Woodstock Library changes its election day

(Photo by Dion Ogust)

Woodstock Library Trustees opted for an October election and budget vote in an effort to increase turnout, dropping plans to change what now takes place in early September to the general election November date due to legal fees.

Responding to calls from voters to hold the library election on Election Day, usually the first Tuesday in November, trustees consulted the library’s attorney, Robert Schofield of Whiteman Osterman & Hanna in Albany, who notified them coordinating with the November election would require legislation passed by the state Assembly and Senate and signed by the governor.

“It would be a very difficult and lengthy process to change it,” Schofield said in an email to the board. The intent of the original legislation forming the library district was to have the library run the election, according to Schofield.

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Moving to the November date would require a change in the process of handling and certifying trustee nominating petitions. Under current procedure, the library gathers and certifies petitions. For officials appearing on the November ballot, the Ulster County Board of Elections gathers and certifies petitions since it runs the election.

Moving the date to November would have “extensive legal fees involved,” said library board president Dorothea Marcus. “There’s a reluctance to commit more legal fees when we had the referendum.”

While defending itself against a question on the ballot to dissolve and terminate the library district, the library spent approximately $18,000 in legal fees, according to Director Jessica Kerr.

A group of taxpayers, angry over what it perceived as the board’s mishandling of the library building and opting for new construction instead of renovation, gathered more than 700 signatures and got the question placed on last November’s ballot. It was defeated by more than a 2-1 margin. 

Trustee Caroline Jerome still advocated for consolidation into the November election.

“I know it’s complicated but I think democracy is core to our institution,” she said, offering to sit down with Governor Andrew Cuomo if it helped.

Marcus expressed concern that new legislation might jeopardize the library’s special district status, since Cuomo has vetoed legislation for new districts.

With cost being an insurmountable hurdle, the board still believed any change from voting so close to Labor Day could bring a boost voter turnout, so it opted for the first Thursday in October, which is October 3 this year. Changing the date will not require new legislation since the library will still be running the election.

Trustees decided the October date was far enough away from Labor Day weekend when people are back from vacations and candidates can campaign.

Keeping track of records requests 

Director Kerr reported taking a significant amount of time compiling some 650 pages of Building Committee emails in response to a New York Freedom Of Information Law (FOIL) request from former trustee and referendum drive organizer John Ludwig. 

Kerr said it is part of her job as designated records officer, but noted it does take time away from other tasks for her and staff members and felt it necessary to report it to the board.

Marcus called it a “fishing expedition” and noted legal fees were involved because the library had to consult with its attorney to determine what it could release. Some communication is protected from release if it involves discussion of contract details still under negotiation, for example.

Kerr said the library collected $263 for its troubles because public entities are permitted to charge nominal photocopying fees.

Former Library Director Amy Raff had reported a large volume of FOIL requests from Ludwig and others during discussions about the failed proposal to build an annex on the former Library Laundromat parcel.

Great response to Monday hours

Delivering on a promised result of budget passage, the library is now open Mondays from noon to 6 p.m. With two Mondays under its belt (January 21 was the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday), Kerr said patrons are excited.

“I had three people come up to me and say you’ve changed my life,” she said.

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