The Warren Select Board has blatantly disregarded the Warren Public Library’s autonomous authority, argued Dave Ellison, a 15-year library trustee, at a Warren Select Board meeting on June 2.
“It is important to recognize that both boards, the select board and the library board, are comprised of officials elected by town voters and are separate authorities in their area of responsibilities,” said Ellison.
Ellison cited several instances in which the select board disregarded the separation of power between the select board and the library. First, he argued that over the past years, the select board has assumed the right to review and modify the library budget prior to the presentation of the budget at Town Meeting, when it should be the library’s duty to decide on and modify the library budget. Second, Ellison argued that in 2019 the select board unilaterally decided to remove a merit increase approved by the library board for a librarian, without seeking agreement from the library board. Finally, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the select board decided to defund hourly library employees without input from the library board. While the library trustees agreed to defund a part-time circulation desk employee in this circumstance, the decision should have been made by library trustees, not the select board, argued Ellison.
Regarding the budget, select board members were shocked to hear complaints from the library trustees. “We’ve never had a dispute about the library budget,” said select board member Bob Ackland. To this Ellison replied, while the library usually agrees with the recommendation of the town, the town needs to make more of an effort to engage with the library and actively seek the approval of the trustees in regard to the library budget.
Regarding employee layoffs during COVID-19, Ackland said the board was merely trying to put all town employees on equal footing. “When we made the COVID cutback, we applied it to all town employees. That’s how the decision got made,” said Ackland. “I find it challenging for us as a little town to have an entity over on the other side that has a different set of rules. It can be worked out, but there has to be an effort on both parts,” said Ackland.
As for cutting off a librarian’s merit increase, Ackland acknowledged that that happened.
“It’s not that we want to be different,” argued Ellison. “But decisions need to involve the library board and the library has to agree.” Ellison explained that in the recent situation in which Governor Phil Scott only allowed essential employees to work in the public sphere, the select board should have come to the library trustees and said, “Look, this is what we’re doing for the town. We’d like to see you also do this,” instead of merely calling the shots on who’s fired.
At the Warren Select Board’s next meeting, they will appoint a member of the board to be in charge of communication with the Warren Public Library.