The Great Neck Library Board of Trustees approved a measure to fill a vacant seat days after “members of the Great Neck Library Association” filed a lawsuit demanding the trustees immediately cease and desist from taking further action to fill the vacancy.
The appointment of Jenni Lurman to a one-year term was approved 5-1 Tuesday at a board meeting. Trustee Barry Smith cast the dissenting vote after unsuccessfully attempting to table the measure.
“My idea was to just table it. Let the dust settle and come back to what the process should be under the library bylaws,” Smith told Newsday on Wednesday. “There was no urgency to fill the vacancy, library operations were not affected.”
The seat was left vacant after the board accepted Chelsea Sassouni’s resignation on Sept. 14. According to the library’s bylaws, when any vacancy occurs, the library’s nominating committee has 60 days to submit two or more names to the board. Nominees must be 18 or older, a resident of the Great Neck School District and either a library cardholder or a registered voter with the Nassau County Board of Elections.
Brian Stolar, an attorney for Garden City-based Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein PC, who represents “certain members of the Great Neck Library Association,” sent the trustees a letter on Dec. 15 demanding they not fill the vacancy. He noted that the board would be violating its bylaws by interviewing and selecting a person not recommended by the nominating committee.
Library board president Weihua Yan said the board received two nominations for the vacant seat and immediately eliminated one after several trustees raised strong objections. He said the other candidate was interviewed, but a majority of the board decided they wanted to interview more people. He noted that the board requested additional nominations from the nominating committee.
Yan said the trustees opened the interview process on Nov. 29 to the entire community, after not receiving another name from the committee within 60 days. They received more than 15 applications, conducted 14 interviews with at least five board members present and chose Lurman, Yan said.
Yan said Lurman was the best choice and added that he believes the nominating committee violated the bylaws by refusing to submit two names to satisfy the board’s request. The trustees, he said, relied on a New York State law that governs nonprofits to fill the seat.
Marietta DiCamillo, chair of the library’s nominating committee, said the committee provided a total of four nominations. She noted that one candidate, Donald Panetta, withdrew his name after winning a seat on the board in an October election, and another was not interviewed by the trustees. She said the committee may have been beyond the 60-day limit when providing the fourth name but noted that there are no instructions to follow in the bylaws indicating what to do if a candidate is disqualified and another withdraws their name.
“All I can tell you for sure is that the nominating committee followed the bylaws and followed past precedents in every regard,” DiCamillo said.
The meeting was attended by more than 70 people, with a majority expressing disapproval of the decision.
“You guys are like a monarchy or queen trying to pass this without considering people’s request,” Great Neck resident Joseph Esrali said after the vote.
Other residents asked for the decision to be tabled.
Lurman’s first meeting is scheduled for Jan. 4.