By guest blogger Linda Baum
Last Wednesday’s Library Board meeting (1/18/12) started at 7:00 p.m. and ran over four and a half hours. This was the first meeting of the new 9-member Board, five of whom are new appointees.
Sixteen members of the public attended the meeting, in whole or in part, and it was a veritable “who’s who” of the Republican Party. Among others, there were Committeeman and former Library Board member Kevin Settembrino, Committeeman and Deputy Mayor Steve Massell, Emil Wrede (TOMSA Board), James Hinkley (TOMSA Board), Tristen Nelsen (former Township Committee candidate), and some others sitting with them. I caught what I can only describe as “knowing” glances that told me many there were not strangers to each other. I leave to you to decide whether their purpose in attending was to support, to intimidate, or simply to be informed.
There were some regular folks at the meeting, too – we were discernable by our much more casual clothing.
Things began on a cordial note, with introductions and brief backgrounds. That was followed by a discussion of expenses and service contracts, which I’ll address in a separate post. Overall, the new Board members were very critical of Library operations, even accusatory.
When it was time for the election of 2012 officers, Ms. Sherry Miloscia presented the Nominating Committee’s recommendation of Mr. Randall Gabrielan as president, Ms. Vivian Breen as vice president, and Ms. Marjorie Cavalier as treasurer. There was no recommendation for the office of secretary because the original nominee, Ms. Rachel Raymond, the School Superintendent’s alternate for the prior year, was not reappointed to the Board for 2012. Ms. Miloscia found that out just five days before this meeting and had then contacted new Board member Lawrence Nelsen to offer him the role of secretary, but he turned it down, saying he didn’t feel qualified.
Committeewoman Stephanie Murray took issue with the use of a Nominating Committee – commonly used by many boards – and was fast to make her own nomination when informed that taking additional nominations from the floor was routine procedure. She started right at the top, recommending newcomer Lawrence Nelsen for president. She turned to him and said, “Would you do it? Would you do this?,” as if it had never been discussed. He agreed, of course, and didn’t seem surprised, but many of the public attendees were amazed at the audacity.
Ms. Miloscia asked Mr. Nelsen why he felt qualified to be president when he said he didn’t feel qualified enough to be secretary. Mr. Nelsen denied saying that. “Yes you did,” she replied.
Ms. Murray felt that a person with a financial background should be president -- Mr. Nelsen is an accountant. Others pointed out that the treasurer's position would be a good place for an accountant concerned with finances to start. The treasurer’s position was available, but Mr. Nelsen wasn’t interested in it.
The reasoning that the Board needs a president with financial experience is not supported if you consider that the Library Board drafted and approved a budget that, despite a reduction in the Township appropriation, still managed to maintain services, employment and most materials.
Something I think was being overlooked is that Board membership provides each trustee the opportunity to oversee operations, whether that person is an officer or not. That participation is precisely the reason given by the Township for expanding the Board.
New Board member Michael Convery asked, “Why do you think Larry can’t be president?” The experienced Board members explained that the position of president requires a lot of knowledge and a lot of time, and that the need to provide guidance to an inexperienced person would put an unfair burden on the Library Director. The many answers and lengthy explanations Ms. O’Neal was required to provide to the new members at this Board meeting is evidence of that.
In short, having an inexperienced person as Board president could hamper Library operations. Therefore, the new trustees did not appear to be acting in the best interest of the Library.
It was suggested that the new members could consult with any respected source, including the New Jersey Library Association, and would be told of the importance of experienced leadership.
I wondered what the president’s rights and responsibilities are that made the position so sought after. I have been provided this explanation:
The president is the first among equals as the Board's link to the Director on situations where library operations meet library policy, which is set by the Board. The president is the primary Board source for the Director on matters of economic, political, social, employment and legal concerns that impact the library. It is important that the president recognize and honor the distinction between the Trustee’s role of oversight and the Director's role of management and that the president not attempt to interfere in library operations. In order to fulfill this role, it is essential that the president be knowledgeable and experienced in these matters, qualities that have become even more important in today’s challenging environment.
Also, I am told that the president’s role at meetings is similar to the mayor’s -- he sets the tone and guides discussion but has an equal vote.
Ms. Breen pointed out to Ms. Murray that she would not expect to be mayor her first year as a committeewoman. She replied, “No, and I wouldn’t want to,” but seemed to miss the point that Mr. Nelsen was too inexperienced to be president.
The new Board members expressed concern about Mr. Gabrielan’s length of service as president, made reference to the size of the budget, and fell just shy of accusing him of wrong doing. The criticism was unfounded, in my opinion. It was an unfair attack on the character of a man who is well-regarded as a dedicated servant. But that accusatory tone underscored the meeting. Later on, Mr. Nelsen twice referenced Bernie Madoff. That comment offended many of us.
The new members also expressed some frustration with the materials they were provided and felt some information was missing. That drew a sharp response from the others, who asked what they were referring to. The Library Director did her best to explain the information provided and some differences between business in January and the other months of the year.
A woman sitting near me who was a former library employee felt strongly that the problem was that the new Board members were unfamiliar with library operations.
It seemed to me there was a lot of posturing going on by the new members. Last year the Library was villanized, and it seems the stage is being set for that again. I am reminded of that saying that the truth of an accusation doesn’t matter because the damage is done when the accusation is made.
Perhaps in an attempt to quell the accusation and argument, Ms. Breen suggested making Mr. Nelsen vice president. I thought that was a generous concession considering his lack of experience with library matters.
Mr. Convery asked if the election of officers needed to take place right then and was told that there was a need to have officers in place for financial matters and for continuity of operations. The Library’s by-laws call for elections at the January reorganization meeting because terms expire then. (Note that the Township Committee elects its officers in January as well.)
In the end, Mr. Gabrielan was elected president by a vote of 5 to 4. The four new Board members voted as a block for Mr. Nelsen. The deciding vote for Mr. Gabrielan was cast by new Board member Cynthia Wilson, the School Superintendent’s appointee.
While Mr. Convery said that his reason for wanting to delay the vote was to get to know people before voting, I wonder if that was his motive. Had the vote been delayed until the end of the meeting, for example, the outcome would have been different because two of the Board members who voted for Mr. Gabrielan didn’t stay for the whole meeting. Those early departures, at this meeting or any future meeting, change the make-up of the Board. Late arrivals or absences would have the same effect.
After the debate over the presidency, the other officers were selected quickly. Mr. Nelsen was elected vice president; Ms. Cavalier was elected treasurer, and Ms. Breen secretary – each held the same post last year.
As vice president, Mr. Nelsen will run meetings in the absence of Mr. Gabrielan, who has had a near perfect attendance record. Also, the VP title puts Mr. Nelsen in line for the presidency in 2013, when he is certain to get it because the new Board members will have the five votes they need next year with the Township’s replacement of Ms. Miloscia, whose term expires at the end of this year.
With one more voice, the Township’s new appointees will be able to elect to any office any candidate they choose, award contracts as they choose, make employment decisions, and unrestrict any amount of Library reserves for Township use.