced nominee.
“I don’t think the board followed proper procedure in the last meeting,” Ninan said.
Ninan said he thinks the board should’ve tabled the vote until the first meeting Thursday night, when the full board was present. Board member Edward Kallen said as long as the board had a quorum they could conduct the vote.
Ninan made a motion to make the officer votes from last meeting invalid, but Thal called the motion out of order and wouldn’t put it up to be seconded, so the board didn’t get a chance to vote on it.
“Please put it out on the floor. If it wins in your favor, I will humbly bow down to you,” Ninan told Thal. “If it doesn’t, then you need to step down.”
Because of his opposition to elections of the officers, Ninan and others didn’t want to adopt the minutes from the previous meeting. When it was brought up, the vote was shot down 4-2 with two abstentions and Thal not voting because the president doesn’t cast votes for this.
Thal, Ninan and others aren’t sure what happens to the minutes from last meeting now that they haven’t been adopted.
“I’ve never see that happen before,” said New City Library Director Charles McMorran.
As part of the first meeting of the new board, Thal also had a chance to outline some goals for herself and the board for the upcoming year. Since the division amongst the board had already started, she said she had a timely first goal.
“My first goal is collaboration among board members, so I’m not really sure where we’re going,” she said. “Board members may have a lot of other interests outside the library, but that shouldn’t affect their work for the library. A board that is divided functions very poorly.”
She also said she thinks bylaws should be reviewed every two years. Other goals included setting up a financial policy for the board and a new five-year plan for the board.
Thal said she also wants to “ensure library has enough money to sustain the building on the ground’s infrastructure.” She added that the building fund has less than $300,000 and said that’s not a lot for a building the size of the library. Thal noted that if the roof goes or a big storm knocks out the windows, they could be in trouble.
During her portion of the meeting outlining goals for the upcoming year, Thal also mentioned she wanted to have more meetings with the executive officers of the board, which worried Ninan that they would make decisions at those meetings, leaving the rest of the board with little to do.
“I don’t want to be a rubber stamp. I was not elected by my peers just to rubber stamp you or the administration,” he said. “I was sent here to make sure that we work as a team, like you stated, to work to make sure that everything is going according to our bylaws and to make sure that you were nominated properly.”
Thal ensured Ninan that wasn’t the plan for holding more meetings with the officers.
When the three items from the first meeting were brought back during new business, Ninan said he didn’t think it was right to give the new board members such little time to vote on the appointments. He also said he didn’t think the board should just keep reappointing the same people to each position year after year.
“Give it time to marinate until the next meeting. Let the administration do its due diligence to bring us other auditors’ bids,” he said. “So if it’s the same bid or same savings, at least you know you’re getting the best bang for these taxpayers’ dollars. Same thing for attorney.”
Kallen said he thinks the board owes it to themselves and the residents of New City to evaluate everything, from the job they’re doing to the services they use.
“I have no objection to this particular law firm or to the auditors, but I think we owe it to ourselves not just to have a knee jerk reaction because we used them last year we should use them this year,” he said. “We need to look at what was provided, and perhaps if necessary, look at other alternatives.”
So once again, that was tabled until the next meeting. When the motion to adjourn was initially made, nobody seconded it, as many on the board were still confused if Ninan’s motion to strike the elections from the previous week was on the floor. After some discussion, they realized it wasn’t, and so the meeting let out.
McMorran said it was a surprising way to kick off the new board’s tenure. He said he hadn’t seen anything like it in his 37 years of working with libraries. He did say he thinks the board can “absolutely” come together and work as a more united group.
During the director’s report of the meeting, McMorran thought it was appropriate to end his speech with a quote from the Handbook For Library Trustees of New York State, written by Jerry Nichols, of the Palmer School of Library and Information Science at Long Island University.
“It’s all about the library, not about you,” he said. “Always remember that your primary job is to the provide the highest quality library service possible for your community.”