The Rockingham Free Public Library has been under renovation for over a year now, paid for by a bond that was approved by taxpayers. At the end of 2012, it was discovered that Baybutt construction company hadn’t been paying subcontractors and lied about having a performance bond, so the renovations stalled, Baybutt’s owners filed for bankruptcy, and over $300,000 was lost. The Rockingham Selectboard took the project away from the Library trustees and negotiated new contracts to finish the project. As a result, the renovation project that the community voted for was scaled back considerably, but the project continues.
New contracts signed by the Selectboard keep the Library functioning in the building; that plan is included in the costs and schedule that architects, contractors, and the community voted for.
At the most recent Finance Committee meeting, the discussion focused on how to cut staff so that funds from the operating budget can be reallocated to the renovation project – with an interest in closing the Library and laying off staff. These are public documents that can be requested. At a special board meeting on May 1 that only 6 of 9 trustees attended, library trustees voted 4-2 to close the building and limited discussion to two scenarios for library services:
close completely with some programs continuing elsewhere
move Library operations to a temporary, accessible facility with reduced services
This was not acceptable to the staff, the public, other members of the Board, and the Town Selectboard. At a May 6 Library Board meeting, the Chair refused to revisit the issue of closing the Library when requested by other members of the Board and the public. The Chair and Vice-Chair of the Board dismissed public input entirely.
The actual dysfunction of the Rockingham Free Public Library Board and what’s going on lies with three people: Chair Janice “Jan” Mitchell-Love, Vice-Chair Deborah “Deb” Wright, and Hope Brissette. Since the renovation project derailed, three members of the Board have been attempting to undermine the roles and duties of the Library Director. They’ve insisted she isn’t needed to attend Board committee meetings to inform them about the Library or that they need to inform her about what the Board is doing.
The May 6th Library Board meeting is available to watch online and is an eye-opening example of what is going on.
The Chair and Vice-Chair dominate the discussion and abuse a misunderstanding of meeting rules among other Board members to prevent any discussion that challenges their decision. You’ll also observe Jan and Deb belittle and criticize Library Director Célina Houlne throughout the meeting.
The library trustees’ abuse of open meeting laws, dominating meetings, and insulting the Director are part of a bigger problem that Célina has been facing. There is concern that their intention is to remove her as the Director. This would not be an action based on actual job performance: she has carefully administered the Library budget and is in no danger of over-spending; the staff is a well-functioning team; community support for the Library is very strong because of the high quality of Library service; she has worked hard to repair the relationship between the Library and the Town; and Library operations have continued throughout the renovation project.
The Attorney General is investigating this Board for open meeting law violations.
When it comes to the renovation, keeping the Library open is already planned for, will not cost the Library additional money, or change the renovation schedule. Allowing the Director and the staff to work out a schedule, as they have for previous closures, would mean that no one will be laid-off and the community will have access to highly skilled professional Library service.
The Town Selectboard issued a non-binding resolution condemning the Library Trustees decision to close the building on May 7:
“Whereas the Rockingham Selectboard considers the library an intricate part of our community, whereas there is no suitable place for a temporary library for two months, it is the opinion of this meeting that the library should not be shut down during renovation. The Selectmen consider this decision to be detrimental to the children of this community and to the taxpayers.”
**RuLU believes that quality library services are worth fighting for and steps up to advocate for communities and library staff when library services are threatened. We believe library trustees need to be held accountable to the communities they serve and that library trustees have a responsibility to ensure that libraries receive the necessary funding and support to effectively serve their communities. **
Keep the library open, complete the renovations. Open libraries, open minds, open meetings. What good is a renovated library without the people that make the library?