A search committee was formed last week to help find a new director for the Chappaqua Public Library, but not before a dispute erupted over whether the entire library board should have participated in its selection.
Board President Pam Wright announced during last Tuesday’s live-streamed Board of Trustees meeting that she was naming a seven-member group to bring candidates before the full board. In June, Pamela Thornton announced that she was retiring from the director’s post on Aug. 4 after 13 years on the job.
The seven members of the search committee are Erica Gottesman, a past president of the Library Board, who will chair the group; Chappaqua Superintendent of Schools Dr. Christine Ackerman; Angela Bronner Helm, from the New Castle Council on Race & Equity; Marge Perlin, the head of circulation at the library; current Library Board Trustee Lane Shea; Katherine Whymark, president of the Friends of the Chappaqua Library; and local resident Andrew Rothlein.
While the civil service list will be used to identify candidates, there are instances when the top candidates may not necessarily be selected from that list. The board will be offering a salary range of $115,000 to $135,000 for the next director and hopes to have Thornton’s permanent successor in place within three months.
Meanwhile, the board hopes to name an interim director as soon as possible, Wright said.
Last week’s bickering started when Wright pointed to the board’s bylaws which gives its president the authority to appoint committee members. However, two trustees, Liz Hamyson and Ronni Diamondstein, charged that Wright should have consulted all of the trustees and usurped the process by naming the committee.
“You may be the president and you have certain responsibilities and I totally respect that, but we all are equal members of this board,” Diamondstein said. “We all have something to bring to this board and we all can enrich the process and you left us out.”
Hamyson added that she wasn’t questioning Wright’s capabilities, only that she should have included all trustees in the selection.
“I do want to go on the record and say that process-wise if I was sitting in your shoes, the first thing I would have done is engage my full board in the conversation to get to that committee,” she said.
Wright responded that the committee, which is comprised of highly capable people, will help the board make its selection. She said that the entire board will be involved once the committee makes its recommendations.
“Appointing a search committee doesn’t negate anything you have said,” Wright mentioned. “I agree with that, too. We’re using a search committee as our eyes and ears of the community. They’re going to do the legwork. They’re not going to keep us out.”
When Diamondstein reminded Wright that all the members are duly elected and have equal fiduciary responsibilities there were fireworks.
“We are all equal members but I can tell you there are a lot of people who won’t work with you,” Wright said to Diamondstein. “My duty is the library and to the taxpayers and to the community, and I have to what I did because it was very uncomfortable because of situations that you have created and I’m sorry that we have to discuss this but that’s the truth. There are people who refuse to work with you and who refuse the have you involved in selecting the new director.”
Calling the comments “totally shocking,” Diamondstein, who has served since 2017, said whomever Wright was referring to wasn’t a board member.
“Since I’ve been on this board all I’ve done is work to reflect the duties and the due diligence of financial oversight of the director and the finances of this library,” Diamondstein shot back. “That’s really an outrageous thing for you to say because I am a member of this board. I’m stunned by this, I’m absolutely stunned that you would make such a statement.”
The spat follows the June meeting when Thornton said in her retirement correspondence that she was leaving the Chappaqua Library two years earlier than planned. She said that during the past three years “the dynamics of the board have changed and it has become increasingly difficult to comply with the wishes of specific board members which hamper or deter the work of the library.”
Last month when asked by The Examiner to elaborate, Thornton declined to comment further.
Library to Reopen
The Chappaqua Public Library will reopen its doors to the public on Tuesday, Aug. 4 for limited hours and capacity. Thornton said the facility will be open three days a week for four hours each day. Each patron will have up to 30 minutes each visit.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 2 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays. Curbside pickup will continue for patrons.
Currently, there are 18 libraries in Westchester that have some form of in-person service. This week, the White Plains Public Library is slated to open.