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Jul 18, 2017 5:24 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Free Library Appoints New Trustee, Places Term Limits On Board Members

Steve Wisnoski
Jul 19, 2017 1:02 PM

Westhampton Free Library trustees appointed a new board member last week and, for the first time, placed retroactive term limits on their positions.

Steve Wisnoski of Westhampton Beach, a retired Westhampton Beach High School social studies teacher and a former teachers’ union president, was appointed to a three-year term at the board’s most recent meeting held on July 12. Mr. Wisnoski, whose term expires in July 2020, replaces Jennifer Mendelson, who resigned in November 2016, on the seven-member board.

“I look forward to working with the other members of the board, as well as with the library management and staff to make a very substantial community service even better,” said Mr. Wisnoski in a press release issued by the Westhampton Beach library.

After appointing Mr. Wisnoski, who made two unsuccessful bids for the Westhampton Beach Board of Education in the past three years, board members altered the library’s bylaws in two ways; the first change states that all future appointments are for three-year terms only, and that each board member can serve a maximum of six years in a row. Those interested in still serving on the board after six years must take at least one year off before throwing their name into consideration, according to the resolution.

Prior to the resolution’s passage, board members served five-year terms with no limit on consecutive terms served.

The modifications, however, do not alter the way board members are selected, meaning that current trustees will continue to decide who gets to serve on the panel. The changes were adopted in response to objections raised by community members about the way library board members are vetted and selected.

“Before, there was criticism that people could serve forever,” said Westhampton Free Library Director Danielle Waskiewicz. “So, basically, [the resolution] was instituted to give opportunities to the community for different people to serve. The board heard community input and instituted years of service limits unanimously.”

On Tuesday, Westhampton Free Library Board President Thomas Moore said the changes guarantee turnover on the panel, which this year is overseeing a $2.24 million operating budget, and also explained that he does not agree with those who think board members should be elected as opposed to appointed.

“I think it was an appropriate thing to do all the way around as a matter of board governance,” Mr. Moore said, referring to the decision to place term limits on trustees. “Besides, there weren’t that many people calling for public elections. There were a couple of people wanting to appear greater in number, but there really wasn’t some outcry.”

He later added: “The board has examined people with the right motives … to make sure that the library functions right.”

As part of the changes, the six board members already serving were placed into three different groups—Class A, B and C—each of which has different expiration dates for their current terms. Class A seats expire in July 2018 and are occupied by Susan Rosenberg, the board’s treasurer, and Mary Anne Yutes, the secretary; Class B seats expire in July 2019 and are occupied by Mitchell Schecter and Robert Santucci; and Class C seats expire in July 2020 and are occupied by Mr. Moore, Vice President Barbara Matros and the newly appointed Mr. Wisnoski.

Though the resolution’s passage was unanimous, not everyone is pleased with the changes.

Sabina Trager of Westhampton Beach, a former administrative assistant at the library, said that the changes do not alter the fact that board members are still appointed instead of elected by the voting public. She also pointed out that the current board selected Mr. Wisnoski over both herself and Leon Lewandowski of Westhampton, another potential candidate, without offering any explanation in their decision-making process.

Ms. Trager’s main issue, however, continues to be that an appointed body continues to control the library’s purse strings.

“America is founded on representation with our taxation—we should be allowed to vote for [library] trustees,” Ms. Trager said. “That’s the main point. We elect school, village and fire boards. Why not our library board?”

Mr. Moore disagrees with that opinion, and on Tuesday once again reiterated the intent of last week’s resolution.

“As a matter of board governance, the Board of Trustees has now instituted term limits because no one should have to serve on the board indefinitely,” he said. “This should be a clear signal to anyone interested in serving that their service to the library is very much welcome.”

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17 of the 24 Long Island association libraries allow trustee elections. Westhampton’s board members intentionally deny taxpayers their right to vote; the trustees choose to continue the self-appointed, private club model.

These self-appointed trustees are granted private corporation power from the Library’s 1897 Charter, though multi-millions of tax dollars fund the Library’s annual operations. Women and blacks couldn’t vote in 1897.

Democracy is dead ...more
By st (128), westhampton beach on Jul 19, 17 4:53 PM
st, I understand your frustration. The Hampton Bays library is also an appointed board under an association library structure. I did some research on the process after the Hampton Bays library board put forth a 2nd referendum. I had no idea how undemocratic the process is. I am thankful to those that step up to volunteer to be on the board, but just like the school board, they are receiving and expending taxpayer funds and the boards should be voted in by the taxpayers.
By G.A.Lombardi (551), Hampton Bays on Jul 20, 17 12:10 PM
1 member liked this comment
Thank you, G.A.L., for your support. I completely agree. This self-appointed trustee model at our libraries is un-American and un-democratic. Why did 6 unelected trustees alone "examine people with the right motives"? Each taxpayer should have a voice with a vote. Each taxpayer should have the right to decide who they think has the "right motives."

Many self-appointed association library boards decided on their own that trustee elections were simply right, fair and democratic--and voted ...more
By st (128), westhampton beach on Jul 21, 17 6:56 AM
Mr Moore states "there weren't that many people calling for public elections" - put it out to vote than and see what the results would be if you are so sure of yourself. Another person on the board (Wisnoski) who couldn't get elected to other position. Look at why Moore had to resign his last appointed position- why am I not surprised Moore is this way. Thank Joan Levan you are where you are.
By realistic (468), westhampton on Jul 21, 17 8:11 AM
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