BELLOWS FALLS -- The Rockingham Selectboard appointed its own choice to fill a vacancy on the Rockingham Free Public Library Board of Trustees, going against a 125-year tradition of agreeing with the trustees' recommendation.
Members of the Selectboard named Ray Massucco to replace Steve Fuller, disregarding the trustees' selection of Timothy Doherty as their candidate of choice for the position and upsetting the trustees present in the audience. The board voted 3-0 for the appointment, as Ann DiBernardo, Susan Hammond and Vice Chairman Peter Golec voted in the affirmative.
Chairman Tom MacPhee was not present and Selectboard member Josh Hearne had to recuse himself because he uses Massucco, an attorney, for business purposes.
DiBernardo made the motion, citing Massucco's past experience as a library trustee.
Though Massucco has some support from the community, Library Trustee Vice Chairwoman Deborah Wright read a statement to the Selectboard prior to the vote.
"Since 1887, the year of the forming of the Rockingham Free Public Library's governance, a gentleman's agreement has existed between the town of Rockingham and the Rockingham Free Public Library," she read. "That being, when a vacancy occurs on the library board for other than expiration of term of office, the library trustees meet and select a new member from among those interested in holding the seat, making their voted recommendation to the town board, which in the past has been both respected and honored."
Wright asked the Selectboard to continue this practice and appoint Doherty as recommended.
At Tuesday's meeting, Joe Brissette, husband of Library Trustee Hope Brissette, asked members of the Selectboard why they were ignoring the trustees' recommendation and called the situation "certainly unusual."
Selectboard member Susan Hammond said it is "an unusual time for the library," which needs someone with Massucco's experience. DiBernardo echoed Hammond's sentiment.
"Considering everything we're going through here, I don't know why (Massucco) wasn't your first choice," she told the trustees present.
Arnold Clift, a member of the Friends of the Rockingham Library, also made a statement. He advocated for the appointment of Massucco, who is also the Bellows Falls village attorney and Rockingham town agent.
"He is an accomplished lawyer and has previously served 12 years as a library trustee, including more than six years as chairperson. He is well known and highly regarded in the community and I cannot believe that there could be anyone so well-qualified to serve on the board. I think the board would be greatly strengthened if he were to be appointed," he said.
Clift, whose wife Elayne is the president of the Friends of the Library, also stated that library trustees incorrectly assumed they had a statutory role in the appointment of a new member to their board. He said the public was erroneously informed that Massucco had withdrawn his candidacy to fill the vacancy.
"We now know that this information was incorrect and, in my opinion, very misleading because we subsequently learned that the chair of the library board had already informed Mr. Massucco that the trustees had -- at their July 22 board meeting -- selected another person to fill the vacancy," Clift said.
He added that the library trustees are being investigated by the Attorney General of Vermont for alleged violations of public meeting law.
After Clift thanked Municipal Manager Chip Stearns for his hard work, Wright asked to clarify some of the incorrect statements she claimed Clift had made.
She said two candidates were put forward at the July 22 meeting and Doherty was chosen because he could offer "a fresh perspective" and Massucco was assumed to have some conflicts of interest that "were not minimal." Wright also said the trustees are not being investigated for any reason.
In an e-mail to the Reformer, Wright claimed five Friends of the Rockingham Library sent a letter suggesting Open Meeting Law violations. She said two of the letter writers -- Duane Whitehead and Deb Wetzel -- violated the Open Meeting Law themselves by never producing copies of meeting minutes they were in charge of documenting while on the library board.
Wright also stated the Friends of the Rockingham Library are currently under investigation for mail fraud by the U.S. Postal Service and the Vermont State Police. Capt. Ray Keefe, commander of Vermont State Police Troop C, which has a station in Rockingham, told the Reformer his troopers are not involved in any such investigation.
Elayne Clift said Wednesday she had not been made aware of any investigation but knew what Wright was referring to. She told the Reformer a group of concerned citizens -- in no way affiliated with the Friends of Rockingham Library -- got together to brainstorm ways to support the facility. It was decided to print postcards and hand them out to people who wanted to mail them in as a gesture of their love for the library. Some money was raised at the meeting and 500 postcards were printed. Clift said a woman in Saxtons River volunteered her P.O. Box as the recipient of the postcards, which Clift said the concerned citizens planned to place into a sack and deliver to the library trustees at a future meeting.
However, Clift said, someone complained to the Saxtons River postmaster general that the library trustees never authorized that P.O. Box to be used for that purpose. She said the postmaster general, who is on vacation right now, was ordered by his boss to confiscate the postcards and dispose of them, though he only locked them in a drawer.
Clift said she is unaware of why the library trustees have any authority over how a mailbox or P.O. Box is used. She said she is confused by the whole situation.
"What in the world could be terrifying about a receiving a bunch of postcards in support of good stewardship of the library?" she asked rhetorically. "This is the last refuge of scoundrels. It's so laughable it's ridiculous."
Clift said the Saxtons River woman's P.O. Box was chosen because the concerned citizens were afraid the postcards would be thrown away if sent to the library's temporary location at 41 The Square or to the home of Trustee Chairwoman Janice Mitchell-Love.
The library has been through a lot of controversy since last summer. Baybutt Construction Corp., a Keene, N.H-based company, had been hired as the general contractor for a $2.9 million renovation of the building. But a problem arose when subcontractors refused to continue their jobs and insisted Baybutt had not paid them for the work already done. Rockingham town officials terminated the contract with Baybutt when the corporation's financial woes were realized.
Baybutt Construction did not take out a performance or a payment bond, which acts as a sort of insurance contract and was a project requirement from the town. The company's owner, Frederick L. Baybutt, declared personal bankruptcy in February.
Engelberth Construction (out of Colchester) was tapped to finish the project and the library trustees later made a controversial decision to temporarily close the building. Many members of the public feel the trustees had an ulterior motive or hidden agenda behind their drive for closure.
Stearns gave an update of the library project at Tuesday's meeting and said the building now has a certified elevator.
"I rode in it personally and I got to play with all the buttons," he said with a laugh earlier in Tuesday's meeting. "Stopped at every floor, the doors open."
Stearns said the linoleum on the entranceways, above the elevators and on the walls outside the elevators is finished, as are the hardwood floors. He said the project will, as he had previously expected, will go $30,000 to $50,000 over budget but said it could have been much worse considering the problems with Baybutt.
Golec, who was acting as chairman in MacPhee's absence, asked if plans are in place to come up with money to cover the extra cost so it won't get dumped on the taxpayers and Stearns said it was too early to comment.
In other business:
-- During his manager's report, Stearns said the Brockways Mills box culvert is open so members of the public that live on that street can get to Rockingham without going through Springfield.
-- He also said the town has trees and/or shrubs that must be cleared from certain street corners for pedestrian safety.
-- The Selectboard appointed Fred Bennett to the Rockingham Conservation Commission.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.