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Massena Town Council reopens library

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MASSENA - The Massena Public Library will reopen today.

The Massena Town Council decided unanimously at a special meeting Wednesday afternoon to retain retired director Paul L. Schaffer on an interim basis and reopen the facility. The town will pay Mr. Schaffer to work three hours a day at a rate to be determined at a meeting next week, Supervisor Joseph D. Gray said. Mr. Schaffer will ensure bills, employee time sheets, scheduling and other management duties are processed in a timely fashion, he said.

The town board had closed the library last Friday, effective Monday, because it lacked a director and a functioning board of trustees. Director Lynn Fountain and several board members had all resigned in the last few weeks.

Mr. Gray said the entire council was glad to reopen the library, which will resume its regular hours.

“Nobody felt good about closing the library,” he said. ““We now have a manager in place, and the library staff can get back to the great job they do serving the literary needs of our community.”

Mr. Gray said he also expected the town will pay employees for the closed days and treat it as a paid leave. Youth services librarian Elaine Dunne-Thayer previously said the employees were told to take vacation days during the closure.

The town council did not make any appointments to the library board on Wednesday. Mr. Gray said the council wanted to hold off until all members were present; Councilman John F. Macaulay was away Wednesday. Councilman Charles A. Raiti said 18 different individuals had expressed an interest in serving on the board.

“The impression I got from the town board is that they want to take their time,” Mr. Gray said. “We want to do some more homework. We want to talk to people, see how they feel.”

Mr. Raiti said the prospective board members want to improve the library.

“Everyone’s going to say, ‘They’re going to get the good old boys,’” Mr. Raiti said of the town council’s board selections. “There’s no ‘good old boys’ about this.”

Mr. Gray hoped the town board would be able to appoint an entirely new board.

“I think we need complete change on the board,” he said. “Let’s start from scratch.”

Remaining library board member Lisa C. Bero and approximately one dozen other current and former library employees and patrons attended the meeting. Ms. Bero said she tried to alert Mr. Raiti and Deputy Supervisor Albert N. Nicola to internal strife at the library prior to the resignations but was ignored.

“I felt it important in that crucial situation that they come to bat,” she said. “We could have avoided a closure of the library had someone responded.”

Councilman Robert J. Cunningham wondered why Ms. Bero was the only board member remaining.

“We have a mass exodus of the board. We lose a director. We have a total collapse of the library. That’s all within a six month period,” Mr. Cunningham said.

The town council unanimously appointed Ms. Bero to her position in January.

“Something happened over there and there’s only one thing that’s changed,” Mr. Cunningham said. “I was one of the people who put you on there.”

Ms. Bero said she was not at fault for the turmoil.

“Four people resigning from the library board is not because of me but what was being done,” she said. “If I were guilty, I wouldn’t be sitting here today.”

She took exception to Mr. Cunningham’s remarks.

“I don’t know Mr. Cunningham,” she said. “He’s virtually pointing the finger at me.”

Others at the meeting wondered why the closure was necessary. One MPL employee said Mr. Gray met with the staff on Thursday, reassured them and gave no indication of the impending closure on Friday.

Mr. Gray said the council only closed the library down after an extensive discussion of options.

“It wasn’t a plan I had or anyone had,” he said “There was no motive on my part to hide that from anybody.”

Mr. Nicola said the town needed to put the controversy aside.

“It’s in the past,” he said. “Now we’ve got to move forward.”

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