I can only imagine what the final straw was that caused Great Neck Library Director Jane Marino to decline to renew her contract when it expires, Dec .31. But judging how she has been treated at public meetings by certain members of the public, in letters in the newspaper, and in an online campaign, it is not hard to understand and respect her decision.
Ms. Marino is leaving at a critical juncture in the Library’s history - essentially starting from scratch on a plan for the Main Building.
This is the fourth director the Great Neck Library has lost in the past 15 years, by my count. Each one has been a superb professional. And each was drummed out by a particular faction that has functioned like a shadow government, manipulating and unrelenting until it gets its way.
This claque is the reason that the Main Building deteriorates, requiring wasteful emergency repair expenses, and the Great Neck community does not have and will not have a 21st century library - as does Manhasset, Port Washington, Shelter Rock, Elmont, and every other community on Long Island. Our main library, the only building the community actually owns, is an aging relic.
Jane Marino has been a consummate professional, exhibiting wisdom, skill, and a patience that goes beyond the call of duty. She was perfect for Great Neck, having come from a similar community (but with significant differences in the level of hostility individuals are willing to hurl) where she oversaw a major rebuilding project.
In addition to presiding over a new Station Branch (in record time!), she saw our library through the complicated process from planning through to referendum for a Main Building project that would have given us a 21st century library for $30 more in tax rate than the most basic project. But thanks to the superior messaging by the opposition, that plan was shot down in the referendum.
Then, an incredibly weak board immediately raised a white flag of surrender, and the same night that the referendum voting result was announced, acceded to the demand that all previous plans be scrapped - absolutely forbidden to draw upon what had already been drawn up. What is more, they basically swore an oath that we would not see an inch more of square footage. In fact, what this crowd really wants is moving the furniture from one move to another, moving departments out of the building and a new paint job.
Library President Varda Solomon who is decent and smart and who only wants the best for the library community, thought she was being politically astute in bringing the most vociferous opponents to the new Building Advisory Committee, believing that would neuter future political opposition if the opponents, themselves, were calling the shots.
Similarly, Solomon has opened the search committee for a new director to members of the public. How will they be chosen? I asked. Well, there will be an announcement in the January newsletter.
Meanwhile, though the board has known of Marino’s intention to leave since October, the board has taken no action to even authorize funding or put a want ads in professional publications.
Why wouldn’t the Library Board authorize placing an ad to begin getting resumes for a new director? “These are very good questions,” Solomon said.
Later she explained that the reason the Board did not place ads in October, as soon as they were notified by Marino that she would not seek to renew her contract, because she wanted the Selection committee to write their own job description.
This is well and good, but time is fleeting. You could easily imagine that it will take this search committee one or two meetings before they even come up with a job description, then have to get authorization for a budget from the board. By Solomon’s own timetable, it is likely that the library would receive its first resumes by March. It took six months before Marino was hired.
But I would submit that this time will be harder - despite the weak job market, how rare library director jobs are, and what a plum it would be for a director’s career to manage a library system like Great Neck’s.
To take this job in Great Neck, Marino had to suffer an arduous daily commute from Westchester - spending $450 a month just in bridge tolls. Just two weeks on the job, the first internet attack was posted.
“Is this the community I’m working for?” she asked. It only got worse - I recall a public meeting where she was brought nearly to tears. And it is not just the director who is so viciously attacked on a routine basis, but the board and president who are routinely and viciously attacked - most recently, for a decision to reschedule the library election (uncontested, mind you), after Hurricane Sandy.
The attacks are unrelenting, completely unfair and without basis or merit.
So, I am quite sure that Great Neck has gotten a reputation as a place where good directors go to be destroyed and demeaned and see all their dreams of creating something of historic proportions, a legacy of knowledge and community for generations, dashed.
“The word is out on Long Island not to come to Great Neck,” a library professional said.
But I believe that there is method in the madness, that there is a purpose to poisoning the well so that very few really exceptional candidates which Great Neck imagines itself worthy of, come forward.
I think the intention from the beginning - going back to how Ken Weil was drummed out, when instead of hiring from within, the library went outside the library staff and hired Christine Salita. It was then that the forces went into motion to make sure she, too, made haste to leave. The tactic then was to accuse the director of hiring a public relations company to inform the community of plans for the new building, and paid to survey the community as to needs and wants for a new building. Propaganda! Salita left.
Then Arlene Nevens, a Great Neck resident who grew up in the Great Neck Library and had spent her whole career there, took over. And she too was forced out - the last straw for her was when the library board removed any discretion she had to make decisions.
What all these individuals have in common is that they all have gone on to brilliant and satisfying library positions - elsewhere.
The other thing that is in common is not just four directors forced out by a putrid atmosphere, is that there have been four separate plans for rebuilding the library, and every one of them has been scrapped and started again from scratch.
And in this same period, there have been four separate expansions and renovations of Parkville, the current one underway (an architect has been selected) with no budget limit, though I am told that the parameters of the project have been “narrowed” somewhat.
So we are talking months and months before the Library will have professional management.
In the interim, this board plans to hire a “consultant” whom the assistant library director can call upon for sage advice - perhaps a retired library director who will be available on a per diem basis, no more than 20 hours a week, though the scope of the job, the fee and the authority of this person had yet to be determined.
Based on past history, the library board will shackle the assistant director’s ability to call upon the consultant - just as they hamstrung Marino’s authority to call the attorney handling the library’s union contract negotiations - which also hasn’t been resolved (the staff has been working for almost a year without a contract).
The library trustees apparently think that they really don’t need a director, that they are the professionals who can micromanage the library - manifest in their policies over the decade
When I pointed out that this is a critical stage in library history to be without a professional manager, Solomon said, “There are people who are managing day by day, and people who manage for a longer term.”
But the trustees - as public spirited as they may be - are not Library professionals and they don’t know how to run the day-to-day business of a library. Their function as elected representatives of the community is to oversee policy and look out for the best interests.
In this matter, as in the library committee and in all the major decisions, Varda Solomon as president, has adopted a philosophy of empowering everyone, and giving everyone a sense of ownership. She has been wonderfully open to eliciting a range of ideas and being respectful.
“I worked hard to make every trustee feel empowered - every person there has put in time and energy, and speaks to a different part of the community,” Solomon told me. “and that has been very gratifying to me.”
This is very fine and noble. But she has also played into the hands of people who take advantage of such an invitation to take control, for whom “empowerment” means “total control.”
And if this sounds like the Tea Party’s manipulation of Congress and the federal government, it is just the same - it is why Obamacare was built around Republican principles and still suffered constant attack, and why we are headed to a fiscal cliff.
What is happening in the Library is a miniature of that same kind of tactic.
I watched this process unfold on the Building Advisory Committee, how a certain faction winds up dictating the outcome. “Maybe we should consider getting a new architect,” was the way all the previous work was swept away and the committee decided to scrap Dattner and launch yet a new search for an Architect that took months.
Now a new architect, KGD, has been selected. And what is the main qualification? “They are specialists in renovation and new construction, phased implementation which we felt was important,” Solomon said. “A lot of the push back [against the referendum] was over closing the library.”
Indeed. This guarantees what I predicted all along: the plan is really for a minor renovation. I was at the original Ad Hoc Building Committee meetings with engineers who said you cannot do the level of infrastructure that needs to be done - in HVAC, electrical systems, system efficiencies - without shutting the library. And if you do a project that is phased in, it will take twice as long and cost twice as much.
What is more, the timing for this process almost assures of the Library getting a fraction of the project for the money - instead of building at a time when construction companies were dying for business, and materials were plentiful, we will be competing with $60 billion worth of projects in the region, thanks to Superstorm Sandy and what I suspect will be a stronger economy.
But this crew has decided to do what they can for $10 million. So you do the math.
I would suggest that if they are starting from scratch, rather than fit square pegs into round holes and ship whole departments to Station Branch, they should plan a true two-story building, which would still be lower and smaller than private homes in Saddle Rock and across Udall’s Pond.
There was one other element to this coup - to get another seat on the Library Board. At one point, this group had as many as four seats on the library, but only one remains. The resignation by Martin Sokol, who had served as president and as chair of the building committee and at that point took pride at the progress he had made in getting a plan for the Main Building construction project (only to have it all thrown out), opened an opportunity.
So the nominating committee, as required, made two recommendations to the board (they did not exactly have an outpouring of candidates).
This same claque that has been the shadow government, controlling library affairs for 15 years, moved to disqualify one of the recommended candidates. That would leave the way open for their chosen candidate, who comes out of this cabal of negativity.
They happened to fail in this endeavor: the Board this week at a special meeting voted unanimously for Michael Fuller, who had been a member of the nominating committee to fill the vacancy on the board.
One of the methods they use is to delegitimize everything that the board does - a tactic that they have used for more than a decade, despite the changing people on the board.
They did it this time over the president’s authority to set a new date for the election - uncontested, mind you.
This crew has already co-opted the Main building project, the branches, but the big prize will be getting a director of their choosing.
It is my belief that there is a method to the madness of dispatching four professional directors - it basically poisons the well, so that the only person with any sort of credentials to come forward will be someone from the Great Neck Library already. That was the plan all along.
And it is working out perfectly.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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