Riverhead Free Library Kathleen Berezny and trustee Karen Fedun-White have resigned from the library board.
Both women sent emails to fellow board members late last night. Both cited health reasons.
Board vice president Louise Wilkinson said the emails were sent within moments of each other at about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“Upon my doctors strong warnings, I must resign my position as Riverhead Free Library President and Riverhead Free Library Trustee effective Wednesday, April 19, 2017,” Berezny wrote in the email.
“Unfortunately, at this time, I will not be able to complete my term as RFL trustee due to medical reasons. Please accept my resignation effective immediately,” Fedun-White wrote.
Berezny and Fedun-White did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The resignations, coming a week after trustee and library treasurer Milagros Rios resigned, stunned other board members and library staff, Wilkinson said.
“We were not expecting this at all,” she said.
The terms of Berezny, Rios and Fedun-White are all expiring June 30. Berezny and Fedun-White were eligible for re-election to the board. Rios, who has already served two terms would not have been eligible to seek a third term under the provisions of the organization’s bylaws. It is not yet known whether there would have been any opposing candidates in the upcoming board election, which will be held at the library association’s annual meeting on May 9.
Wilkinson said as vice president she assumes the duties of president. She has called a special meeting of the board for Monday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the library. At that time the remaining members of the board will be asked to vote to accept the resignations and discuss what to do next. Wilkinson said she is not sure whether the board should appoint people to fill the three vacancies until the terms expire on June 30 or whether they should remain vacant until filled at the annual meeting in three weeks.
Anyone interested in joining the library board should download the application and drop it off at the library as soon as possible, Wilkinson said. Residents, age 18 and up, of the Riverhead Central School District are eligible to serve as trustee. All voters who reside in the school district are eligible to vote in the election.
The library board has been through a period of turmoil since early 2016, when four of the library’s trustees — which then numbered seven — quit, as did library director Joy Rankin. One departing board member, Keith Jefferson, said Rankin, the library’s first African-American director was ousted as a result of racism. Berezny denied the charge and insisted that the library and its director had parted amicably. At last week’s trustees meeting, however, Berezny, in listing complaints about the library’s attorney — who the board that night voted to replace as of July 1 — complained that the lawyer was not present when she and Wilkinson “had to take care of Joy Rankin.”
Rankin was replaced by an interim director who also quit after a few months. The trustees then appointed longtime librarian Kerrie McMullen-Smith as interim director and subsequently made the appointment permanent. She remains in the post.
In November, library trustee John Munzel tried to remove Berezny from the board. He filed a written complaint with the board, accusing her of intentionally misleading board members, exerting inappropriate control over library staff, meddling in the day-to-day management of the library and its staff, including terminating employees without board authorization or forcing their resignation, and threatening employees with dismissal. He withdrew the complaint before a vote was held, after he saw he could not get the backing of a majority of the board. Only Wilkinson and trustee Eileen Mackey supported the idea. Berezny hired a personal attorney to attend the November trustee meeting. She refused a reporter’s request for comment on the complaint.
Wilkinson said this morning she wants to see the library “move forward.”
“We need to bring respect back to the library — for the employees, for fellow trustees, for our constituents and taxpayers,” Wilkinson said.
The Riverhead Free Library is an “association library”— a private, not-for-profit corporation that maintains a library for the free use by residents of the Riverhead school district in the towns of Riverhead, Southampton and Brookhaven. The Riverhead library was first chartered by the state Board of Regents in 1896. It receives the bulk of its funding — $3.57 million of its $3.75 million operating budget in the coming fiscal year — from the property tax levy pursuant to a contract with the Riverhead Central School District.