The C.H. Booth Library operates under an “interesting duality,” said Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra in an e-mail to The Bee, last month. “It is housed in a municipal building, its employees are in our pension plan, we subsidize (in part) the library program with taxpayer money, and more — all indicators consistent with ‘public.’ However,” explained Mrs Llodra, “we do not supervise their employees, they are not part of our unions, the Library Board is responsible for maintaining the building, and the majority of the board are not appointed by the Selectmen.”
Who is running the local library and how decisions are reached are questions that have surfaced in recent weeks. Concerns over how the most recent library director was hired — a barely three-month tenure fraught with conflict that ended abruptly on September 16, when Shawn Fields resigned — have been aired publicly. Events have raised questions as to what goes on behind the scenes, although all regular and special meetings of the Board of Trustees of the C.H. Booth Library have always been open to the public.
The Board of Trustees of the Cyrenius H. Booth Library was incorporated by the State of Connecticut Senate in February of 1931. Consisting of Newtown residents Lily E. Bentley, Anna M. Betts, Thomas F. Brew, Alice H. Carroll, Robert J. Clark, Ina E. Driscoll, Sarah R. Hampton, Evelyn M. Hart, Thomas M. Holian, William A Honan, Herbert C. Hubbell, Jennie L. Marshall, Josephine L. McCarthy, Sanford Mead, Esther T. Mills, Charles G. Morris, Arthur T. Nettleton, Abie L. Peck, Edmund C. Platt, Walter A. Reynolds, Rodney P Shepard, Louise M. Tiemann, Ruth S. Wheeler, and Frank Wright, they were charged to “purchase, receive, hold and convey all kinds of property requisite or convenient for the purpose of a public library,” carried out as contained in the will of Newtown resident Mary E. Hawley.
That sum of money, $250,000, was placed in trust as a permanent fund with Travelers Bank and Trust Company in Hartford at the time. (Currently, that money is in trust at the US Trust Bank of America Corporation.) The annual net income from that money would be dispersed to the Town of Newtown for maintenance, support, and upkeep of the library, “Including the purchase of books and supplies therefore, and for the care and upkeep of the Library Building and the grounds appurtenant thereto and such other expenses…”
“In addition to the Hawley trust,” said current board treasurer William McCarthy, “the library has a beneficial interest in the Knotts Trust. Per our audited financial statements for the year ended June 30, 2013, distributions from both perpetual trusts totaled $64,449.”
Total expenses, excluding salaries, for that time period were $394,131, with 73 percent of the total revenues attributed to the town grant, Mr McCarthy said.
Separate Library Funds
Since incorporation, the town treasurer has been responsible for maintaining the separate library funds, including additional gifts or donations. It continues to be the duty of the Board of Trustees of the library to distribute the funds as needed to run the library, “and also for the further purpose of making, from time to time, such extensions, additions or alterations in or to said The Cyrenius H. Booth Library.”
The board was made responsible for the running of the public library, but the purchase of a site and the actual construction of the Cyrenius H. Booth Library, completed in 1932, was left to the town, and paid for by another $200,000 bequest of Mary E. Hawley, who is often referred to as the benefactress of Newtown. (Ms Hawley funded the Edmond Town Hall, Hawley School, Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, and the family mausoleum at the Newtown Village Cemetery, in addition to the library.)
Originally designated to be made up of a diverse selection of 24 residents, according to the bylaws of the library, most recently updated in 2007, the board has consisted of 18 members since 1982, “who shall be residents and electors of the town. They are responsible for controlling activities and property of the library, as well as the business and management of the facility. One third of the members are appointed by the Town of Newtown, those six appointees selected along party lines, three Democrats and three Republicans.”
The board had always been “nonpartisan and nonpolitical” in makeup until 1982, according to Town Historian Dan Cruson in his book The Cyrenius H. Booth Library And Earlier Reading Institutions, A History. The previous year, needing more money than was being generated by the trust fund “to cover salaries as well as for modernization and to fund the preliminaries for expansion,” the library turned to the town for support. Public opinion did not support town money going to the library without restructuring to make it “more responsive to the public and its elective bodies,” resulting in the change to reflect one-third of the board being appointed by the office of the first selectman.
Carrying out the responsibilities of the Board of Trustees in 2013 are President Martha Robilotti, Vice President John Trentacosta, Secretary Jennifer Reilly, Treasurer William McCarthy, Moira Rodgers, Michelle Rosenthal, Colleen Honan, Carolyn Faxon, Mary Kelley, Michael Talluto, Mark Principi, Tom D’Agostino, Peter Stern, Dan Cruson, with Mary Thomas and Judge William Lavery serving as Trustees Emeriti. Those appointed by the town are Democrats Mary Kelley, Bill McCarthy, and Michelle Rosenthal, and Republicans Martha Robilotti and Michael Talluto. There is currently one town-appointed vacancy.
It is a committee made up of five nonofficers that nominates for vacancies on the board, so long as the vacancy is not an appointee of the town. Town-appointed vacancies are replaced according to the Charter of the Town of Newtown. Nominations are under way for board vacancies at this time.
Trustees are appointed to three-year terms at the annual meeting in July, with two trustees appointed by the town each year. Trustees may not serve more than nine consecutive years, and may not be reappointed or reelected for two years after the expiration of a term, if they have served nine consecutive years.
Trustees Emeritus or Honorary Trustees must apply in writing each year to receive notices and minutes of meetings, may attend meetings and speak, but may not vote.
All members of the Board of Trustees of the C.H. Booth Library are volunteers, who devote hours of free time to support the library and carry out responsibilities. As charged by library bylaws, they must see that the C.H. Booth Library remains a place for “scientific, educational, and charitable” purposes for the benefit of the public.
According to information provided by Trustee Emeritus William Lavery, other responsibilities of the board include evaluation of the director’s performance annually, based on written job description and agreed upon goals; formulating a mission statement concerning the role of the library in the community and developing a long-range plan; determining the level of financial support needed to support the library; and to periodically review the operating budget.
Rifts On The Board
The board operates autonomously, said member Dan Cruson, who is beginning his second three-year term on the board. “We are not influenced by the town.”
Until recent years, he said, the board functioned cooperatively and efficiently. Problems, he said arose out of issues between board members and former longtime director Janet Woycik, and created a rift within the board. Communication between board members became problematic, and with the pending 2013 resignation of Ms Woycik, submitted nine months earlier, and the subsequent search for a new director, those problems increased.
Communication became disconnected between staff and board members, as well, said Mr Cruson, particularly during the brief tenure of Mr Fields.
“All of the board is to take part, ultimately, in the selecting of a director,” Mr Cruson said, but in the case of this spring’s hiring of Mr Fields, it was announced that the executive committee would handle it.
“I offered to be on the search committee or act as an advisor, but I never heard back,” said Mr Cruson.
At the September 24 Special Meeting of the Board of Trustees, John Trentacosta offered a synopsis of the selection process that led to Mr Fields’ hiring, and noted that all board members had been invited to interview the final three applicants for that position, but only a few did so.
“A quorum is required to hire a new director,” said Judge Lavery, who volunteered on the board for more than 20 years in total. “I had recommended that every board member be on that committee to hire [a new director last spring],” Judge Lavery said, but to the best of his knowledge, that job fell to just two or three of the board members.
Bylaws do state that the executive board shall have all the powers of the Board of Trustees to transact business of an emergency nature between board meetings, and such other powers as the board may delegate to it from time to time.
The board may fill the vacancy of library director with an acting director, but is not required to do so, according to its bylaws.
Mr Trentacosta said at the September 24 Special Meeting that he hoped by not assigning an acting director at this time to replace Mr Fields, direct interaction between the staff and the board would provide a means of “mending fences.”
Policy dictates that the board authorize the positions to be staffed “and is directly responsible for the selection of personnel to fill approved professional positions. The board delegates to the director the selection of nonprofessional personnel.”
Regardless of who or what entity is directing the C.H. Booth Library, “It’s a town library,” Judge Lavery explained, and that should not be forgotten.
The next regular board meeting of the C.H. Booth Library Board of Trustees takes place Tuesday, October 8, at 7 pm, in the Meeting Room of the library. The public is welcome to attend.