BELLOWS FALLS - Hostilities that divided the Rockingham Free Public Library Board of Trustees during its termination of former Library Director Celina Houlne continue to manifest themselves as the trustees lock horns over the proper way to replace Houlne.
Trustee Chairwoman Janice Mitchell-Love said at Tuesday's board meeting there appears to be "an excellent pool of candidates" vying for the job. She said today is the deadline for applications and all applicants, as of Tuesday night, fit all the desired requirements.
"So far every single applicant has a post-graduate degree. Almost all of them have an MLS (master's of library science) degree, several of them have multiple post-graduate degrees," she said, adding that most also have experience in leadership roles.
Controversy arose, however, over the process for selecting which candidates would be considered for the position. Tuesday's meeting consisted of trustees raising their voices, trying to talk over one another and interrupting their colleagues. Mitchell-Love restored order and mediated discussion each time tensions rose.
The board passed, by a 6-1 vote, a motion to have its personnel committee appoint people to the search committee that will interview viable candidates and eventually make a recommendation to the rest of the trustees. The personnel committee is expected to have a list of possible search committee appointments ready at the trustees' meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 21. Trustee Elayne Clift was the only trustee to vote against the motion; Ray Massucco was not present.
The personnel committee is made up of Mitchell-Love, Hope Brissette and Laura Senes -- all of whom controversially voted in September 2013 to fire Houlne. Trustee Pat Fowler acknowledged the division on the board and said she doesn't think it is appropriate for appointments to the search committee to be made up of only trustees who voted for Houlne's termination, which Mitchell-Love, Brissette and Senes did.
"They would pick those they feel like picking," she said.
Mitchell-Love said the personnel committee is made up of trustees "as close to the middle as possible" and Brissette said she would happily consider recommendations made by trustees not on the committee.
Clift also read a letter to express her concerns about certain trustees' prior actions, decisions and behavior.
"Specific to the Dec. 17 meeting, it seems to me the board was railroaded by the chair with respect to the process for selecting and hiring a new library director. Given the seriousness of this decision, the rushed timeline seems inappropriate," she wrote. "There is no valid reason to act like we're on a runaway train; indeed, as one member of the public pointed out, with a new board being constituted in less than two months, shouldn't that board act on this vital issue - if indeed it becomes necessary?"
Clift also said Houlne has initiated a lawsuit for wrongful termination and reinstatement and she asked how the trustees could, in good conscience, move forward with recruiting and hiring someone new, when there is a possibility the position won't be available in a few months. Houlne told the Reformer her attorney will file the lawsuit today.
Clift said she fears the organization of a search committee is "in reality a scheme, in the name of ‘transparency,' to stack the deck in favor of the chair's handpicked participants "
Several trustees took offense to some of Clift's comments. Vice Chairwoman Deborah Wright accused her of trying to stall the process and said Town Attorney Stephen Ankuda has stated any lawsuit from Houlne could result only in monetary damages, not reinstatement.
In other business: In her building committee report, Brissette mentioned the library's neighbors are having issues with the facility's heat exchanger and lights. She said they are feeling very exposed and there is a lot of noise associated with the library.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com; or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow Domenic on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.