From the editor: Buhl and LaPlant retirements are unrelated to café accusations

The retirement of Maria Buhl and Kim LaPlant from their decades of work at the Guilderland Public Library have nothing to do with the controversy caused by the Café con Mel’s accusations of racism.

We wrote an editorial last week urging people not to jump to conclusions but, rather, to wait until the facts were known about the café’s accusations.

The week before, we had written a front-page news story about the accusations and about the crowd that attended a forum held by the trustees, seeking the truth.

We decided for our March 7 edition to write an opinion piece that included coverage of a Feb. 28 board meeting. In that brief meeting, as we related in the editorial, the board worked on several matters related to the accusations from the café.

After hearing a half-dozen more public comments on the situation, the library trustees voted to hire an outside party to investigate the charges and updated policies on harassment and Freedom of Information requests, defining the people who would be officers for those concerns.

The only other business was approving the retirements of Buhl and LaPlant, which were referred to as “early retirement packages,” leading some of the onlookers at that meeting and in later social media posts to assume the retirements were related to the café accusations.

As I was unable to reach Buhl or LaPlant or the library’s lawyer, my intention in the editorial was to stop people from jumping to conclusions until the truth was known.

For at least this piece of the puzzle, the truth is now clear.

This week, Buhl answered our Feb. 29 email, stating that she and LaPlant were offered retirement in October 2023. “Both of us are older than 62, each of us has worked at the Library for more than 20 years,” Buhl wrote, stressing, “For me and Kim, this is not ‘early.’ Nor does my retirement or Kim’s have anything to do with allegations from the café owner.”

The library’s interim director, Nate Heyer, confirmed Buhl’s statement and added, “Our retirement incentives were in the works before Café con Mel opened here.”

We are grateful for these responses as we inch towards documenting a clear picture of what caused the café’s closure.

We have long put stock in this thought from Walter Lippmann: “The theory of a free press is that the truth will emerge from free reporting and free discussion, not that it will be presented perfectly and instantly in any one account.” 

We have, of course, updated last week’s editorial with the new information but we wanted to underline it here so our readers would be aware of the truth. We hope the headline sticks in people’s minds: Buhl and LaPlant retirements are unrelated to café accusations.

Truth-seeking has changed radically from Lippmann’s days as newspapers are no longer gatekeepers of information. The Facebook post accusing library employees of racism and harassment spread quickly even before the library could issue a statement the day after the café closed.

Therese Assalian, who handles communication for the Capital Region Civil Service Employees Association, has railed before against “unsubstantiated allegations” circulating on social media in the wake of the café closure.

On Tuesday, after talking to me about the union’s strong support for the library workers, Assalian issued a statement saying, “Planned retirements of CSEA-represented library staff have no connection to alleged issues at the café. Any attempt to conflate the two diminishes decades of outstanding service to the library community by Ms. Buhl and Ms. LaPlant.”

We agree. The Enterprise will continue to cover this story as the facts emerge in an effort to counter unfounded posts.

We sincerely hope Buhl and LaPlant will enjoy long and prosperous retirements.

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