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Town, library to work further on concerns

August 19, 2014
MEREDITH ⎯ The town and the library will continue to work out details of a memorandum of understanding after a recent meeting illustrated areas of conflict.

Colleen Nolan, Vice Chair of the Library Trustees, and Library Director Erin Apostolos spoke to the board during Monday night's meting about the library's draft MOU.

Nolan said the document was a result of a charge by the selectmen a few years ago to delineate the rules and responsibilities of the town and the library. The library drafted an MOU, the town issued one in response, and the library was now back to discuss their draft.

Under state law, the library is considered a separate entity, though town officials have commented on how vague the law is regarding the relationship between the library and the town.

Apostolos said their draft reflects arrangements that have existed in the town for the past 21 years, and does not add anything new.

Currently, the library uses some town maintenance services and also uses private contractors. The town proposed that the library fall under the auspices of Buildings and Grounds for basic maintenance. Under the library's draft plan, the library would maintain that ability to contract out services.

Selectman Lou Kahn asked if it would be more convenient for the library to get those services done by Buildings and Grounds and not have to hire a plumber or another contractor. Apostolos said the library does receive some basic services from Buildings and Grounds. She said she does not mind calling a plumber if there is a plumbing issue and likes to have the option of calling someone.

Selectman Peter Brothers said, since the library appears to be a town-owned building, it would make sense to coordinate maintenance with the rest of the town's buildings. Though he said he was confused by language in the MOU saying the trustees were custodians of the building and the land under state law.

Brothers said it would make sense to determine how much maintenance the town does, and how much the library contracts out.

A major issue between the two memorandums has been personnel policy. The town's MOU proposed that the library's personnel policy align with that of the town.

Apostolos said the biggest difference is that under the town the town manager has the final decision on the hiring and firing process. Warren said that is true but the selectmen are the ones who decide on classifications and salary plans.

Apostolos said the library's personnel policy essentially aligns with that of the town; the major difference is the library will give employees their birthdays off.

Warren said the town has a policy of no reclassifications, though he said the library reclassified a position that was deemed to better fit its needs and pay at a higher salary. Apostolos said the library would contract out a certain service, though there was someone on staff who was qualified to give that service. A new position was made that allowed that staff member to be paid at a higher salary for those services.

Brothers said it would be best for everyone's individual responsibilities to be spelled out.

"There seems to be convenience to follow some of the town policies and personnel policies when they're desirable and when they're not we can afford to be different," Brothers said. "We can agree to some degree there needs to be some uniformity, conformity, and compliance with human resources side."

Warren said the legal ramifications of that separation one of his biggest concerns regarding the personnel policy. He said paychecks for library employees still come from the town. While the library might be considered a separate employer under state law, that might not be recognized in federal matters. For example the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the McDonald's Corporation and its individual franchises are joint employers.

Warren said without some type of documentation and agreement, he would not be able to answer certain personnel questions about library employees in a deposition.

Apostolos said the library was more autonomous until around 1993, when the town volunteered to take over its payroll after the library had previously contracted a private accountant.

"It seems over the years, it's morphed a bit more; we're just trying to get it in writing what those responsibilities are," Apostolos said.

Warren said the biggest change since the early '90's has been the change in the litigation landscape with increased concern over liability exposure.

Board Chair Carla Horne asked if the library has considered cutting off from the town and becoming an autonomous entity.

"If the library wants to do it, maybe we should have that discussion rather than make a memorandum of understanding," Horne said.

Nolan said the purpose of this process was to delineate what is being done and was not intended to create animosity between the boards, a point with which selectmen agreed.

Nolan said that is a matter that would have to be discussed, though could be extremely costly. An informal poll done on a library LISTSERV showed a near 50/50 split where some libraries had complete autonomy while others, especially smaller libraries, have arrangements with their respective towns.

Library Trustee Paul Eldridge said while town officials run a municipal corporation, library officials run a vocational institution: two different types of entities that cannot be run the same way.

Jim Hughes said an MOU was developed between the town and the library around the time Peter Russell was town manager in the 1990's. Hughes recommended that the town look at the discussions between the library and the town from that time.

Brothers said he would be interested in seeing the library's personnel policy.

Selectman Hillary Seeger asked if the library might work out something mutually agreeable with Warren and Public Works. Warren said he, Apostolos, and Mike Faller and Paul Ristaino of Public Works could meet and discuss options and responsibilities. Apostolos said she was okay with that idea.

Nolan said the trustees can draft a personnel policy and look at the town's policy to find common ground.

Horne said each respective board can work out all these matters and then a meeting can be scheduled.

Nolan asked if Apostolos could attend town staff meetings. Warren said he would respectfully deny that request as the library is a separate entity and there would be a conflict. However he would be willing to meet with Apostolos on an as-needed basis. Horne suggested these meetings take place on a regular basis so Apostolos and Warren can keep better communication. Warren said he was fine with doing that.

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