BELLOWS FALLS -- The attorney representing Célina Houlné, the Rockingham Free Public Library director fired by its board of trustees in September, said April 30 has been selected as the date for mediation between his client and the board.
Attorney Richard Bowen said Monday he has made a slight revision to a stipulation to postpone a preliminary injunction meeting originally scheduled for March 31 because there appears to be no intention by the trustees to hire a new library director between that date and the day slated for mediation. He said both parties have agreed on mediator Michael Marks of Middlebury and he will file his stipulation with Windham Superior Court in Newfane. Mediation is defined is an intervention by a neutral third party to reach a peaceful settlement.
Houlné was terminated as library director following a controversial 5-3 vote by the trustees on Sept. 18. Former Trustee Chairwoman Janice Mitchell-Love joined Vice Chairwoman Deborah Wright and Trustees Hope Brissette, Paige Pietrzak and Laura Senes in voting to fire Houlné, while Trustees Ray Massucco, Pat Fowler and Carolyn Frisa voted against the motion. Elayne Clift eventually joined the board and was a vocal Houlné supporter, voting to reverse the decision to terminate following an obligatory public hearing, after which all other trustees voted the same way -- resulting in a 5-4 vote to uphold the termination.
Houlné's dismissal sparked outrage throughout Rockingham and prompted the formation of a unified slate of candidates determined to take control of the board. Massucco, Town Clerk Doreen Aldrich, Dr. Carol Blackwood and retired Christian minister David Gould ran against Wright, who was up for re-election, and took the four trustee seats they campaigned for. Senes did not vie for re-election and now Mitchell-Love, Brissette and Pietrzak are the only remaining trustees to have voted for Houlné's firing. Gould was named the new chairman and Frisa took over as vice chairwoman.
When asked if he is now more optimistic with the new board, Bowen responded, "I think that the town library is going in the right direction and whatever they do, they're in a much better position to run this library and to run it well."
In January, Houlné filed the lawsuit with Windham Superior Court to contest her termination. Houlné and Bowen maintain that the trustees violated Vermont's Open Meeting Law, various bylaws and their own procedures manual during what Bowen was called a relentless crusade to sack Houlné. Bowen said he is interested in winning monetary damages and possible reinstatement of his client.
The trustees are being represented by Connie Pell, an attorney with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, the board's insurance provider. Bowen said he spoke with Pell following a trustees meeting last week. He said this case will be handled slightly differently, because mediation will be held "right up front."
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.