Barbara Withers, a resident of the Atrium at Navesink senior complex, implores the board to preserve a book-delivery service for its residents. Below, board president John Grandits, left, with Mayor Pasquale Menna outside the library meeting room. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
A plan by the Menna administration to rewrite the proposed Red Bank Public Library budget and undo the recent layoff of half its staff got a cold reception from the library trustees Thursday night.
One or two of the suggested changes, such as leaving the soon-to-be-vacated job of the library director unfunded, appear to be “illegal,” trustee Brigid McCarthy told a packed meeting of library supporters.
Still, Mayor Pasquale Menna, displaying obvious frustration with what he called “drama” surrounding the borough’s recommendations, said the standoff can and will be quickly resolved, even if he has to take unilateral action.
“Some people are making this out to be a bete noire,” Menna told redbankgreen in a basement hallway of the library, as the trustees settled in behind closed doors for an executive session on personnel matters. “You put three or four people [from the administtation and the library] in a room, and you can resolve this.
“There’s a way to do it. We’re going to do it even if we have to take unilateral action,” said Menna, who appoints the members of the autonomous trustees board.
Menna said there was a “legitimate dispute” between the administration and the trustees over whether, as the trustees claim, the library faces a $131,000 operating deficit for the current year.
That deficit, and the long-term viability of the library, was cited when borough hall, at the behest of the trustees, handed pink slips to six of the library’s 11 employees on March 12.
At Wednesday night’s borough council meeting, Administrator Stanley Sickels said he and borough CFO Eugenia Poulos had developed an alternative to the library’s budget that might “maintain the full-time staff.”
Opening up a 45-minute question-and-answer session with the library audience, trustees President John Grandits told about 60 people that, “given our present income, there is not enough money to run the library.”
Still, he sought to assure the public that “under no circumstances will the library shut down. We’re going to get through hard times, I don’t care whose plan we use.”
McCarthy, who heads the board’s finance committee, said the administration plan contained “arbitrary cuts and inaccurate figures.” She also said the administration had refused to increase its allocation from taxes to the library, even though it is allowed to under state law.
In fact, said Pat Moss, who is the longest serving trustee, the town has exceeded the funding allocation in the past, though she did not have the dates and amounts with her Thursday night.
In response to a question about staffing goals, library director Virginia Papandrea said the “ideal” staff would have five to six full-timers “for a library our size.” The recent layoffs eliminated three of eight full-timers and all three part-timers.
Others in the audience implored the board to make better use of social media to get out word about meetings and fundraising efforts.
As the audience left, Menna huddled briefly with Papandrea, asking her to put together a “skeleton crew” to meet with him, Sickels and the borough auditor in an effort to resolve things.
But with the trustees waiting to begin their closed-door meeting, Papandrea told Menna, “the board has to do whatever it feels it needs to do.”
Menna told redbankgreen his aims are to keep the library open and “protect our employees,” though he said “there may have to be adjustments in personnel” to make both possible.
“Those adjustments don’t have to be cataclysmic,” he said.