2018-01-11 / Front Page

Town and library eye ways to fix differences

Document would outline protocols for sides to follow

The final touches are being made to a formal letter that would outline a chain of command between the town councilors and the library board of trustees regarding the library’s operation.

The trustees, unlike a traditional municipal department, have a wider breadth of autonomy through state law. According to a section approved by both sides, the trustees “are the legal guardians and custodians of the library,” which is language that mimics the Rhode Island statute.

The extent of that sovereignty, however, has been a source of legal contention between the boards, including executive sessions in May and November.

While those meetings were behind closed doors, the subcommittee that met Monday was open to the public. That board includes Town Administrator Andy Nota, library director Donna Fogarty and their respective legal representatives, Peter Ruggiero and Rusty Sallee. The town also is represented by Councilors Mary Meagher and Gene Mihaly while trustees Christian Infantolino and Mary Lou Sanborn represent the library’s interests. The two lawyers and Fogarty did not attend Monday’s meeting.

“We’re more than just a department of the town,” Infantolino said during a brief overview to open the session. “Because of these nuances, both parties felt it was appropriate to outline the procedures and policies. This will create a better, stronger, growing relationship moving forward.”

The two-page letter was tweaked minimally. The only pending amendment of consequence is whether to add the word “proposed” to describe the library’s annual budget. According to state law, all appropriations from the town and state are “subject to the exclusive control of the trustees.” While Town Administrator Andy Nota agreed the trustees have carte blanche on allocating the money, voters at the financial town meeting are responsible for setting that figure, he said.

Nota also said he has the authority to recommend a library budget for council approval that differs from the spending plan approved by the trustees.

“This is what I do on a daily basis,” Nota said about vetting negligible costs like electricity hikes. “It’s not the job of the volunteer library board.”

Nota said the charter requires him to submit both the department’s request and his recommendation for council consideration.

Sanborn, chairwoman of the library board, said the trustees must approve any council changes to their budget before it is presented to voters at the financial town meeting, similar to the school committee.

Nota, however, said the proposal can be treated like any department’s spending plan, which are subject to council changes and approval. Only after the spending plan is approved by voters do the trustees have exclusive control, he said.

The two sides agreed to consult their legal teams to clarify this issue before presenting the final draft to their respective boards.

“In practice, it’s probably not a problem,” Mihaly said, “but in theory, we should probably know where the buck stops.”

While the first page essentially outlines the library board’s authority per state law, the second page sets procedures for the two sides to communicate with each other. For example, when the town’s administration has concerns regarding a staff member of the library, Nota “should address the issue directly with the library director and share such communications with the library board of trustees.”

To demonstrate the need for the memorandum, the subcommittee referred to an incident last weekend in which the library ran out of oil. Instead of contacting Town Engineer Mike Gray, the library called a member of the public works department directly on his private cell phone. That would be prohibited with this memorandum because it states, “To facilitate the maintenance or operation of the library, the library director should communicate with the department head of the relevant department, with a simultaneous communication with the town administrator and chair of the library board of trustees.”

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