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Riverhead library director resigning after four of seven trustees quit due to infighting on library board

Riverhead library director Joy Rankin has abruptly resigned from her post, effective immediately.

Her resignation, coming four months shy of the end of her three-year contract, follows months of controversy and infighting on the library’s board of trustees that led to the resignation of four of the library’s seven trustees, including the board president, since the first of the year.

One of the former trustees, Keith Jefferson, who was the only African-American member of the board, says the trustees’ treatment of Rankin was motivated by racism and bigotry.

“It’s bigotry — that’s what I think is behind it,” Jefferson said. He said he felt it himself in the way the other board members treated him.

Rankin was “forced to resign,” former trustee Jefferson says. She was told they weren’t going to renew her contract.

Rankin did not return calls or messages seeking comment.

Jefferson, board president Ian Wilder and trustees Judy Doll and Meg Ferris all resigned from the board since January, leaving Kathy Berezny, Louise Wilkinson, Millie Rios and Maureen Karpilovsky as the four remaining active members.

A fifth, Keith Bossey, had resigned in October, according to the former trustees, who say they are not sure how he was “resurrected” and back on the board in March to vote on the appointment of new members to fill the vacancies.

The board requires a quorum of five trustees in order to take any action, according to the library’s bylaws. Bossey is not listed on meeting minutes, which are available on the library’s website, as either in attendance or absent for any meeting after October. The minutes of the March meeting are not yet posted online. Bossey’s name currently appears on the list of trustees on the website.

“I hoped my resignation would prevent them from taking any action on Joy’s contract,” Jefferson said, “since I knew they needed five people.”

Berezny, a former Riverhead school board president, was appointed president and Wilkinson was appointed vice president in February, after Wilder’s and Jefferson’s resignations.

Berezny acknowledged today that the trustees voted not to renew Rankin’s contract, but denied she was forced to resign. She said Rankin would be paid her regular salary through the end of the contract, Aug. 3.

“We amicably parted,” Berezny said. “We love Joy and we wish her well. We are just going in a different direction. There’s no controversy. There’s no scandal here. She’s going off to do other things.”

Berezny bristled at the accusations of racism by Jefferson. “We are not that kind of people,” she said. She also denied that an action brought against the library and Rankin by an ex-employee, accusing Rankin of discriminating against her because she is white, had anything to do with the board’s decision not to renew the director’s contract. Berezny said the ex-employee’s claim filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was deemed unfounded by that agency.

Jefferson and two other former trustees gave similar accounts of behavior at board meetings, which they variously described as “negative,” “nasty,” “backbiting” and “infighting.” Ferris declined to speak on the record.

In her resignation, tendered Jan. 10, Doll said she’d watched what she called intentionally “destructive” behavior by board members.

“As trustees, our roles are to guide and advise in a positive manner, not attack and destroy as I am witnessing being done,” Doll wrote. “Trustees are chosen to represent the community as a whole. There is no place for the self-serving and unprofessional behavior I have been observing from some of the board members,” she wrote.

Jefferson said a faction of the trustees — Kathy Berezny, Louise Wilkinson, Millie Rios and Maureen Karpilovsky — showed Rankin no respect, Jefferson said. “They were just running amuck, busting into her office meetings,” he said. They voted not to renew Rankin’s contract.

Wilder and Doll agreed that the four were at the root of board unrest, but Berezny said problems were caused by Wilder, who was “not transparent” and the three other former board members.

Berezny said they “attacked” Rios. “It was horrible, horrible.”

“It was initiated by them, not by us,” she said in an interview today. “The real story I can’t tell you. It’s a personnel issue.”

In the next breath, however, she said. “It’s not us against them.”

The trustees will vote at a special meeting this evening to accept Rankin’s resignation and authorize Berezny to sign a termination agreement that was signed by the director on Tuesday.

The board will also vote tonight to appoint a part-time interim director to manage the library while it searches for a replacement, Berezny said. The interim is former director Kathy Richter of Greenport, who served as director in the 1990s, after working for the library in its AV department. A certified librarian, she will be paid $75 per hour. Richter is a teacher in the Greenport school district and will work evenings until the end of the school year, according to Berezny.

She said the board will conduct a search for Rankin’s replacement, but would consider Richter for the post should she apply for it.

Wilder, who said he agreed with Doll’s assessment of the board situation, said he was not surprised to hear that Rankin was leaving. “They were headed in that direction,” he said.

“I’m saddened. I think Riverhead is losing an amazing resource,” Wilder said. “I don’t think we’ll necessarily get another chance to do that again. It’s a big loss for Riverhead.

Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.