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Regional Report: Rockingham Library Director Search Re-Opened

There won’t be a new library director at Rockingham Free Public Library for a while.

The library board of trustees agreed Tuesday, after much wrangling, to reopen the search, with a deadline for new applications set for April 11.
 

The board also took the unusual step of saying that any of the 19 earlier applicants were welcome to reapply, while at the same time agreeing to send a letter to applicants saying that they didn’t “meet our needs at this time.”

Meeting in the new community room at the newly renovated and historic library, the library trustees — along with a couple of outspoken husbands of trustees — debated whether the issue of hiring a replacement for fired Director Celina Houlne should be tabled until a new board is elected.

That motion failed on a close 5 to 4 vote. Houlne, accompanied by her husband, attended the meeting as she has since her dismissal in September.

Town Meeting elections are a week away, when the balance of power on the contentious board is expected to shift in favor of Houlne, who was fired on a 5-4 vote. Two of those trustees who voted for her dismissal are either stepping down (Laura Senes) or face an uphill re-election battle (Deborah Wright).

The third library trustee, Raymond Massucco, is running for re-election with three other community stalwarts, under the motto “Trustees We Can Trust.”

Chairwoman Jan Mitchell Love, who is also chairwoman of the community/board search committee, said the committee had not reached an agreement on recommending a candidate to the full board after interviewing three candidates. The search committee is made up of board members and community members. Mitchell Love said the committee was “not comfortable bringing a candidate at this time.”

A total of 19 people had applied for the job as library director, and Trustee Pat Fowler said two of the top five candidates had accepted other jobs before they could even be interviewed.

Under the timetable now adopted by the lame-duck board, the formal online advertisement for the job will run until the end of March in professional library websites, and that applications are due shortly afterward.

Library Trustee ElayneClift, who is not running for re-election but is an adamant supporter of Houlne, made the motion to suspend action on the search process until town meeting. That failed on a 5-4 vote, with Mitchell Love, Wright, Senes, Hope Brissette and Paige Pietrzak voting against Clift’s motion.

Houlne has sued the library board and the town over her dismissal, and recently filed a motion for an injunction that would prohibit the board from hiring a permanent replacement until her suit is resolved.

Wright said all boards make decisions that affect future boards, and she urged the board keep the search process going.

“Let’s be blunt,” Mitchell Love said at one point. “She’s thrown up every roadblock that she can,” referring to Clift.

“We can’t keep arguing here,” Fowler said.

Clift has pushed hard for the board to notify job candidates about Houlne’s pending lawsuit.

The board didn’t resolve the issue of hiring an interim library director. The staff of the library, particularly Sam Maskell and Emily Zervas, have been acting as library director since Houlne was fired.