Rockingham Free Public Library (Reformer file photo)
Rockingham Free Public Library (Reformer file photo)

BELLOWS FALLS -- The search committee tasked by the Rockingham Free Public Library trustees with whittling down the list of candidates to replace terminated Library Director Célina Houlné passed a series of housekeeping measures at its meeting Friday.

Bellows Falls Middle School Principal Heidi Lucas-Moccia was the only member not present when the committee voted unanimously in the basement of Faith Christian Church to name Library Trustee Chairwoman Janice Mitchell-Love as committee chairwoman and Youth Services Librarian Sam Maskell as committee secretary, as well as to amend its résumé review process. Committee members will now be allowed to take home with them, instead of reviewing only at committee meetings, the profiles of the 19 viable candidates who have applied for the library director job and to have all redacted information available to them upon request at the next meeting, which is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

Committee member David Gould, a retired pastor living in Bellows Falls, got the motions started by raising some concerns over how the committee has operated. He said it irritates him that he had to review résumés in a short period of time at meeting and could not take them home to study them more thoroughly. He said committee members had to write comments on the applications and hand them back to Mitchell-Love, who he recalled said she would not read them. Gould said that made him feel like he was being asked to be trustful while not being trusted.

There was also much debate at Friday's meeting over whether committee members should be allowed to know the name, address and contact information of each candidate. Gould and other members said they can be responsible adults and not reveal any privileged information to anyone. Mitchell-Love objected to the idea but the motion to have the redacted information made available was passed unanimously after Amy Howlett of the Vermont Department of Libraries urged Mitchell-Love to adhere to the wishes of the committee members.

The committee also voted to have members rotate the responsibilities of a moderator (and will now have a different one at each meeting) and to hold future meetings in the Rockingham Free Public Library's third-floor meeting room.

Citing a lawsuit Houlné has filed to challenge her termination, which occurred in September, Gould also suggested officially changing the committee's mission from reviewing candidates for a new library director to reviewing candidates for an interim library director.

"Even if we don't change the name, we have to understand that as we progress we have this 800-ton elephant in the room with us and it's not going to go away. It's here," he said. Mitchell-Love told him changing the name or mission of the search committee would probably have to be done by the library trustees, a notion Gould accepted.

During the public-comment portion of the meeting, Arnold Clift -- the husband of Library Trustee Elayne Clift -- read a statement to the committee to express his discontent over its management.

"First, my main concern is that the process and procedures of the search committee have been shrouded in mystery. The first meeting of this committee last Tuesday (Jan. 28) was in violation of Vermont Open Meeting Law because the public was not permitted to attend and comment. This could easily have been avoided had the chair consulted beforehand with the Secretary of State's Office, as I did yesterday," he said. "And this kind of secrecy, lack of transparency and exclusion of the public has been a hallmark of this board of trustees for many past months."

Clift also said there are four vacant board of trustee slots that will be filled at the town election on March 4 and no candidate for the library director position should be appointed until a new board has an opportunity to interview the final candidate in person.

Steve Geller, husband of Houlné, agreed with Clift and said interpretation of the state's Open Meeting Law should already be cleared up following a letter the Vermont Attorney General's Office sent stating Mitchell-Love violated the law, though perhaps unintentionally, numerous times at meetings in 2013.

According to Assistant Attorney General William B. Reynolds, Elayne Clift alleged that Mitchell-Love instructed various board committee meetings to be held without warning the public or the full board and told the personnel board to limit attendance to a maximum of four trustees in order to remain below the board's quorum of five. Clift also claimed the trustees improperly passed a motion to close the library at a special meeting on Wednesday, May 1.

Reynolds told Mitchell-Love there were numerous instances where she indicated committee meetings are not open to the public and should not be warned. He quoted an e-mail from Mitchell-Love to Houlné and Trustee Vice Chairwoman Deborah Wright as stating, "Personnel Committee meetings are not public meetings -- ever -- so they should not be posted. ... At no time can five or more trustees -- which is a quorum -- attend a committee meeting without it being warned as a trustees meeting. If five or more trustees show up for a meeting, they have to either leave or the committee meeting must be postponed and/or canceled because it is an illegal meeting."

Reynolds said Vermont's Open Meeting Law states "[a]ll meetings of a public body are declared to be open to the public at all times."

Geller said Mitchell-Love should take heed to the advise of the "chief legal expert in the state." He said there has been a "deliberate and malicious intent to interfere with the public's right to participate." He also asked why the meeting would ever be held in the basement of church outside the main section of the village.

Cathy Bergmann, an alternate of the search committee, responded to the comments made by Clift and Geller and said this is the eighth selection committee she has been involved with in her adult life and none of them were ever open to the public. She also said there is no obligation to follow Robert's Rules of Order. But Howlett told Bergmann there is such an obligation because this committee is an entity of a municipal board.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.