BELLOWS FALLS -- Months worth of anger and frustration will likely manifest itself today during the public hearing of the recently-fired director of the Rockingham Free Public Library.
Célina Houlné was terminated from her position as library director by the facility's board of trustees on Wednesday, Sept. 19, outraging some members of the public and adding fuel to a fiery rift between them and the trustees, who they feel had a hidden agenda to oust the director. Houlné's supporters had previously bumped heads with the trustees, who controversially voted to close the library starting in May so a full renovation could be completed.
The public hearing, part of a special meeting of the trustees, is scheduled to take place in the Rockingham Town Hall Lower Theatre at 7 p.m. Houlné told the Reformer she formally requested the hearing to appeal the trustees' decision to fire her. She said she looks forward to getting all information out in the open and having her voice heard, as she was not allowed to participate in the executive sessions in which the trustees discussed the personnel matter. She feels her termination was an unfair disciplinary action.
"(The public hearing) will be good. It's just the next step in the process," Houlné said, adding that she does not know what the format will be.
"I wanted to have a chance to say I would like to continue my work. I think I've done a good job for the past five years," she said. "I loved my job and Bellows Falls/Rockingham has a great library community. The library is heavily used and I was happy to work with a great group librarians who are intelligent and talented. We have one of the best staffs in the state."
Houlné said her attorney, Richard Bowen, will also be in attendance tonight.
Trustee Chairwoman Janice Mitchell-Love, Vice Chairwoman Deborah Wright and members Hope Brissette, Paige Pietrzak and Laura Senes voted to get rid of Houlné while Carolyn Frisa, Pat Fowler and Ray Massucco voted against the motion. Trustee David Buckley was unable to attend the meeting.
Mitchell-Love did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday but has previously told the Reformer any rumor that she and other trustees had an ax to grind with Houlné is untrue.
"Speaking for myself, I really like Célina," she told the Reformer the day of the termination. "But we had to make this decision for what is best for the library and that is the way we approached this."
Mitchell-Love has explained she cannot go into detail about the reasons for Houlné's firing because personnel matters are confidential for purposes of privacy.
Bowen has previously said his client's termination was the result of an evaluation -- conducted by Mitchell-Love and one other trustee -- that was presented to the rest of the board at a meeting on Thursday, Aug. 29. But Houlné told the Reformer she has not been allowed to respond to the criticism against her.
Bowen suggested the trustees might be using Houlné has a scapegoat for the saga involving Baybutt Construction Corp. Baybutt had been hired as the general contractor for the $2.9 million renovation of the library but had its contract terminated by the Rockingham Selectboard when subcontractors hired by the Keene, N.H-based company refused to continue their jobs and insisted Baybutt had not paid them for the work already done. The situation delayed the scheduled date of the library's reopening, which Municipal Manager Willis D. "Chip" Stearns II has said he expects to happen this fall.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.