Library, director can't resolve differences
After a lawyer requests a continuance so he can consult with Director Robert Balliot, the board of trustees moves up its performance review of Ballot to Nov. 21.
01:00 AM EDT on Saturday, October 28, 2006
KIA HALL HAYES
Journal Staff Writer
MIDDLETOWN -- It looks like the ongoing drama at the Middletown Public Library will continue, for at least another month.
Residents and employees had hoped the battle between Director Robert L. Balliot and the board of trustees would come to an end last night, when the two sides were to present recommendations to work out their disagreements.
But as the board was preparing to give Balliot his performance review, attorney Quentin Anthony arrived and requested a continuance so he could consult with Balliot.
Anthony said he was walking his dog last night when a friend of Balliot's called and asked him to help.
"He felt that [Baillot] needed some representation," Anthony said. The board agreed to give Balliot its recommendations Nov. 21.
For months, Balliot has claimed that the board has been trying to fire him for political reasons. Board chairman John Grisham says the board's actions have been "necessary and proper" and that "there are no grounds whatsoever for valid complaint."
At last night's meeting, Balliot said the board didn't follow open meetings laws, punished him for providing others access to information, and has hired attorney Dan Kinder with unappropriated funds.
Balliot said he's received nearly $4,000 in attorney fees, but has no way to pay them. Kinder, who was present at last night's meeting, was originally hired to help with union contract negotiations, Balliot said.
"At this point, you're doing work that has not been publicly approved," he told Kinder.
Kinder said he was an employee of the library, but when he demurred to say who requested his attendance at last night's meeting, residents demanded an answer.
"Who hired you, when did they hire you, and why are you here!" one woman yelled. Grisham at one point had to ask the audience to quiet down so the meeting could continue.
In an interview, Balliot said the board members, most of whom have been replaced over the last two years by the Town Council, are now using their seat to support a political agenda.
"The people they're appointing don't even have library cards," he said.
Balliot said it all started in December 2004, when he supplied Middletown First -- a citizens group opposed to heavy development -- with documentation about a Zoning Board meeting where developers were granted a variance to build a 55-room hotel in an area zoned for 23 units on Aquidneck Avenue.
"I'm supposed to provide access to public information, no matter who asks for it," Balliot said.
Middletown First posted the information on its Web site, which is linked on the library home page. Council liaison Edward Silveira and several board members then expressed concerns about the link.
"We didn't want to be seen as possibly promoting a political agenda," Grisham said.
In March 2005, the board decided to move the link to the "nongovernmental resources" section, where it remains today.
"It's going to stay open, active and accessible," Grisham said.
But since then, Balliot says, the board has been intent on firing him. The board considered giving Balliot a six-month probation during last month's meeting. Instead, both sides agreed to return with a written set of recommendations.
Silveira says Balliot's assertions are groundless.
"To suggest there's any political interference is just ridiculous," he said.
Silveira said Middletown First was a "politically driven, agenda-based Web site" whose link did not belong on the library's home page.
"I don't think that that's the message we wanted to give people in this community," said Silviera, who also said the Dec. 14 zoning meeting had nothing to do with the issue.
"The library board of trustees is a volunteer board that works tirelessly to oversee the functions of the library," he said.
Balliot's suggestions to the board were for the town to investigate board members' use of town funds, for board members to read and follow the library bylaws, and for all members to get library cards.
In a 5-to-0 vote, with member Edward Wray abstaining, the board voted to study relevant laws that deal with open meetings, conflicts of interest, and public records.
Barbara Murphy, who is co-president of the library union, said she was disappointed with last night's outcome. On top of the director's situation, library employees have been working without a contract for nearly four months, and things are terrible, she said.
"The atmosphere is no good," Murphy said.
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