The Village’s response to Library Director Laura Eckley’s lawsuit against me, as Mayor, the Village of Bronxville and the Bronxville Public Library was to be filed last Friday. Ms. Eckley withdrew her suit the day prior to our filing deadline
Since we will now not be able to have “our day in court” where I am confident we would have prevailed on the merits, our attorneys advised us that this was the appropriate time to set the record straight in the even more important court of public opinion.
To recap the situation…. at the October Library Board of Trustees meeting, the Board members voted Ms. Eckley a raise based on financial information they received that they learned subsequently was incomplete and/or erroneous. Complicating the issue was the fact that the Finance Committee Chair, who had all of the correct information, was travelling and was denied the opportunity to conference call into the meeting due to the objection of one Trustee who erroneously asserted that “calling in” would be a violation of the Open Meetings Law.
When complete financial information was later presented to the Library Board, it became clear that they did not have sufficient money without cutting and reducing other line items in the budget to fund the raise.
Since what is done by resolution can be undone by resolution, the Board, who are a dedicated group of residents very conscious of their stewardship of our tax dollars, sought to rectify the situation in a subsequent meeting.
I admire them greatly. The easier path would have been to just leave the raise in place. It would never have reached the public forum and the money could be found by trimming hours of operation or book budgets. But they felt their fiduciary duty required them to do otherwise. They did adopt a new resolution giving Ms. Eckley a significant, albeit lesser salary raise and bonus for her excellent service totaling $10,900. However, in her lawsuit Ms. Eckley said the salary raise was “insignificant” to her. It appears that all of the Board’s well intentioned efforts were for naught regardless as Ms. Eckley had apparently applied for other library jobs throughout the County, even before the initial meeting.
Ms. Eckley’s lawsuit alleges many causes of action as a consequence of the rescinded larger raise.
The following is just a sample of some of the major contentions that must be addressed since all were alleged to be fact in various media outlets.
Ms. Eckley alleged that I called the Library Board President and that I “demanded that she meet with me” and I told her “that the resolution approving my raise had to be rescinded.” Ms. Eckley’s attorney, Anthony Pirrotti, was quoted in the newspaper as saying that, “the Mayor calls and then takes umbrage with the raise.” This did not happen. It is completely false. This very serious accusation which casts me as breaking the law was made with not one scintilla of evidence. Phone records and the testimonies of all involved will attest to that. The truth is that the Library Finance Chairman returned home, was made aware of the raise, and requested that the Library Board President arrange a meeting with the Village Treasurer and the Village Administrator to discuss the full budgetary impact of the raise. The Village Treasurer acts as payroll officer for the Library and the Village Administrator acts as their labor negotiator. The Library Board President proceeded to set the meeting. (Ms. Eckley has never called to speak to me in person on any of these subjects. My only contact with her was one phone message inquiring whether I would be in the office at a certain time and date. I rearranged my schedule to be available. A process server then arrived at the appointed time to serve me personally with the lawsuit.)
While I had not called the meeting among the Library Trustees, the Village Administrator and the Village Treasurer, I happened to be in the next room the day they came in for the meeting. It is my regular custom to sit in on meetings with the Village Administrator when I am in Village Hall. I asked if I might sit in, and the participants welcomed me.
At the meeting, Mr. Fels reviewed the financial implications of the initial raise of $24,000 (including benefits). The raise would have resulted in a 35% compensation increase for the Director in an 18 month period while other library staff had received a 0% raise over a two year period. At no time during this meeting, nor at any other time, did I direct or pressure the Library Trustees to rescind the initial raise. The Library is an independent body that sets its own salaries.
Additionally, in a real head scratcher, Ms. Eckley also alleged that two Library Board members, out of a seven person Board, who attended the meeting and who clearly stated they represented only themselves, somehow violated the Open Meetings Law which is so clearly not the case.
Ms. Eckley also sought an injunction against me personally to stop discriminating against employees based on their gender. As a proud graduate of an all-women’s college, this was not only untrue but quite hurtful. Ms. Eckley arrived at this unfounded assertion by comparing her salary as a first-time ever Library Director with two years seniority to salaries of other Village department heads each with well over 20 years of seniority and experience. Her court papers left out the salary of our female department head which would have disproved her assertion.
This whole unfortunate episode clearly illustrates that the pen is mightier than the sword and untrue words are truly hurtful. It calls to mind Labor Secretary Donovan’s response when he was acquitted of all charges hurled at him. He said “which office do I go to get my reputation back.” I understand quite clearly now why good people say no when asked to volunteer in government.
I thank the 6 of the 7 Library Trustees who took the hard road, the one less travelled. I admire your courage, your honesty and incredible stewardship of our library funds which are all taxpayer dollars. Our library will remain in excellent hands if people of your caliber continue to serve.