Leadership of RFPL trustees acted inappropriately, must resign

BELLOWS FALLS — On Saturday, May 19, five members of the Board of Trustees of the Rockingham Free Public Library (RFPL) voted to close the library building immediately and to keep it closed until mid-July at the earliest.

Three of the nine trustees were not present for the vote because it was called at the last minute on a weekend when several could not be reached or were unable to be present. Nevertheless, the five votes cast constitute a majority of the board.

This emergency vote was needed because on May 1 the Board of Trustees voted without majority to close the library building during ongoing renovations. This vote violated state law that called for a majority vote.

During the same meeting, the trustees proposed that library services continue in other locations. To date, no such locations have been agreed upon and thus, despite the mandate of the library to serve the public, no services can be provided for an indefinite period.

It is important to note that the rationale given by the trustees for this closure is not valid.

• The Vermont State Fire Chief has approved, from a safety perspective, the use of the building by the library staff and public while renovations take place.

• The Library is not in violation of the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) as the trustees have alleged; the ADA allows that in such a circumstances (i.e., while such renovations are taking place) some requirements may be temporarily waived and that a facility cannot deny access to the majority in the interest of the few. Indeed, the staff has worked hard to put in place accommodations to ensure continued access to services by the disabled.

• Further, there are no cost savings under this plan. In fact, there will be costs incurred in moving to another facility temporarily (e.g., hiring a moving company, facility rental, insurance).

• Finally, the builders had planned to work around library operations from the onset of renovations before this vote was taken.

Clearly, the eventual relocation of library services - should it occur - will inconvenience the public, involve additional costs, and place added stress on the staff, an opinion supported by the Rockingham Selectboard when it passed a resolution calling for the library to remain open during renovation.

There was no public hearing before the trustees made their May 1 decision to close the library and the chairperson has ignored numerous requests from the public to reconsider the matter.

At open meetings of the Board of Trustees, public comment has been placed last on the agenda, after decisions were made, and public comment has often been unduly limited by the chairperson.

In short, the leadership of the Board of Trustees has acted inappropriately, to say the least.

We, the undersigned members of the community, are deeply concerned about the way in which the chair and vice chair of the Board of Trustees are micromanaging the library instead of allowing its staff to run day-to-day operations without interference. This board has made continued, unreasonable demands specifically upon the director which strongly suggest harassment.

The continuation of this intimidating management is detrimental to the excellent work carried out by the library staff, the Friends of the Library, and previous trustees. It has become, sadly and unnecessarily, a divisive force in the community.

We ask both the chair and vice chair of the library Board of Trustees to resign so that efficient management can be restored, so healing can take place, and so library restoration can proceed unhindered.

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