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Riverhead library treasurer resigns from board

Riverhead Free Library trustee Milagros Rios, who was the library's treasurer, resigned from the board with just three months left to her second three-year term. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Another member of the Riverhead Free Library board of trustees has resigned.

Board treasurer Milagros Rios stepped down with just three months left in her second three-year term as a trustee. She is the fifth trustee to resign from the library board since January 2016.

Board president Kathleen Berezny said at Tuesday night’s trustees meeting that Rios said “personal obligations” prevented her from fulfilling her obligations on the library board.

Berezny also said Rios had returned the library’s gift to her of a clock. “She returned the clock,” Berezny said. “She didn’t want it. For her six years of dedicated service, that’s the least we can do.”

Library director Kerrie McMullen-Smith read aloud a puzzling note from Rios, explaining why she was declining a gift from the board, an engraved clock given to mark the conclusion of her tenure, Berezny said. As a two-term member, Rios is precluded by the library’s bylaws from seeking another term.

“Gifts are given as a gesture of appreciation and a token of a good relationship,” Rios wrote.

“However, there are also times when gifts are simple given out insincerely, routinely and thoughtlessly. My values and standards of behavior compel me to respectfully decline your gift of appreciation for serving on the Riverhead Board of Trustees. My life and work ethnics are guided by the words found in scripture, Colossians 3:23: ‘Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.’”

Rios did not respond to an emailed request for comment about her resignation.

Board members Louise Wilkinson, Eileen Mackey and John Munzel voted against a resolution accepting Rios’ resignation. Wilkinson first moved to table the resolution, which failed 4 to 3.

Wilkinson said she thought Rios might be resigning with a few months left in her term so she could seek another term.

The library bylaws limit trustees to two terms. The provision reads: “No member shall be eligible to succeed himself/herself after having served two full consecutive terms as trustee.” If Rios doesn’t serve out her full term, Wilkinson reasoned, she could run for another.

As Wilkinson spoke, Berezny rose to her feet.

“She’s not running again,” Berezny told her. “She’s too busy.”

Trustee Dean Terchunian expressed disbelief at Wilkinson’s theory.

“Do you think that Millie, who has served here for six years is that type of underhanded person?” he asked.

“Yes,” Mackey said, as Wilkinson and Munzel nodded in agreement.

“Let her term expire. It’s almost over. What difference does it make?” Munzel said. “Just let it end.”

The board voted 4-3 to accept Rios’ resignation, with Wilkinson, Mackey and Munzel opposed.

Riverhead Free Library trustee Dean Terchunian is sworn in as treasurer following the resignation of board member and former treasurer Milagros Rios. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Board names new treasurer
In another split vote, Terchunian was elected to complete Rios’ term as treasurer. Again Wilkinson, Mackey and Munzel opposed the resolution. That vote came after a vote to appoint Munzel treasurer for the remainder of the fiscal year failed to carry by the same vote, with Terchunian, Berezny, Karen Fedun-White and Janet Wright voting no.

Library terminates and replaces its law firm
Over the objection of Wilkinson, Mackey and Munzel, the board voted 4-3 to terminate its attorney, a move which surprised the three dissenters. The board also voted to replace the Law Offices of Thomas M. Volz with the law firm of Guercio & Guercio.

Berezny said the library had issued a request for proposals and had proposals from four firms.

Berezny said the finance committee, headed by Rios, screened and interviewed the firms. She sat in on the meetings and interviews, Berezny said.

Wilkinson, who is the board vice president, Mackey and Munzel complained of having no notice this was going on.

“It’s something we’ve wanted to do for a very long time,” she said.

The law firm will be paid a $15,000 annual retainer.

“I’m very glad that committee did all this hard work and found a good attorney for us,” Terchunian said.

“It’s a time when we have a new director. It’s a time for a new lawyer,” Berezny said. She complained about Volz’s performance, airing a list of perceived shortcomings, which included, she said, not being present “when Louise and I had to take care of Joy Rankin,” she said, referring to the former library director.  When Rankin abruptly resigned last year, some former board members said she was forced out. In an interview last March, Berezny denied that, saying that the library and its director had parted amicably.

“I’d like to see the contract before we vote,” Munzel said. A letter of intent was supplied to board members but, he said, “a letter of intent and a contract are two different things.”

Riverhead Free Library president Kathleen Berezny during the November 2016 board meeting where trustee John Munzel presented a formal complaint against her, seeking her removal from the board. File photo: Denise Civiletti

Berezny gives warning about trustees’ liability coverage
Berezny announced that she’d asked Jerry Nichols, the co-author of the “Handbook for Library Trustees of New York State” to amend the handbook to point out that a library’s insurance policy does not cover the expenses of a trustee where the trustee is defending a claim brought by another trustee.

“Trustees need to be cognizant if they’re sitting on a board, they need to make sure they have insurance in case [another board member] is bringing charges against them,” Berezny said. “That gets to be an out of pocket expense.”

Berezny didn’t speak specifically to her own situation, but she did hire an attorney last year when Munzel, a retired attorney, drafted a written complaint accusing Berezny of a variety of things, which she denied. He withdrew the complaint when he saw he did not have enough votes on the board to prevail.

Correction: This article has been amended to reflect the following correction: Library director Kerrie McMullen-Smith, not board president Kathleen Berezny as originally reported, read aloud the note from former trustee Milagros Rios. 

Editor’s note: A statement attributed to Karen Fedun-White regarding board review of a contract prior to a vote has been removed from this article. Fedun-White denies making the statement, which was reported based on notes taken at the meeting and an audio recording. During the discussion, more than one person was speaking simultaneously and, while I am confident I reported what I witnessed, the cross-talk on the audio recording makes it impossible to identify with complete certainty the speaker of the comment reported (“So let’s see the contract.”) Given Fedun-White’s adamant denial of that statement, the reference to that statement and attribution to Fedun-White has been removed.  – Denise Civiletti

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.