On Thursday, Sept. 5, voters will determine the fate of the library budget and select two trustees for the Board of Trustees from a field of six candidates. Both seats carry five-year terms.
There are eleven trustees on the Library Board in Saugerties. The terms are staggered so that every year the tenure of some members comes to an end. While the board member whose term is ending can run again, up to the maximum number of terms allowed (two consecutive five-year terms), their positions are open to anybody else in the community who wants to run for the seat.
Years ago, the number of library trustee seats available in Saugerties were about equal to the number of candidates seeking to fill them. Since the opening of the library’s new building in 2011, however, community interest in the library has grown exponentially.
Last year’s election saw seven candidates running for three seats; this time around, there are six candidates vying for two positions on the board. Incumbent Irene Hurst, who was elected last year on a one-year term to serve out the remainder of the vacated term, will run again this year to retain her seat. The other trustee seat opening up currently belongs to Shirley McLaren, who has reached the maximum number of consecutive terms allowed.
The challengers are Janet Asiain, Rita Ford, Brian Collins, Christina Kelliher and Vernon Benjamin.
Board members meet once a month, and each belongs to several committees devoted to specific efforts. They set the priorities for the library and work in consultation with the library’s director to determine everything from staffing decisions to the library’s operating budget.
“Having had the year’s experience and having done the work, I can be more effective and more proactive in my next term.”
In her first year-long term as a library trustee, Irene Hurst served on the public relations committee and on the long-term planning committee, helping to write a mission statement for the library calling for it to be inclusive and accessible to all.
According to Hurst, the achievement of the entire board this year is the presentation of a budget with no tax increase. That was possible, she says, because every trustee goes over every single expense the library incurs monthly, so they can make cuts based on actual expenditures.
She was one of four trustees from Saugerties (along with Rebecca Mignano-Campbell, Sally Colclough and Myrna Sameth) who went to Albany to lobby Assemblyman Pete Lopez and state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk for additional state aid funds for libraries. The amount of state aid given to school and public libraries was frozen in 2007, says Hurst, with no increases since then despite the fact that libraries have incurred ever-larger expenses in past years, particularly to upgrade technologies. “We were asking for at least a restoration to 2007 levels in state aid, and didn’t get that, but we were successful in getting some additional money,” she said. “We got about half of it back.”
In addition, Hurst and the other trustees were able to persuade the legislators to pass a bill that calls for research funded by public monies to be made available to the public. Part of her platform as a trustee candidate, she says, is that libraries and other institutional services that are paid for by public taxes must show a benefit to the public.
If reelected, one of the things that she’d like to work on is making the library holdings more accessible to people who can’t physically get there, possibly initiating a mobile library for seniors or the handicapped.
Hurst has a doctorate in literacy studies, with a concentration in community literacy. She is a retired elementary school principal and taught at Hofstra University for 15 years. She is in the American Association of University Women and handles publicity for the League of Women Voters. Hurst is a member of the Friends of the Saugerties Public Library, and if re-elected to the board will serve as a liaison between the two. She runs the Wednesday book club at the library, teaches literature courses through Lifespring Adult Learning Community and volunteers weekly at the SPCA’s Happy Paws thrift shop.
Why are you running?
I’d like the opportunity to continue the work I’ve been doing in outreach. It takes a lot more time than you think it will take, and it’s been a challenge—you have to learn new things, like how to read a budget abstract and how to speak persuasively to a legislator to argue the cause for libraries—but I think I bring the knowledge forward now. Having had the year’s experience and having done the work, I can be more effective and more proactive in my next term, if they choose me.