Creating a library director search committee with a clear process, building trust between the board, the community, and the staff, moving the library forward effectively, and increasing the sense of a team working together were the key topics of the special meeting of the C.H. Booth Library Board of Trustees, Tuesday, September 24.
“We all have to do it together, and with transparency,” said board Vice President John Trentacosta.
Attended by 11 board members and only three members of the public, the trustees first discussed the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot road race and the annual letter of appeal to the community, both important areas of funding for the library.
The board then moved on to the primary reason for the special meeting, that of forming a search committee following the sudden resignation on September 17 of Library Director Shawn Fields, after less than three months in that position. Waiting another month for the regular board meeting would not have been prudent, said Mr Trentacosta, adding that more frequent regular meetings might be required to ensure that the library continues to function smoothly.
Since Mr Fields’ resignation, members of the board have met with the department heads and have set up weekly meetings. At a meeting with department heads on Thursday, September 19, the board sought to find out “what do we need to be aware of,” said Mr Trentacosta. That meeting served to resolve questions of how purchasing would be handled, as well, and answer questions, he said.
“There is a chain of command that starts with the executive committee,” Mr Trentacosta said, with the board making itself available to department heads to offer guidance “for things not routine.”
“We want to be able to be there to support [the staff and department heads], and make sure they have all the tools they need to run the library,” Mr Trentacosta stressed.
The question of whether the board should consider naming an acting library director was raised by board member Mary Kelley, but not addressed until later in the evening when fellow board member Dan Cruson again raised the issue. Mr Cruson noted that a provision in the bylaws of the Board of Trustees suggests that the board may come up with an interim director if that position is vacated.
“Beryl Harrison has been functioning in that capacity very well. I strongly suggest we put her in that position,” Mr Cruson recommended, adding that by doing so, the staff would have “someone to come to.”
Both Mr Trentacosta and Ms Kelley pointed out that as current assistant director, that was already part of her job, and that it would be best to see how the weekly board/department head meetings work out. “I would hope not to need to [name an acting director of the library],” said Mr Trentacosta.
“The employees and department heads have been doing a wonderful job running the library,” he noted.
Increasing trust between the board and staff and opening lines of communication were emphasized at Tuesday evening’s meeting.
Saying that he had concerns about the lack of trust between the board and the staff, Mr Cruson reiterated that having Ms Harrison in place could alleviate that.
“The board is willing to put in time to meet with the heads of the departments,” responded Mr Trentacosta, in order to recreate trust. By putting an acting director into place, he feared that the staff no longer would see a need to go to the board. “There was a disconnect,” he admitted, “and that is something we want to mend.
“I believe in team work. There is some work to do to create better board and staff relationships,” he added. Building a sense of teamwork will create a better organization, he said, “So that when a new library director is in place, [he or she] knows there is a team.”
Mr Trentacosta also said that he feels that the Turkey Trot offers an opportunity for the board and the staff to work as a team, and that it will have a positive impact on community relations.
However, said Mr Trentacosta, it would be important in the future to control communications through the executive committee. “This is not a power trip,” he said, “It’s so we are telling a concise story.”
One of the board’s newest members, Michael Talutto requested clarification on the perceived disconnect between staff and board, regarding communication.
Staff grievances to the most recent library director had not been possible, Mr Cruson said, with Mr Trentacosta again noting the importance of mending fences.
The greatest portion of the evening was devoted to determining a search committee for a new library director. Three volunteers from within the board were sought to anchor that committee, with Mr Talutto and Michelle Rosenthal agreeing to do so. Other board members would be approached about filling the third position. The board would look for the three initial search committee volunteers to identify others to serve on that committee.
Mr Talutto brought up a conversation he had had with a member of the public. The public perception, said Mr Talutto, seems to be that only one or two people made the decision on hiring Mr Fields, with no other input, whether that is true or not.
“Perhaps we could reach out to the community, involve some in the screening process?” suggested Mr Talutto.
“We can’t have the whole community involved in this,” responded Ms Kelley.
Confidentiality [of the applicants] could be a problem, Mr Trentacosta said, “But that doesn’t mean we can’t have membership [on the search committee] outside of the board.”
Identifying the process for the search committee to follow in selecting a new library director would be important, board members agreed.
Mr Trentacosta outlined the selection process used last time, when that committee, made up of himself, Board President Martha Robilotti, and President of the Friends of the C.H. Booth Library Jim Maher worked to find a new director.
An initial posting of the job elicited no response, Mr Trentacosta said, and a subsequent, reworded posting brought in only a few resumes. Those candidates were narrowed down to the best three, at which time other board members were invited to conduct interviews.
“A few board members did take part,” Mr Trentacosta said, as did a member of the State Library Association.
He suggested that the new search committee might seek counsel on the process. At the invitation of the board, former Newtown first selectman Herb Rosenthal, who was present, suggested that the library seek counsel from the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM), a statewide association of towns to which Newtown belongs.
“CCM provides research for municipalities,” Mr Rosenthal said, as well as board training. CCM is currently working with other libraries in the state, he said, and services would be provided to the library at no cost.
Seeking input from the Library Board Association, as well as the Newtown Board of Education on the search process were other suggestions well received by the board.
At the request of Mr Talutto, board members discussed lessons learned in the last search process.
“Wording and venue for posting the job is important,” Mr Trentacosta said, and added that he would have liked to have received more resumes. In the final stages of selecting a library director, he feels that a bigger representation of the board is important. Mr Trentacosta also suggested that the final three or four applicants present a practicum, and perhaps a presentation of what he or she might do in the first six to 12 months to create more harmony.
“It is also incumbent on someone applying to learn something about [our library and town],” added Mr Cruson.
Direct soliciting of candidates for the position of library director from within the staff or otherwise may come up as the search process recommends, Mr Trentacosta said, but would depend on the process the search committee determines would be best.
“It’s important not to rush through [the process],” Mr Trentacosta cautioned the board. “We want a good process, and a transparent process in place.”
A request by Mr Cruson to discuss a former employee in executive session before adjourning for the evening was denied, and Mr Rosenthal clarified to the board that a former employee could be discussed only in open session, and only as long as it was factual.
Mr Cruson then asked that discussion on the former employee take place in open session, and was told by Ms Kelley that it was not possible. “It’s not on the agenda,” she said.
Board members Dan Cruson, Tom D’Agostino, Mark Principi, Jennifer Reilly (secretary), John Trentacosta (vice president), Michele Rosenthal, Colleen Honan, Mary Kelley, Bill McCarthy (treasurer), Carolyn Faxon, and Michael Talutto were in attendance, September 24. Board President Martha Robilotti, Peter Stern, Ted Meehan, and Moira Rodgers, as well as William Lavery and Mary Thomas, board members emeriti, were absent. The board is currently working to fill vacancies.