Clinton Library board resigns

The Clinton Community Library is in turmoil.

Faced with a $10,000 budget deficit for this year and a state investigation of recent actions that included the dismissal of the library director, the entire library board of trustees just resigned.

The trustees’ action came in an email letter sent Aug. 27 to the Mid-Hudson Library System (MHLS) and the State Education Department, both of which govern area libraries.

The letter, signed by all seven trustees, said the trustees feel they were faced with a fundraising problem for the budget “that had existed for years and was not of our making.”

It also said, “We have taken steps to avert that crisis and sadly, as a result, have been vilified and harassed by an admittedly small, but extremely vocal, minority of the community. In light of this continued harassment, personal threats, and accusations impugning our motives and honesty, even to the point of attacking us verbally in front of our children and patrons of the library, we feel that it is impossible to carry out this important task.”

A day after receiving the letter, the State Education Department replied that a library board cannot resign en masse and to do so would violate the trustees’ commitment to act in “good faith” on the part of the library.

The state’s response letter, signed by coordinator of statewide library services Carol Ann Desch, also said, “Given the dynamics of the local situation, I strongly suggest that the current library board engage in a very public process to solicit recommendations from the community for consideration for appointment to the new board.”

The state has appointed Tom Sloan, executive director of MHLS, to oversee what happens next. He told the Observer that the library’s board is now working with the state on a transition plan.

The trustees themselves refused to comment. But postings on the library’s website and Facebook page announced the cancellation of the September trustees’ meeting and noted that the trustees and MHLS “are seeking to establish a process for the appointment of a new CCL Board of trustees.”

Reaction to the resignations and the letter appeared muted as of press time.

Clinton resident and former library trustee David Goldin, who spearheaded a petition drive seeking the trustees’ resignations, told the Observer, “I don’t think the letter fairly represents the community, and we want the opportunity to respond.”

He indicated that a more lengthy statement would be issued soon.

The petition drive resulted from a series of clashes between residents and the board after the trustees spent five months in a performance review of Terry Sennett, the library director for more than seven years. Her contract expired last December, but after the review, the board declined to renew it in May.

The public outcry over that was partly responsible for a still-ongoing investigation by the state’s Board of Regents.

The board’s June 9 meeting, the first after Sennett’s contract was not renewed, drew a record crowd of 75 residents. More than two dozen spoke for an hour and a half applauding Sennett and denouncing the board’s action.

The trustees did not respond to any of the comments, but did appoint Alice Graves as the new library director.

Then, at the board’s July 14 meeting, Denise Biery, the board’s bookkeeper, walked the board through this year’s budget numbers, which culminated in a vote for a budget of $77,247, which included a $10,170 deficit to be raised through fundraising before Dec. 31.

Total income for the year was projected to be $67,076, the bulk of which, $54,884, came from the town. Unlike many local libraries, Clinton Community Library is funded through the town’s budget.

“The community has raised a number of concerns,” Sloan told the Observer at that meeting, noting that he had received many letters. Sloan, who also attended the June meeting, confirmed that the state Board of Regents has been conducting an investigation of trustee actions based on letters received from the community.

“These kinds of investigations don’t happen often…this is one where the community is particularly engaged in their library, which is a good thing. I think everyone is here for the right reasons, they all want their library to be successful. But there are certainly disagreements on how to proceed,” Sloan said.

The exchanges between residents and the board at recent meetings have been characterized by frustration on both sides, and some residents have been quite outspoken in their criticism.

At the June meeting, Jen Cavanaugh, then-chairperson of Clintonʼs Conservation Advisory Council, said, “Recognize that you, the members of the board, are not doing your job, which is in large part to represent the wishes of the patrons of the Clinton Community Library. I ask that you resign your positions immediately.”

Since that meeting, several community members circulated the petition asking that the trustees resign. In August, the petition had about 76 signatures.

At the July 14 meeting, residents and trustees continued sniping at each other. The board, after one heated exchange, then insisted that residents not speak during the meeting.

By the Aug. 11 board meeting, the trustees had still not outlined a plan for raising funds for the budget deficit.

The library, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, is part of the Clinton Town Hall complex at 1215 Centre Rd. in Rhinebeck. The library board appoints its own trustees. Three trustees have served since 2012, one since 2008, and three are serving their first terms.

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