Fired library director speaks up at public hearing
BELLOWS FALLS -- The director recently fired by the Rockingham Public Library Board of Trustees said a negative report from the board’s Corrective Action Plan Committee appeared to set up a reason to terminate her.
Célina Houlné was let go as library director by the facility’s board of trustees on Wednesday, Sept. 19, and nearly 50 people packed the Rockingham Town Hall Lower Theatre on Thursday for a public hearing as part of Houlné’s appeal of her termination. Houlné’s attorney, Richard Bowen, was tasked with making the case for his client in front of the nine trustees.
The meeting was adjourned at around 10:15 p.m. and it is tentatively scheduled to resume at 7 p.m. next Thursday Oct. 17.
After the hearing started, Houlné gave a statement to the trustees at roughly 7:20 p.m. She thanked them for the opportunity to address the board but said it was unfortunate Thursday evening provided the first chance for her to defend herself throughout the entire termination process. She also criticized the Corrective Action Plan (CAP) as being "unfocused, confusing, contradictory, accusatory and seemed designed to provide the excuse to fire me instead of providing guidance to correct a perceived weakness." The topic of Houlné’s firing is perhaps the hottest with local library supporters, who have recently been at odds with the library trustees for their controversial decision in May to close the library so a full renovation could be completed. Some also believe certain trustees had an agenda that included getting rid of Houlne.
Trustee Chairwoman Janice Mitchell-Love has repeatedly said there was no ulterior motive for firing Houlné and her termination was based on an evaluation by the trustees’ personnel committee. Mitchell-Love, Vice Chairwoman Deborah Wright and members Hope Brissette, Paige Pietrzak and Laura Senes voted to get rid of Houlné while Carolyn Frisa, Pat Fowler and Ray Massucco voted against the motion. Trustee David Buckley was unable to attend that meeting.
Houlné said the evaluation was "incredibly one-sided and fundamentally inaccurate" and expressed her dismay over never being able to respond to it. She also addressed what she called misconceptions and misrepresentations.
Houlné told trustees the rumors that once circulated about her -- including one that she had an improper relationship with a board member and another that she secretly gave herself a pay raise -- are false. In regards to the supposed inappropriate hike in pay, she said all staff members got a 3 percent raise that was built into the library’s operating budget. She said all staff raises must be, and were, approved by a full board of trustees. "In fact, my actions are completely consistent with past practice and it’s how increases have been given every year," she said.
She also noted some of her accomplishments, including revitalizing the Friends of the Rockingham Library and addressing problems with the library’s facility. She said the library used to utilize money from a savings account in order to stay afloat but now runs on a balanced budget due to her leadership.
Following Houlné’s statement, former Trustee Deb Wetzel was called as a witness and said she had always been pleased with Houlné’s performance as library director. She told Bowen she would give Houlné a 100 percent mark if she were to evaluate her.
Youth Services Library Samantha Haskell and part-time library assistant Mary Van Havtesveldt spoke to Houlné’s professionalism and ability as a library director. Both said the staff has had to pick up a lot of slack following Houlné’s termination. Both said Houlné was an outstanding director and they were unclear why she was fired.
Library Trustee Deborah Wright was called to testify and Bowen grilled her on her evaluation of Houlné. The two went down the list of aspects each trustee evaluated and Wright revealed she often graded Houlné’s performance as "good" or "very good."
She said a large reason behind Houlné’s termination was insubordination. She elaborated by saying Houlné often didn’t reply to e-mails and rarely got information to the trustees in a timely fashion.
Due to the late hour, the meeting was adjourned at about 10:15 p.m., and will continue next week.
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