BELLOWS FALLS -- In her first public comments since being removed, the recently fired director of the Rockingham Free Public Library on Tuesday stated she and her attorney will respond to her termination "in the legal arena."
Célina Houlné was relieved of her duties by a 5-3 vote of the library's board of trustees at a meeting last week, adding fuel to a fiery debate about whether they had a hidden agenda to remove her. Houlné's attorney, Richard Bowen, said Tuesday he was drafting a notice of claim letter he hopes to mail to trustees by the end of the week. He said the letter advises board members on what they can expect and will suggest mediation, an intervention by a third party to reach a peaceful settlement. He also said the letter will demand to receive the data of the evaluation, conducted by the board's personnel committee, that led to Houlné's dismissal.
Houlné and Bowen believe she was wrongfully terminated and are unhappy with the way the trustees have acted. The trustees, Bowen said, made the motion the morning of Sept. 18 and voted before many members of the public had re-entered the meeting room following an executive session. At that time, supporters of Houlné began to sing "We Shall Overcome," a protest song made popular during the African-American Civil Rights Movement.
Chairwoman Janice Mitchell-Love, Vice Chairwoman Deborah Wright and members Hope Brissette, Paige Pietrzak and Laura Senes voted to fire Houlne while Carolyn Frisa, Pat Fowler and Ray Massucco voted against the motion. Trustee David Buckley could not attend the meeting.
Houlné told the Reformer she would like to return to work but also wants the chance to speak with the trustees, which she said she was not granted.
"Mediation might make that happen," she said.
Bowen said his client is anxious to find out why she was fired and respond to any concerns the library trustees might have. He said Houlné would also be able to correct some misinformation presented to the board by its personnel committee.
He said his client may have become the trustees' scapegoat for the fiasco involving Baybutt Construction Corp.
Baybutt had been hired as the general contractor for the $2.9 million renovation of the library but its contract was terminated by the Rockingham Selectboard when subcontractors hired by the Keene, N.H.-based company refused to continue working and insisted Baybutt had not paid for the work already done. The problem delayed the scheduled date of the library's reopening, which Municipal Manager Willis D. "Chip" Stearns II has said he expects to happen by the end of this month.
Mitchell-Love did not return a phone call seeking comment by presstime but previously told the Reformer no trustees are not allowed to talk about the details of Houlne's termination, as it is a personnel matter and the privacy of library employees must be protected. She said, however, it was the result of a fact-based evaluation conducted over several months. Mitchell-Love said the trustees, who are legally represented by attorney Stephen Ankuda, do not have a vendetta against Houlné.
"Speaking for myself, I really like Celina," Mitchell-Love said last week. "But we had to make this decision for what is best for the library and that is the way we approached this."
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.