In a move that shocked trustees, Amy Raff announced she will leave her post as Woodstock Public Library director May 30, giving the board the task of finding a replacement as budget planning nears and expansion deliberations continue.
“It was not an easy decision but it’s the best decision for me and I think it’s the best decision for the library moving forward as well,” Raff told the board at its April 16 meeting. “If you had told me when I was a kid that I was going to grow up and be director of the Woodstock Library I wouldn’t have believed it.” Raff spent 10 years as the assistant director and the last five as director…It’s pretty much a dream come true and it’s been a real honor and pleasure to work with the staff and Friends (of the Library) and the board. And I think that we have a lot to be really proud of about this library and we’ve accomplished a lot of things together.”
When asked later if she had secured another job, Raff would not elaborate, saying simply it is time to “go do something else.” She did not cite any specific reason for leaving and did not say whether the negative environment surrounding the library’s expansion or proposed annex was a factor. “I’m not leaving in anger. I’m not pouting,” Raff said. “There are lots of things to be really proud of about this library.”
Asked if she had any regrets, Raff said she had “a catalog” of them, but noted the annex project as one. “We had a really great project that was going to serve the community in really exciting ways. We really didn’t get to see it through,” she said.
The library, seeing an opportunity when the former Library Laundromat became available, planned a small annex to alleviate some space needs outlined in a 2007 study. Trustees had moved forward with preliminary concepts from architect Joel Sanders and the Friends of the Library embarked on a fundraising campaign. The project stalled when a vocal opposition raised issues ranging from environmental impact to aesthetics to cost.
The library has restarted an expansion process, opting to update its master plan and identify other ways to fulfill space and programming needs.
Raff said her stepping down will allow a new director to take the reins of a project and the community engagement from the start.
In a letter to the editor of this paper, Library Board president Stuart Auchincloss commented on the Library’s master plan process. “Although a request for proposals for that work has already gone out, I expect we will decide to wait until the new director is in place before we start planning,” he said.
While most trustees received the news ahead of the meeting, many sat in disbelief after her announcement, some holding back tears.
“I’d just like to say that I appreciate your even-handedness and your always being positive,” Trustee Katryna Barber said, telling Raff she appreciated her patience in allowing the board to grow and mature. “I think you’re a fabulous director. Whoever gets you next is pretty lucky.”
“I’m kind of still in a state of shock. I haven’t quite absorbed it yet,” Trustee Dorothea Marcus said. “You have wonderful energy and ideas and creativity, but you also take care of all the little niggling things without making it seem like it’s difficult. Everything just gets done.”
“I’ve really appreciated your vision of what a 21st century library can be and what I’ve learned about what a 21st century library might be. I’m excited to have one someday,” board President Stuart Auchincloss said.
Marcus joked it would be nice to have it before the 22nd century.
Auchincloss also complimented Raff on how the staff is “so professional and welcoming and cheerful through thick and thin,” noting the staff performance is a reflection of a great manager.
“Not to seem selfish, but you make our job easier,” Trustee Barry Samuels said.
Trustee Geoffrey Hanowitz extended praise of Raff through an apology for the negative environment at board meetings that began a year ago through a vocal opposition to the proposed annex. “I want to bring this out in service to the library because it would be good if we could move forward and not have to repeat this again,” Hanowitz said. “I’m amazed you stayed as long as you did and I’m really happy for you that you’ll be in a much healthier place.”
Hanowitz added, “I think what goes on at this library is the healthiest thing in town, but what goes on at this library board and these meetings is not very healthy.” Hanowitz said he stopped bringing his dog to meetings about a year ago because of the negative atmosphere.
Trustee Barry Miller seemed to take the news the hardest, speaking until has was too upset to continue. “I’ve been here the longest. I sat at this table through two directors. I have to say that Amy is unbelievable,” Miller said. “She’s great. It’s going to be very, very hard to replace her.”
Since Raff’s post is a civil service job, the library must hire from a list of those who have passed the Ulster County exam for library director. There are 12 people on that list and the board will interview the top three candidates to make its selection.
Raff strongly suggested appointing Librarian Jessica Kerr as interim director, noting Kerr has said she’d consider it if asked.
While the board’s next scheduled meeting is May 21, Auchincloss said a special meeting may be scheduled before then to take up the matter.
Town councilman Ken Panza accused Hanowitz of violating the library’s ethics policy, alleging Hanowitz identified himself as a trustee in a letter to the editor published
in Woodstock Times when he was expressing his own views. The board has not acted on the accusation lodged in March, mainly because the board lacked a formal policy for dealing with ethics complaints. Based on a policy approved at the April 16 meeting, the board’s Executive Committee will take up the matter at a later date.
While accusations are to be kept confidential under the board’s policy, Hanowitz chose to make it public to shed light on what he calls continued harassment of the board.
“I am going to wear this accusation with a badge of honor,” Hanowitz said. “The fact Ken Panza is coming after me must mean I’m doing something right.” He said the harassment started with the filing of freedom of information requests to the library and is has now included filing ethics complaints. “I don’t want the library board making decisions based on fear, based on threats,” he said. Hanowitz maintains the complaint is baseless and will require the board to expend time an resources to resolve the matter.
Panza, while acknowledging Hanowitz’s right to make the accusations known, takes great exception to exposing him as the complainant. “The Board in its deliberations adopting its Ethics Complaint Procedure failed to protect the privacy of the complainant,” Panza said in a letter to Auchincloss.