Selectmen seek accomodation with library trustees

MEREDITH — After several years of wrangling with the Board of Trustees of the Public Library, the Board of Selectmen yesterday agreed to present the trustees with a memorandum of understanding designed to clarify the relationship and delineate the responsibilities of the town and the library.

Tension between the selectmen and trustees has arisen against the background of a state statute that vests library trustees with a measure of autonomy, particularly over compensating employees. Among the powers and duties specified by RSA 202-A:11, the trustees shall "appoint a librarian . . . and, in consultation with the librarian, all other employees of the library and determine their compensation and other terms of employment unless, in the cities, other provision is made in the city charter or ordinances."

In 2012, the trustees reclassified an existing position and jumped it by three pay grades, raising the hourly wage of the incumbent by 19 percent. Town Manager Phil Warren acknowledged the statutory authority of the trustees, but reminded them that the town's personnel policy authorizes the selectmen to amend the "salary plan" on the recommendation of the town manager. He also that in approaching the budget, the selectmen had agreed "no new positions and no reclassifications."

Although the Selectboard ultimately acquiesced, Selectman Peter Brothers told the trustees that "there are times when it is very convenient for the library to be part of the town and there are other times when it is not" and cautioned them to "carefully consider decisions at at odds with the town's policies."

The issue is addressed by the memorandum of understanding, which provides "in order for the town to be able to defend and uphold various legal, personnel and liability matters, it is necessary that all employees and departments, including the Library, follow all town ordinances, policies (including the Personnel Policy) and Administrative Regulations."

Yesterday Brothers emphasized the importance the personnel issue, noting that all employees of both the town and library must be treated consistently. He suggested a arranging a meeting with the trustees "to hammer out our major differences."

The other major component of the memorandum of understanding would recognize that the library is a town building and provide for the town to administer and manage its day to day "maintenance and operation." Currently the trustees employ what Warren described as "a very part-time person" who does some maintenance and light cleaning but also draw on town resources and secure independent vendors for more demanding tasks.

Warren said that cost, likely including the conversion of a part-time employee to full-time with benefits, would be incorporated into the town budget. Brothers stressed the importance of identifying and calculating the costs, but said "this is a positive adjustment."

From the audience, Karen Sticht said that the trustees have been unwilling to disclose the balances and terms of their various endowments, appearing to suggest that they could operate the library with less cost to the town. She asked the selectmen if they had considered giving the trustees the library building and saying "here's some money, now go work on some grants."

Brothers explained that the trustees were bound by the terms of their endowments to spend only the income from investments, not the principal. He also said that the trustees have been urged to seek alternative sources of revenue, especially grants.

Dismissing the suggestion that the library could be left to its own devices, Selectman Lou Kahn explained "the town can tax. The library can't. We're bound to them and they're bound to us."