Rockingham library board votes not to reverse decision to fire director
BELLOWS FALLS -- Celina Houlne will remain unemployed after the Rockingham Free Public Library Board of Trustees voted not to rehire the fired library director Tuesday.
Houlne was let go as director on Wednesday, Sept. 19, via a 5-3 vote by the trustees, who held a deliberative session to consider their action following an obligatory public hearing that stretched over the courses of the two previous Thursdays. Roughly 15 people showed up to the Rockingham Town Hall Lower Theatre on Tuesday to see how the board would act.
Trustee Chairwoman Janice Mitchell-Love, Vice Chairwoman Deborah Wright and members Hope Brissette, Paige Pietrzak and Laura Senes had voted last month to get rid of Houlne while Trustees Carolyn Frisa, Pat Fowler and Ray Massucco voted against the motion. Trustee David Buckley was unable to attend that meeting and has since stepped down from the board.
Elayne Clift has since been added to the board.
After the board came out of a two-hour executive session, Massucco made a motion to reverse the board's previous decision. The motion failed, as each trustee voted the same way, though Clift voted with Massucco, Fowler and Frisa, making it 5-4. Wright then made a motion to uphold the decision and the same pattern of votes were cast.
Houlne said she will be in contact with her attorney, Richard Bowen, to see what steps can be taken now.
Several members of the public stood up and voiced their displeasure with the board's action. One man said he was terribly ashamed of the trustees and told them they brought "great dishonor upon the library as a whole." Arnold Clift, husband of Elayne, told the trustee he wanted them to think about their votes and said they should look in the mirror every morning and say, "What have I done?"
Joel Love, husband of Mitchell-Love, stood in the back of the room and thanked the trustees for their service and for reaching a "logical, just and accurate conclusion."
Steve Gellar, Houlne's husband, said he was not surprised by the new vote but felt pushing public comments to the end of the meeting was symbolic of the sort of "kangaroo court" the whole process has been. He also said Love was inaccurate - the decision was that of five individuals, not the whole board.
"But the deed is done," he said. "I guess all I can say is, 'Round 2.'"
Houlne's termination has been a hot-button issue in the village and amongst some library patrons, who suspect some sort of ulterior motive behind the trustees' decision and have accused the board of abusing its power. Mitchell-Love has repeatedly said none of this is true.
During the first half of her public hearing Thursday, Oct. 10, Houlne criticized the Corrective Action Plan (CAP) plan taken against her as being "unfocused, confusing, contradictory, accusatory and seemed designed to provide the excuse to fire me instead of providing guidance to correct a perceived weakness." She also said the evaluation conducted by the trustees' personnel committee was "incredibly one-sided and fundamentally inaccurate."
Houlne also expressed her dismay over never being able to respond to it. She attempted to debunk the allegations made against her - including one that she had an improper relationship with a board member, that she secretly gave herself a pay raise and that she was insubordinate to the board.
Bowen spent much of the remainder of the public hearing getting testimony from former and current trustees. Bowen forced Wright to go down the list of aspects each trustee evaluated and Wright revealed she often graded Houlné's performance as "good" or "very good."
She said a large reason behind Houlné's termination was insubordination. She elaborated by saying Houlne often didn't reply to e-mails and rarely got information to the trustees in a timely fashion.
Massucco told Bowen certain trustees seemed "hell-bent" on getting rid of Houlne at any cost.
The library is slated to reopen to the public, following lengthy renovations, on Friday, Nov. 1.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer
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