I would like to thank the Selectboard for its untold hours of community service. I have seen first-hand the many thousands of hours that board members invest in Rockingham for the betterment of the community.
That is why I am appalled that you, as a Selectboard have not afforded a fellow, duly voted municipal board the same courtesies that you would expect. I am speaking of your public treatment of the Rockingham Free Public Library Board of Trustees.
Take, for example, your complete disregard for the care and research that the library board invested before making the difficult decision to close the library during the final stages of the renovation.
You, as a board, voted unanimously on May 7 to oppose the library board and support a small group of bystanders. You voted without knowing the facts or consulting with the library board.
The library board fortunately has the responsibility for governance of the library and properly acted to temporarily close the building and move the operations to a suitable location.
The library board closed the library for multiple reasons: safety of the patrons and the staff; no availability of a bathroom during the renovation; the fact that no persons under the age of 18 were permitted in the building per VOSHA regulations; the need for hardhats; the health hazards of sheetrock dust; the lack of accessibility for the handicapped; and the fact that closing the library for a short time would keep the costs of renovation down. These are all reasons that you could have found out about if you had bothered to discuss the closing with the Library Board, but you did not.
In retrospect, the library board was absolutely correct in its decision.
During the final stage of the renovation the following events occurred: a) the library would have been completely closed for a number days for scheduled abatement work, which would have made it inaccessible to the public; b) additional lead and asbestos were found that needed even more remedial abatement work and could have resulted in significant liabilities to the town and the library and would have resulted in additional time closed to the public had the library been open; c) there was no publicly available restroom; d) the initial unrealistically optimistic time estimate sanctioned by the Selectboard for the final phase of the renovation work needed to be expanded by over two months -- closing the Library enabled this renovation work to continue unhindered and helped to shorten the amount of time needed to complete the project and thus helped to significantly reduce the cost overruns.
The Library Board was correct, and you were wrong in your public denouncement of their actions.
You owe the Library Board and each of its members a public apology.
As a result of not taking the simple, standard and transparent accounting practice of creating a separate internal account for the $2.9 million renovation bond (a budget on the order of the town's annual budget), you caused or permitted all these funds to be commingled with the library's (and the town's) operating funds budget.
Unfortunately, the library board only uncovered this mess after bypassing the library director -- who had not provided adequate financial reports even after repeated requests for this accounting information -- and requiring the trustees to go directly to the town for the information.
This means that the only way to provide an accurate accounting of the library renovation project will be to go through each receipt and transaction, line by line, and make correcting journal entries. That is generally accomplished as the result of a detailed financial audit -- usually very expensive to execute.
Your action -- or inactions -- will likely cause the library untold hours and cost to unravel the mess that you have allowed to happen and for the library board to obtain for the town and its taxpayers an accurate accounting of the actual costs for the library renovation project.
This is poor governance and poor oversight on your part.
Your recent action shows what can be considered to be an extreme lack of respect. In spite of a more than century-long tradition that hails back to the founding of the Rockingham Free Public Library, you ignored a fellow board's well thought-out recommendation to populate a vacant seat until the next election. You went against their wishes in spite of a unanimous vote by the library board and appointed one of your friends rather than the person recommended by the library board.
Once again, you did not discuss the recommendation with the library board; you simply made your decision based on your own "reasons."
In light of your lack of forethought and your track record with library decisions this year, one wonders why you weren't willing to take the recommendation of the library board -- a step that would have been in keeping with a long tradition of collaboration and working together to build a better community.
Again, thank you for the many, many hours of work that you do for the public. This does not excuse you, however, from the wrongs that you have done against a fellow board and its members. You, even more than the public, should know that things aren't always what they appear to be on first glance -- and that first glance, unfortunately, appears to be the only glance you gave the library board before condemning them.
Admit you were wrong. Apologize to the library board, and thank them for all their hard work. They, as you, deserve no less.
Joel Love writes from Rockingham.