The Manhasset Public Library Director Maggie Gough is currently under investigation by the library’s board of trustees after an incident on Dec. 14 during a violin recital and dress rehearsal in the community room of the library. The incident came to light after an online petition was started by a group of parents that had children involved in the recital that accuses Gough of using racially-charged language. The petition has 811 signatures at the time of publication.
Multiple unnamed staff members of the Manhasset Public Library have also told the Manhasset Press that Gough has a history of using racial slurs in staff meetings and the use of the word “n*gger” on one occasion during a staff meeting several years ago. The staff members chose not to use their names in fear of retribution by Gough.
“She used it jokingly, but she was talking about some chocolates that used to be around and she said that they were called n*gger babies,” a staff member said. “She kept laughing about this and she used it several times. It was just so shocking to me that a supervisor would say that, even jokingly, in a meeting with staff.”
The current investigation is being conducted by the library’s board of trustees’ attorney Peter Fishbein and not an external entity. Fishbein is also the attorney that negotiates the collective bargaining agreement with the staff’s union on behalf of the board. Staff members are expected to be interviewed during the investigation, but several staff members say that they are “fearful” and “scared” of retribution by Gough if they were to tell the truth to investigators.
Fishbein could not be reached for comment.
“We at the library are committed to serving the community in an inclusive way, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, religion or socio-economic status,” President of the Manhasset Public Library Board of Directors Chuck Jettmar said. “There is an investigation underway, which was launched immediately after the incident was brought to the board’s attention, regarding the Dec. 14 incident and we hope to share those findings, when they soon become available. If any library employees have issues with their jobs or managers, we encourage them to follow the proper procedures. If an employee has an issue, there are a number of avenues, including an internal complaint procedure and assistance by their union, that they could turn to for any assistance in bringing a complaint.”
A spokesperson for the board of trustees said that Maggie Gough was not available for comment.
“If you say something, the odds are that [Gough] won’t be forced into resigning, and then she would be here and coming down on those that would be telling the truth,” a staff member said.
“If [Gough] keeps her job then it could be quite miserable,” said another staff member. “Especially if any of the board shared with her who shared what and at least one of the board members is pretty friendly with her, possibly two, but one is definitely very friendly with her. I would not trust her to keep it confidential.”
Multiple staff members described a culture with “a lack of communication” from leadership. Gough has a CCTV monitor in her office that is connected to all the video cameras in the library and also has access to the feed from her phone and computer at home. She has told staff that she is obsessed with looking at the video feed. One staff member states that Gough never comes out of her office, but describes her as a “control freak.”
“She has made comments about what is going on that makes it pretty clear that she is looking at the camera because there is no other way she would know,” said a staff member.
One of the teachers that was present at the Dec. 14 incident, Roslyn Huang, was interviewed by the board’s attorney as part of the investigation on Friday, Jan. 3. Huang, a professional violinist and private instructor on the north shore, has had the Long Island Senior and Junior Camerata recital in the community room of the Manhasset Public Library for the last 10 years. Huang’s mother owns the Pearl East Restaurant in Manhasset and caters the event that is held every December and January.
According to Huang, Gough came down to the community room on two occasions.
“An elderly woman came in accompanied by some of the staff members of the custodial staff and she started gesturing angrily,” Huang said about the first time Gough came down, she also did not know who Gough was at the time. “It was distracting enough that the kids actually stopped playing.”
While Gough did eventually leave, Huang says Gough came down a second time. This time Gough was approached by David Gale, one of the co-teachers, so that the kids would not be distracted. Eventually, Huang also went to speak with Gough.
“After the senior camerata was done tuning and they were about to play their first piece, I heard a loud conversation,” Huang said. “I went outside and I introduced myself to her. Her reaction was that we broke the rules of the contract.”
Pearl East catered fruit, mini pastries, dim sum and sushi for the event, and Huang states that this is why Gough got angry, because it was not finger food.
“In our culture, it’s considered finger food,” Huang said.
In a statement released by Gough on the library’s website she stated, “Over a year ago, after having to replace the community room carpet, where exercise and meditation programs encourage children and adults to sit, lie and move on the floor, the MPL Board of Trustees voted to amend the policy to allow only ‘light refreshments’ (which we informally describe as finger foods such as cookies or crudité) and to require an advance deposit against damage for all groups serving liquids and/or food in the community room.”
In the contract that was signed by Huang’s mother with the library it states that “a small kitchen is available to prepare light refreshments,” but says nothing about finger food. The contract also states that a $250 deposit must be submitted to the library if there is any food other than cookies served. This deposit was made by Huang and she received her deposit back.
In the petition at www.change.org/p/manhasset-taxpayers-eradicate-racism-from-the-manhasset-public-library that was created by one of the parents of the kids in the Long Island Camerata, Sanjay Kantu, states that Gough came into the room and used “highly inflammatory and racist comments.” The petition quotes Gough as saying “are you sure they are all from Manhasset? They are all foreigners,” and said she “has to protect the community from your disgusting mess” while referring to the Chinese food catered.
“She has been harassing me for two to three years now,” Huang said, who had no part in setting up the petition. “The only thing that she said that was demeaning was that ‘on Monday morning, yoga people have to come into the library and put their mats on your rice.’”
In her statement Gough says, “On Saturday afternoon, Dec. 14, I responded to an urgent request to come to the lower lobby during a scheduled music recital rehearsal. Prior to that request, I had not spoken with anyone associated with the recital or anyone making arrangements for the recital to use library space. Earlier that afternoon, I had spoken briefly with MPL staff regarding their specific activities and responsibilities. I still do not know what triggered the request, which became heated as soon as I introduced myself, with Ms. Huang and her male associate (who wouldn’t stop to give his name) shouting accusations at me in an unhinged manner for most of 10 minutes. Different versions of the exchange have appeared in the media and online. Horrendous, deeply hurtful and completely unfounded charges have been leveled against me.”
Huang says that Gough also came down last year in June during a recital and told Huang that she would not be getting her $250 deposit back after water was spilled on the carpet.
“I just want to be treated fairly,” Huang said. “Her restrictions on my organization are discriminatory for whatever reason.”
“[Gough] has been upset with this group for a while,” said a staff member. “She has made comments about the food, saying it was messy and smelly.”
In a joint statement, Supervisor Judi Bosworth and Councilmember Veronica Lurvey stated, “In North Hempstead we do not condone hate, racism or intolerance of any sort. It is important that we always remember the power of education and collaboration, which has the incredible potential of spreading understanding and fostering an increased sense of acceptance amongst the residents of North Hempstead and beyond.”