As the Manhasset Public Library was about to begin its board of trustees workshop meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 19 to discuss the upcoming renovation project, a patron walked in and asked if the meeting was open or closed. Library Director Maggie Gough replied by saying the meeting would be closed.
After Gough’s response, the patron walked away despite the board never going into executive session. The board then told the Manhasset Press that the meeting is closed because it’s a workshop and not a regular board meeting. The Manhasset Press told the board that unless they go into executive session, they would not be leaving the public meeting.
According to New York State’s Open Meeting Law Section 103(a), “Every meeting of a public body shall be open to the general public, except that an executive session of such body may be called and business transacted thereat.”
“There is no legal distinction between a workshop and a regular meeting,” assistant director of the Committee on Open Government Kristin O’Neill told the Manhasset Press after the meeting. “If they’re subject to the Open Meetings Law, a workshop is not supposed to be a closed meeting. It’s a meeting open to the public.”
Library Board of Trustees President Chuck Jettmar told the Manhasset Press they could stay if the meeting was off the record. The Manhasset Press declined the offer. The library board, along with its director, discussed whether to go forward with the meeting, cancel the meeting or go into executive session.
“It would be good for [the Manhasset Press] to hear how much effort and detail has gone into this,” Jettmar said.
“I don’t want this to be released through a filter that I cannot control and I cannot explain to the staff the way that I need to explain to them what is happening,” Gough responded. “That is management’s prerogative, no? I don’t want [the Manhasset Press] to be telling them what’s going on.”
The library originally hoped to start construction in January 2020, but they are currently behind schedule. The library still needs approval from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York before going forward with the project. The schedule is currently tentative and has not been finalized.
“Chuck, this schedule has dates on it and quite frankly, I would not put a bet on any of these dates being true, but if it’s in the newspaper, it looks true,” trustee Judith Esterquest said. “There are still people who believe what they see in print.”
Esterquest was recently the subject of an Op-Ed by the Manhasset Times that stated she should recuse herself from the current investigation into Gough’s alleged racist remarks on Dec. 14, 2019.
“I seriously object,” Gough told Jettmar. “I think it is only proper that we speak with the staff first and they understand what it is. It’s just my respect for the staff.”
Jettmar acknowledged Gough’s objection and proceeded to go ahead with the Manhasset Press present at the public meeting.
For the next hour, the board discussed a new preliminary schedule for the planned renovation project that could change the layout and interior design of the library. The project will cost around $1 million and is funded by a reserve fund, donations and grants.
Each floor will be done separately so the library can still function without closing. The second floor of the library will see the most change, as a new multi-purpose room is planned. In a previous design, the library planned to go from 312 to 429 seats. Some seats will also have electrical outlets for patrons to use.
“We’re attempting to make the seats both more flexible and better able to be reused,” Esterquest said.
In January, the board voted to disallow any meeting room events to be scheduled in the community room, secret garden, conference room and café effective June 1, 2020. That vote included temporary suspension of all new contracts and rental agreements for the community room. The board says this was due to “recent events and anticipating pending construction requirements.”
Update: The Manhasset Public Library has concluded their investigation and no discipline was recommended for Library Director Maggie Gough. A statement from the library board states, “The investigation found that there was an insufficient basis upon which to conclude that racism and anti-Chinese bias motivated the Director’s actions on Dec. 14,2019.”
The “independent” investigation into Gough’s actions on Dec. 14, 2019 has still not concluded despite the board saying on Jan. 9 the investigation would be wrapped up within a week and a half of that date. The library has not stated why the conclusion of the investigation keeps getting delayed.
After concerns over the board’s attorney Peter Fishbein’s independence while presiding over the investigation, he hired former administrative law judge Elena Cacavas to take the helm of the investigation. Roslyn Huang, the aggrieved party in the matter, and her attorney met with Cacavas after she came on board.
“In the interview, all we covered was the food policy,” Huang said. “She didn’t seem very interested in discussing the racial comments. That’s my conclusion from our conversation because all her questions were around the food policy.”
Huang told Cacavas that parents involved in the matter are willing to testify in the investigation. Cacavas said to give the parents her phone number so they can reach out to her, Huang said.
“I told the parents after the interview, ‘the investigator would like me to give you her number if you wish to tell your story,’ and the parents said they found it odd because she’s the investigator and why is she not the one calling?” Huang said. “Why do they have to reach out?”
Cacavas could not be reached for comment. A spokesperson for the library said they would not comment on the ongoing investigation.