By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND — The president of the public library board left for California on sabbatical and the trustees, at their January meeting, could not agree on which of two candidates should fill the vacancy on the 11-member board.
Vishnu Chaturvedi, a clinical microbiologist, is now at Berkeley, according to the library’s director, Barbara Nichols Randall.
“It’s a great loss,” she said of Chaturvedi’s departure. “He was very methodical and scientific…It was a career opportunity he couldn’t ignore.”
She added, “We’re happy for him, just like we were for Doug Morrissey.”
Morrissey had been the board’s president before Chaturvedi.
Last June 26, as Morrissey and others waited for election results on the bond vote that would have expanded and updated the library, he received a call telling him he got the job as principal of the Canajoharie Middle School, where he’d been a guidance counselor for 14 years.
Chaturvedi became president and Christopher Aldrich vice president but the board could not agree at its July meeting on who should fill the vacant seat.
No candidates had petitioned to run in the May elections for the three open posts so they were to be filled with write-in candidates. The top three — Peter Hubbard with 34 votes, Daniel Centi with 33 votes, and Morrissey with 27 votes — were declared winners. Hubbard and Centi took office in July while Morrissey declined.
Carroll Valachovic, a former trustee, was fourth with 24 votes but she also declined. David Bosworth,
Guilderland’s Democratic Party chairman, was fifth with 21 votes. He waited in the library the night of the
July meeting, expecting to be appointed, but did not get enough votes.
Ultimately, the board decided to canvass the public for candidates and, in October, Judith Kahn took the vacant seat. She will serve until the next election.
After Chaturvedi’s recent departure, Aldrich became president of the board. To fill the current vacant seat, Nichols Randall said, “We put out a call…We got two candidates who expressed interest.”
She declined to name the candidates but said they had been considered before.
A majority — six votes for the 11-member board — was needed to make an appointment.
“We couldn’t get six,” said Nichols Randall. “The board decided to leave it vacant.”
So there will be three openings in the May elections — two of them for five years, and one for one year.
The posts are unpaid and, in the last decade, only one election — in 2006, when four candidates ran for three seats — has been contested. Write-in candidates have been frequent.
When he first ran for the board in the spring of 2008, after having been appointed the previous September, Chaturvedi told The Enterprise that he reads a lot of books but Arrowsmith stood out in his memory.
“When I was transitioning from high school to college in India,” he said then, “I read this novel by Sinclair Lewis about a physician who becomes a scientist. He works with bugs that are causing havoc in the Caribbean…It’s larger than life but the man is very human. He accomplishes his goal but the price is very high…He makes a lot of sacrifices.”
He also said of serving on the board, “The group of people is dedicated and careful. They have reflective discussions and sincerely represent the community…I’d rather not just fly my own flag, but be a team player.”
Chaturvedi was newly at the helm of the board when, in June, the library suffered a resounding defeat for its $13 million expansion plan. He insisted on a meeting last August so that the trustees, several of them new to their posts, could make their views known on what went wrong and what direction the library should take next.
When Robert Ganz, a trustee who headed the long-range planning committee that worked on the project for six years, said, “I really do not want to go through a post mortem of why things didn’t run out as we expected them,” Chaturvedi, who did research for the state’ Department of Health and taught at the University at Albany’s School of Public Health, argued for the value of a post mortem, which is literally the medical examination of a dead body.
“The problem is that post mortems are the only way that we know for sure what was wrong…Nobody looks forward to doing post mortems,” he said. “It’s not a very aesthetic business, but it is something that we have to do.”
He went on, “I agree with you that we are looking forward but we cannot look forward by saying, ‘Well, we don’t want to deal with the mess that we have and let’s just go forward.’
“So I think that we can do that in a professional manner. We are all grown-ups here.”
The bond — which was defeated 3 to 1 by about a quarter of Guilderland’s 22,245 registered voters — would have allowed the 20-year-old, overcrowded facility to build a two-and-a-half story addition as well as upgrading the current library. Guilderland taxpayers would have paid 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, meaning a resident with a home valued at $100,000 would pay $28 annually for the life of the bond.
The board reached no consensus at its August meeting on how to proceed. Long-time trustee Barbara Fraterrigo suggested a “piecemeal approach” to address basic needs, expand the children’s area, and “bump out the large meeting room.”
At that meeting, Ganz, the other longest-serving trustee, said he was “reluctant to do reactive work,” stating, “I’m afraid in 10 or 15 years, we’ll have a bunch of little wings that jut out and don’t work comprehensively.” He also cautioned that a smaller bond would lessen the chances of passing another, bigger bond in the future.
“Business as usual”
Nichols Randall said this week that, despite the bond defeat, it is “business as usual” at the library.
Since the bond project would have replaced the library’s outdated heating system and fixed its leaky roof, The Enterprise asked how these matters would be dealt with.
Nichols Randall responded that the library had received a state grant in anticipation of the bond passing that would have moved the sewer line. The state grant was for $138,300 and the library had set aside a matching amount. “We had that put aside for the sewer line and the geo-thermal wells,” she said, which now won’t be built.
Nichols Randall is resubmitting the paperwork to the State Education Department and hoping for final approval soon to use the money for three other projects, she said. These include replacing the boiler and heat pumps, changing the front-door configuration to save heat in the winter and air-conditioning in the summer, and re-paving and reconfiguring the parking lot to solve some drainage problems.
No smaller bond is being considered at this time, Nichols Randall said. “We’re looking at possibly applying for annual construction grants for next year to replace the roof,” she said, noting that, while the governor has included the grants in his budget proposal, the amount available would vary between covering 30- to 50-percent of costs, depending on the number of applicants.
“We’re still suffering from it,” she said of morale after the bond defeat. She noted “a big changeover” on the board with about a third of the trustees being new.
“Our 10-year plan ends this year,” said Nichols Randall. “We’re working towards another one.”
Ganz will again chair the planning committee, but this time it will probably develop a five-year rather than a 10-year plan, she said.
“We continue to buy the newest books, and to plan great programs,” she said, noting that Alafair Burke will be this year’s Notable Author in June. She is a law professor and, like her father, James Lee Burke, a crime novelist. Nichols Randall noted that the adopted daughter of James Lee Burke’s fictional detective hero, Dave Robicheaux, is also named Alafair.
Circulation at Guilderland’s library, like that across the country, has recently leveled off, Nichols Randall said, after climbing during the Great Recession.
“It’s almost frontier time with eBooks,” she said. “They’re trying to re-invent how things work.”