RED BANK: LIBRARY TRUSTEES QUIT EN MASSE

rbpl trustees 3 032714 Of the six board members seen in this photo from a March 27 trustees meeting, only April Klimley, in red at left, remains on the board. Two others who also resigned are not shown. Below, the sign outside the library welcomed back two employees whose rehirings prompted the resignations. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

rbpl 041314Overridden last week by the borough council over a controversial budget, six of the eight members of the Red Bank Public Library board of trustees resigned in protest Saturday.

Angered over what they said were factual misrepresentations and position reversals by the Menna Administration that undid a year of “difficult” financial planning, the trustees said in a letter that it “has become apparent that we cannot operate as an effective and independent board as stipulated by the NJ State Library statutes.”

The mass exodus, coupled with the planned departure of library Director Virginia Papandrea later this month and another trustee’s resignation last Thursday, raises questions about short-term leadership at the 76-year-old institution. Moreover, departing board members said the library continues to face a fiscal crisis, contrary to administration claims.

“The numbers still don’t add up,” said trustees President John Grandits. “I don’t see how you’re going to be open in November or December. I don’t get it.”

v papandrea 032714Library Director Virginia Papandrea had previously announced plans to resign, citing personal reasons. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

Following a closed-door executive session Saturday afternoon, the board sent a letter to Mayor Pasquale Menna telling him that six of his eight appointees were resigning, effective immediately. They are Grandits, Denelle Godek, Brigid McCarthy, Audrey Oldoerp, Ann Tardy and Jim Willis. (Disclosure: Willis writes for redbankgreen‘s PieHole food page).

Pat Moss, the board’s longest-serving member, resigned Thursday, following through on plans pending since January, another board member said.

Only April Klimley remained on the board. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Menna also did not respond to a request for comment Sunday.

From the letter:

We are a board of volunteers who all love the library and who served on the Board because of our passion and commitment for the library. We gave a lot of our time and energy to this board to fulfill the mayor’s mandate to help manage the library in a fiscally responsible manner.

We did that job.

Because we are unable to implement the solution that we arrived at after almost a year of deliberations – made more difficult because we knew these decisions would affect our friends and neighbors – it has become apparent that we cannot operate as an effective and independent board as stipulated by the NJ State Library statutes.

Here’s the full letter: RBPL Trustees Letter 041214

The resignations came three days after the borough council pulled rank on its own appointees by rehiring two of the three full-timers laid off from the public library amid warnings of a financial crisis last month.

During a tense council meeting last Wednesday night at which officials characterized the library’s trustees “hostile” to administration guidance, borough Administrator Stanley Sickels also presented the outlines of a library budget that he said would yield surpluses of $32,000 this year and $120,000 next year while enabling the facility to restore some hours of operation, which were cut last month.

The trustees, however, contended that the library faced a $131,000 operating deficit this year and worse financial straits next year because of personnel costs that the trustees said eat up 95 percent of the library budget.

The layoffs of all three part-time staffers and three of eight full-timers last month were at the heart of their plan to restructure the institution’s finances and bring staffing in line with that at similar-sized libraries elsewhere, they said.

The layoffs, on March 12, prompted outrage from library patrons.

At last week’s council meeting, Sickels said the borough had issued the layoff notices after accepting “at face value” the trustees’ assertions that the cuts were needed to avert a crisis. But a later review of the trustee’s proposed budget, which he contended he saw only after signing off on the layoffs, contained numerous opportunities for savings, Sickels said.

“We have shown there’s no need to lay these people off,” he said.

A resolution unanimously approved by the council on the matter claims that “he trustees’ proposed budget “was not provided to the Borough prior to the Board effectuating the layoffs.” Here’s the resolution on the rehirings: RB 14-119

Outraged board members, however, say their proposed budget was submitted to then-CFO Colleen Lapp on December 4, and that they had previously held at least two meetings with union representatives, with Sickels present, over the anticipated layoffs.

McCarthy said she and Grandits met on November 25 with Sickels and the borough’s labor lawyer to detail the library’s finances, reorganization plan and efforts to save money.

“When I asked Mr Sickels if the Mayor would be attending the meeting, he said the Mayor told him “I don’t care what they do over there as long as it doesn’t cost money,” McCarthy said in an email to redbankgreen.

Grandits, moreover, said he’d met twice with Menna, who told him both times that the library would have to “live within its means.”

Grandits said Sunday that the mayor and council were clearly “stunned” at the public reaction to the layoffs, which also led to the cancellation of Saturday hours and all children’s programming, and went for a political solution that the board believes ignores financial realities.

“We’re not in business to employ people,” Grandits said of the board. “I’m really sorry about the layoffs, but we just can’t afford” to maintain the current number of full-timers.

redbankgreen asked Grandits if he felt bad about leaving the library rudderless.

“Stanley’s going to take care of things,” he said.

“It they can figure out a way to make this work, God bless ‘em,” he added. “They said they’d help us figure a way out, too.”

 

 

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