Selectman Questions Full-Time Library Director Post

SANDOWN – On Monday, May 8, the Sandown Public Library Trustees quickly put an end to the board of selectmen’s plans to enter into a non-public session to discuss hiring a new library director.
As reported by the Tri-Town Times, current director Barbara Lachance has announced her plans to retire this year and the trustees have put out a call for applicants.

The board called the meeting to discuss whether the trustees could downgrade the hours of a new library director from full time to part time. Only selectman Brenda Copp spoke in favor of the idea, while the rest of the board said they were fine with the current arrangement or did not offer comment.

While trustee Tina Owens said they would take suggestions from the selectmen, it was clear from arguments that trustees made that not only did the position require a full-time employee, but libraries were not falling to the wayside, as Copp stated in her argument.

Trustee Louise Pajak said that upon hearing of the selectmen’s request for the non-public session, she contacted a legal expert at the New Hampshire Local Government Center (LGC) to gauge the appropriateness of that idea.

The selectmen’s plan was an inappropriate request, said Pajak of her conversation with LGC. The trustees agreed and said they would not be entering into any such session. Selectman Hans Nicolaisen said that while he thinks it was not in the purview of the selectmen to dictate to the library, he thought the matter was at least worth bringing forward.

The way New Hampshire’s laws are written, the library’s operation is solely in the hands of the library trustees. It’s a unique relationship, as the rest of the town departments look to the board of selectmen as their boss. Libraries are a separate organization, and while the selectmen control the bottom line of the library budget, the rest is up to the trustees.

“It would be similar to the trustees inviting the selectmen to a non-public meeting to discuss the hiring of the police chief,” said Pajak. “We’re more than willing to discuss it in the open, but we’ve been advised against entering into non-public.” After Pajak explained the situation, Copp argued that the selectmen control the bottom line of the library budget and thus can have a say in the position.

“Do you really think it’s needed?” asked Copp. Owens said that in 2005 the voters overwhelmingly decided to make the position full time and that it didn’t make sense to go backward now. There were 41,000 visits to the library last year, the building is open 52 hours a week and the director oversees 10 employees, explained Owens.

“That’s not what I asked,” said Copp. “I am of the opinion that between computers and e-readers and everything, that libraries are fast going by the wayside. So that’s why I asked you. My opinion, I said.” Owens offered to read the position’s job description to make sure everyone was on the same page when thinking about its requirements.

Selectman chair Tom Tombarello said he had no problem with the current set-up. Selectmen Jim Devine and Terry Treanor also indicated they had no comment. Nicolaisen said, “I’m glad you came in because, you know, it was discussed and I said, ‘You can’t do this (dictate to the trustees). You know it’s like Lynne (Blaisdell, town administrator) tells us: Go to the source, ask the people you’re dealing with.”

Nicolaisen added that those interested in the position should get a job description and learn about what the position entails because it’s likely there is a lot more to it than they realize. Library Trustee Pete Stock added that there was a lot of data to back up the idea that libraries were not going by the wayside, but were just changing to accommodate the modern world.

Owens added that for every $1 in taxes spent on the library there was a $3.72 return on investment and parents looked to the institution as integral in raising their children. At the end of the ultimately amicable discussion, Owens asked whether Copp would like a library card, but Copp said she did not need one and that Lachance had tried to get her to sign up for one.

Tombarello has joked previously that Lachance was able to convince him to get one.
The interview process for the position ends May 15. There are already 15 applicants. To read the job description or to find out more about the library, visit www.sandownlibrary.us.
In other business Monday night:

• After hearing from recreation director Deb Brown about complications she runs into when paying for unexpected items, the board authorized a credit card to be given to the department. The recreation department will be part of a $1,000 limit card that other departments also utilize. The matter was raised by Devine, who said Monday that Sandown, being a $3 million business, shouldn’t be in the position of asking its recreation director to pay for needed items out of her own pocket and then have to request reimbursement.

The board unanimously agreed.
• Brown announced that the Roy Miller Recreation Area skateboard park is open again. The area was shut last year so that repairs on the equipment could be made. Brown explained that the items were to the point that should they break or be damaged, they wouldn’t be repaired again.
“So hopefully it’s taken care of,” said Brown.

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