Meredith selectmen & library trustees remain at odds

MEREDITH — After meeting in a workshop session yesterday, the Board of Selectmen and Board of Trustees of the Meredith Public Library appear no closer to agreement on a "Memorandum of Understanding" that would 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. In 2012, the trustees created a new position, filled it with an existing employee and reclassified 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 "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 re-classifications."

Earlier this summer the selectmen presented the trustees with a draft, which provided that "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." The other major component of the draft recognized that the library is a town building and provide for the town to administer and manage its day to day "maintenance and operation."

The trustees prepared a draft of their own that was circulated to the selectmen. "This redraft smell like a lawyer," Selectman Lou Kahn remarked yesterday. "I don't like lawyers, because I was one."

Colleen Nolan, vice-chair of the Board of Trustees, told the selectmen that the trustees intended to prepared a personnel policy for library employees. Erin Apostolos, director of the library, assured the selectmen that the policy would be consistent with the town's policy "for the most part," but indicated that the outstanding issue remains "who has the final say."

Selectmen Peter Brothers said that while he was eager to see the library's personnel policy, he was also somewhat concerned. He noted that the relationship between the town and library may expose the town to liabilities arising from personnel practices and issues, particularly as the treatment of employees must conform to both state and federal laws. Kahn added that while state law purports to define the relationship between the town and the library, a federal court may apply a different standard.

Town Manger Phil Warren pointed out that a federal court recently ruled that both McDonald's Corporation and its franchisees are jointly responsible for the employees at privately owned franchises. "That is my concern," he said, suggesting that the town could find itself liable in a situation of the library's making.

Both Kahn and Brothers were surprised to find the trustees reluctant to yield responsibility for maintenance to the town. "If you want to go looking for a plumber," Kahn said, "that's up to you, but we thought taking over the maintenance would be an improvement." Brothers said that responsibilities are not clearly defined and delineated and that the memorandum was intended to "eliminate the guesswork."

Paul Eldridge of the Board of Trustees reminded the selectmen that "you run a municipal corporation and we run an educational institution. They can't be run the same."