It’s unanimous. Jeff Collins is still president of the Woodstock Library Board of Trustees.
Voicing their support of Collins’ community work and leadership, Library trustees, at their meeting May 19, voted to reject his offer to resign. They cited his leadership that brought the library to victory with the 845-500 election passage of a $3.95 million bond to purchase the former Miller/Howard building and move the library to 10 Dixon Avenue in Bearsville.
Collins offered to resign after his May 7 arrest for removing anti-bond signs that said “Don’t Buy a Toxic Building Site.” At the time, Collins said he felt the signs were libelous and removed them in a lapse of judgment. He was charged with petit larceny and possession of stolen property. He is scheduled to appear in Woodstock Town Court May 25.
“Jeff was voted to be the Ulster County Democratic committee vice chair by people who feel he has integrity and honesty,” Trustee Linda Lover said. “He was also voted by the Democratic Committee as our treasurer because he’s trustworthy and honest. And I feel that we all voted for him to be our chair for the library because of that reason, too…So for those reasons, I don’t believe that Jeff, we should accept his resignation. He’s done so much for this project. He’s moved it forward. He’s changed the minds of people in the town. And we won by a landslide. And it’s all because of Jeff and all our hard work.”
Trustee Leslie Gerber said he is opposed to accepting anyone’s resignation before they are convicted. “No black marks against the person’s record. I’m against the resignation,” he said.
Trustee Dorothea Marcus echoed Gerber’s thoughts. “You’re innocent until proven guilty,” she said. “When I spoke to him about succeeding me as president, he had been approached by people to run for the Town Board, and he said he preferred to lead the library board because he really thought the most important issue for Woodstock for the next 50 years would be to resolve this library issue, and give us a decent library.”
Trustee Liz Rosen said she didn’t know Collins before he joined the board, but his reputation preceded him as a very civic-minded person with a lot of integrity. “If we all lost our jobs over one lapse in judgment, none of us would ever be working. He has performed admirably in terms of his function as chairman of the library board, and I think I would refuse his resignation. I think he would be a major loss,” Rosen said.
Trustee Roz Balkin agreed. “One slip-up on something does not invalidate somebody’s life or their intent of doing well. And everything I know about Jeff supports that, so I definitely would not accept his resignation,” she said.
“I think Jeff has done an incredible job. He’s been transparent throughout and I think we’re lucky to have had him working on this project,” said Marcia Patten.
Trustee Caroline Jerome, who was unable to attend the board meeting, submitted a statement.
“I would like to state clearly and for the record, that I know Jeff Collins to be an active and honorable citizen, working to build bridges and consensus in our community,” she wrote. “In my opinion, extenuating circumstances and a long track record of giving back to his community redeem him after a momentary lapse in judgment. I reject his resignation and fully endorse him as president of the Woodstock library board.”
Vice President Barry Miller, who presided over the vote, also sent a letter in support of Collins and his thoughts echoed Jerome’s thoughts.
“I’m all for keeping Jeff. I don’t want him to resign,” Miller said.
Opponents want Collins gone
“I would like to be sure that you understand your board, which is very obsequious, does not carry the opinion of a lot of people in town. And they do want you to step down, as you promised you would after your petty behavior and the situation whereby you were arrested,” said Hera, an opponent to the plans to move the library. “I understand that your court date is next Wednesday, and we will be there.”
She echoed arguments from the bond election campaign as she went on to question why Collins, acting on behalf of the board, gave Miller/Howard a $33,000 nonrefundable deposit and signed a sales agreement which gave Miller/Howard a “Get Out of Jail Free Card” releasing them from any environmental issues. She also accused Collins of lying about not having to enlarge an existing septic tank. “The whole town can become a Superfund site as a result of this idiocy. I think it’s tragic. And I think you really should step down. Then you might be able to escape a second arrest for all the things that I’ve just stated.”
Collins did not respond, but simply asked, “Are you done?”
Library officials have retained the New Windsor firm Colliers Engineering to conduct further testing for chemicals left behind by Model Optics, which manufactured lenses on the property before Miller/Howard purchased it in 2012. Tests have shown chemicals are at acceptable levels for residential use. Woodstock Water and Sewer Superintendent Larry Allen said the site poses no threat to the nearby town water supply. The Woodstock Environmental Commission concurred with the Colliers report and recommended indoor air quality testing as a precaution.