BELLOWS FALLS -- Five candidates vying for seats on the Rockingham Free Public Library Board of Trustees made their individual appeals to the community Monday during a public forum to give voters a chance to hear from their future trustees.
Carol Blackwood, Doreen Aldrich and current Trustees Ray Massucco and Deborah Wright are seeking three-year terms while David Gould is running unopposed for a two-year seat. The five of them took questions submitted from the audience and over the Internet. The hour-long forum, hosted by the Citizens for Participation in Rockingham and moderated by Mike Smith, was held in the Rockingham Town Hall Lower Theatre.
Massucco, Aldrich, Blackwood and Gould are running as a unified slate of candidates frustrated with the current trustee board's actions, including the controversial termination of Library Director Célina Houlné. Wright, finishing a term as trustee vice chairwoman, was one of the five trustees to vote for the firing.
Massucco, a Bellows Falls Union High School graduate, said he replaced departing Trustee Steve Fuller over the summer, bringing him back to the board he had previously served on for 12 years. He said he wanted to get involved again because he felt it was "time to take back our library, in some aspects." Blackwood, a physician who served in the U.S. Navy for 25 years, said he has been a library patron all over the world and decided to run for the board to help her adopted home while Aldrich -- the Rockingham town clerk and treasurer and a BFUHS graduate -- said she grew up in the area and has lived in Bellows Falls for 27 years.
Gould is a retired Christian minister who said told the 25 people in attendance Monday night he represents a new face for the library and is someone that can be trusted with the responsibilities of a trustee, while Wright pledged to continue fighting for the best interests of the library like she has over past few years, which she described as "rough." Wright was likely referring to Houlné's termination, the backlash from the public and the library's renovation being delayed by the default of Baybutt Construction Corp.
One of the first questions of the evening asked the candidates what they feel is the main responsibility of the trustee chair. Aldrich said the most important job is to run a smooth and efficient meeting and Gould said the chair must make sure to listen to the public and adhere to the state's Open Meeting Law. In December, the Vermont Attorney General's Office sent a letter to Chairwoman Janice Mitchell-Love, informing her of multiple instances of Open Meeting Law violations at her meetings in 2013. Assistant Attorney General William B. Reynolds, who said there is no reason to assume she did so deliberately, told Mitchell-Love she violated the law by allowing board committee meetings to be held without warning the public or the full board, by telling the personnel board to limit attendance to a maximum of four trustees in order to remain below the board's quorum of five and by improperly passing a motion to temporarily close the library at a special meeting on Wednesday, May 1. All problems were eventually rectified.
The candidates were also asked what sort of experience they have dealing with budgets exceeding $300,000. Wright said she worked five years as the manager for a $4 million- to $6 million-a-year company and was tasked with ensuring all money was spent "as frugally as possible." She is now the owner/president of Green Mountain Traffic Control. Massucco said the library's budget approached $300,000 when he previously served on the board and Aldrich regularly works with budgets as a town clerk and treasurer. Blackwood said she has never had to handle money as a physician but believes her medical training taught her to be extremely meticulous in all aspects of life.
"I know 'accounts payable' versus 'accounts receivable' and the rest I'll figure out," she said.
Gould said he worked in the personal finance industry for 16 years, though he was never involved with a budget of that magnitude.
When the candidates were asked how their presence on the board could resolve the "misdeeds" of the current board, Wright said she objected to the choice of words and said no laws were intentionally violated.
"I believe in Open Meeting Law," she said.
Massucco said there have been additional violations by the current board's leadership and he knows of "no other organization that operates in that fashion." He and Aldrich also said they recently attended seminars regarding Open Meeting Law. Aldrich even said she would be willing to record the minutes at each trustee meeting.
Gould said he fears any violations of Open Meeting Law could be the first step toward the trustees conducting secret meetings in order to carry out malicious intents.
Massucco, when asked how he would propose to reduce contention that has been seen between trustees in the recent past, said all board members must have respect for one another. He said "there have been knock-down, drag-out fights over the last year." Blackwood said all trustees must be completely honest and suggested having a copy of Robert's Rules of Order at each meeting while Gould said every newly elected board should have a half-day or full-day retreat in order to develop teamwork and build cooperation.
When asked about experience dealing with public records requests, Gould and Blackwood said they have never received one but would happily comply if they ever do. Wright and Massucco said they have always complied with public records requests (members of the press made several in regards to e-mails sent between trustees) and Aldrich said she has done the same.
During the time for closing remarks, Massucco told the crowd Rockingham has the best library in the state and it is important to make sure its trustees work hand-in-hand with the community.
"We have to get back to the business of serving the public. There's no point in having this library here if we don't adequately serve the public. The taxpayers pay for the majority of our budget. We are here to serve the citizens of Rockingham," he said. "This past board has been at odds and in contentious relations with the Selectboard. That's not right. We have to work in collaboration with them."
Blackwood thanked everyone for coming and said the forum was enjoyable. She said she is ready to "step up to the plate and contribute" to Rockingham. Aldrich said there was not much to add to her previous statements but is looking forward to serving the library and the public.
Gould said he has lived in Bellows Falls for the past 27 years and has been a longtime patron, and occasional volunteer, of the library.
"This town has been very, very good to me and my family. This is a way of me paying back to the townsfolk all that has been bestowed upon me in this community," he said. "I think I bring some special skills and attributes we can use in operating the board and operating the library overall and working with the other board members."
Wright said she imagines most people would wonder why she wants to subject herself to another term on an all-volunteer board that has received a barrage of criticism from the public, but she said it is critical to continue the tough work she has done over the past three years. She said it is important to serve the best interests of the library and the taxpayers who fund it.
Rockingham residents can vote for library trustees during the townwide election set for Tuesday, March 4. The polls will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Masonic Temple on Westminster Street. The window of opportunity to register to vote ends at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 26.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.