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Library trustees 'undo' staff reorganization

By Daymond Steer
CONWAY — Trustees of Conway Public Library, on Saturday, rescinded their controversial decision to reorganize the library's staff, a move which could have cost four popular librarians their jobs. Still, two dozen picketers demonstrated outside the library calling for the ouster of the director and trustee chair.

The employees whose jobs would have been affected by the reorganization were assistant librarian Betty Parker, reference/inter-library loan librarian Kate Darlington, children's librarian/adult program coordinator Olga Morrill and the youth services librarian/program coordinator Janis Minshull. They now will be able to keep their jobs if they choose.
9-24-conway-library-protest-3 1Protesters outside the library on Monday called for the ouster of the library director and trustee chair. (JAMIE GEMMITI PHOTO)Under the reorganization, the librarians had until last Friday to reapply for the new jobs. All four submitted their resumes by the deadline. Before Saturday's emergency meeting, the four original positions were slated to disappear on Sept. 28. Those jobs were to be replaced with radically different positions, according to director Tara Thomas and trustee chair Linda Fox Phillips.
The motion to rescind the reorganization was made by trustee Ted Sares.
"It takes courage to stay the course when facing tremendous criticism," said Sares in an interview on Monday. "It takes more courage to admit you were wrong and undo the wrong."
The trustees will meet again Thursday. At that meeting the trustees will express their regrets to the staff, said Fox Phillips.
"We want to do it personally," said Fox Phillips.
The meeting starts at 3:30 p.m. in the Ham Community Room.The meeting will be open to the public.The trustees posted notice of Thursday's meeting on the library's website.
"In order to allow all staff members to attend, the library will be closed for business," says the posting. "Patrons, volunteers, and the general public are welcome to attend this public meeting. The meeting will address the library's proposed restructure and the trustees' recent decision, made in emergency session, to rescind the process of internally restructuring the library at this time."
People wishing to attend the meeting will be able to gain access through a side door as the main entrance will be locked, said Thomas.
Fox Phillips said the underlying reasons for the reorganization still exists but the trustees will be rethinking their methodology for making changes. In the future, the staff will play a large role in any restructurings. The proposed job descriptions, that were created through the now defunct reorganization plan, will be used as reference materials during future talks.
The trustees hadn't anticipated the "degree of emotional distress" that their methodology created, said Fox Phillips adding that a lawyer recommended the process they followed.
A letter to patrons posted on the library's website explained benefits of the formerly proposed plan. The letter, written by Thomas, was dated Sept. 18.
"Our professional librarian positions will play a greater leadership role and in some instances, even a supervisory role," wrote Thomas. "Librarians will be more visible and accessible to patrons. Operations at the circulation desk will be streamlined to provide better service. One-on-one and group technology instruction will be offered. There will be greater collaboration with the community, especially with the schools. And, using our recent implementation of the Family Place Program as an example, more programs that meet an identified community need will be developed and implemented."
The proposed job descriptions were also posted on the library's website.
Margaret Marschner, who served as library director for the 39 years before Thomas became director, called the trustees' process "unfair" in a written statement she provided to this newspaper for a story on Saturday. In a follow up e-mail, Marschner made it clear that she wasn't against reorganizing the library per se.
"The intent of my written statement was to criticize the process followed by the trustees in the proposed library internal restructuring," said Marschner.
Former trustee Bill Marvel and former selectman Mark Hounsell caught wind of Saturday afternoon's trustee meeting and decided to attend. The two say they had to push Fox Phillips to make the emergency meeting open to the public.
But Fox Phillips said she merely wanted to check the right-to-know law before letting the public in the meeting. Trustees meetings had been so uncontroversial in the past that the issue of public access had not come up before. She noted that library trustees are unpaid volunteers who do the best they can.
"I confirmed they were right and we moved forward," said Fox Phillips of Marvel and Hounsell.
At first, Fox Phillips thought Saturday's meeting was going to be a non-public personnel committee meeting where trustees would get an update on the restructuring process. Such committee meetings hadn't been posted in the past.
Sares urged the board to have a full trustees meeting and take action. They agreed that the best thing would be to "undo the damage," said Fox Phillips.
"We wanted to make this better," said Fox Phillips.
Marvel said Monday's protest was aimed at removing embattled library director Tara Thomas, motivating the other trustees to dump Fox Phillips as chairman or alternatively encouraging Fox Phillips to submit her resignation. He said it's unlikely Fox Phillips would leave voluntarily.
"The only way to get her out of there is the popular vote," said Marvel of Fox Phillips.
Barbara Ricker, formerly of North Conway, held a sign saying "end Taraism" to call for Thomas' resignation. Ricker felt the trustees wouldn't have launched the reorganization without Thomas. Ricker described herself as a "voracious reader" and said Morrill guided her book choices for years.
Dave Dick, of Conway, held a sign saying "my tax dollars work here." Dick said as a 27-year patron and and taxpayer, he didn't want to see the four librarians leave as they had been doing a "wonderful, professional job."
Fox Phillips said people are free to make their opinions known in a democracy.
Thomas said much the same thing.
The New Hampshire right-to-know law says the following about emergency meetings: "An emergency shall mean a situation where immediate undelayed action is deemed to be imperative by the chairman or presiding officer of the public body, who shall post a notice of the time and place of such meeting as soon as practicable, and shall employ whatever further means are reasonably available to inform the public that a meeting is to be held. The minutes of the meeting shall clearly spell out the need for the emergency meeting."
Hounsell said the trustees made no attempt to post the meeting, and that makes their actions null and void.
"They have been running as a secret society for some time," said Hounsell.
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