Great Neck Library Board of Trustees accepts Panetta’s sudden resignation, approves director contract

Great Neck Library Board of Trustees accepts Panetta’s sudden resignation, approves director contract
The Great Neck Library Board of Trustees voted to accept former trustee Donald Panetta's sudden resignation. (Photo by Cameryn Oakes)

Following Trustee Donald Panetta’s sudden resignation in a volatile display amid frustrations with the board, the Great Neck Library Board of Trustees held a special meeting where they accepted the trustee’s resignation and moved forward in approving the library director’s contract.

The meeting began with the board convening for an executive session – which lasted over an hour – where the board discussed personnel matters and the board’s trustee vacancy along with legal advice, according to the agenda.

Upon returning, the board voted to accept Panetta’s resignation, with two trustees – President Rory Lancman and Trustee Barry Smith – voting against it.

Before the board voted on validating Panetta’s resignation, Lancman began to provide a statement but stopped himself before saying anything.

No further discussion was held regarding the resignation.

Panetta resigned at the board’s Oct. 17 meeting, walking out less than 10 minutes in. He said his resignation was due to frustrations with the board and health concerns.

“After thought and consideration, I have decided that I have more important things in my life that are more deserving of my attention,” Panetta said at the October meeting. “Therefore, effective immediately, I am resigning my seat at the Great Neck Library.”

He said at the Oct. 17 meeting there were many things the board didn’t know about, “mostly because you simply never asked or took the time. As a group, you have spent too much time bickering and dividing the community instead of moving forward. One thing about me that you do not know is that I’m a cancer survivor. More importantly than that, cancer has recently been detected in my body for the second time in 10 years.”

He then folded his paper, stood up, said “have a good meeting, goodbye” and walked out of the room.

During the Sept. 19 board meeting, Panetta expressed anger in an explosive discussion with Library Director Denise Corcoran and the handling of the temporary closure of the Parkville library branch due to construction.

Panetta criticized the board for not seeking to establish an alternative location for the Parkville Branch earlier amid its construction closure. During the discussion, Panetta singled out Corcoran who attempted to respond to his concerns and his shouting.

“I’ve already apologized and I think what you’re doing is harassment,” Panetta said at the October meeting. “You can admonish and harass me as much as you want. I still believe that the Parkville closure was handled incorrectly. The residents in the south, like it or not, are still part of this community and deserve to be treated better.”

Lancman read a statement at the Oct. 17 meeting alleging that Panetta had violated the board’s harassment policy and communications during its September meeting.

“The Great Neck library policy manual includes a number of provisions to protect library staff, trustees, and patrons from inappropriate conduct,” Lancman read from the prepared statement after Panetta exited. “Harassment is detrimental to the library environment. It interferes with the mission of the library and disrupts its operations. Such behavior affects not only the patrons or the employees who are the targets, but also those individuals who participate in and witness such acts.”

The board also voted to approve the amended five-year contract with Corcoran Thursday night, with Lancman and Smith voting against it. Upon approval, members of the public erupted in applause.

Lancman said he voted against the contract because he found that it “does not appropriately balance the security that the director needs and is entitled to with the library’s interests in ensuring that it’s conducting proper oversight of the director’s conduct.”

Despite him voting against the contract, he said that he believes Corcoran will “do a good job” and hopes she will stay for the full five years of the contract.

“My vote should no way be interpreted as anything less than the complete confidence in our director,” Lancman said, citing his concerns being with the contract itself.

Smith said that while he does believe that having continuity with a director is important, he voted against the contract as he found it to be his fiduciary responsibility to protect the taxpayers.

Treasurer Liman Mimi Hu asked for Lancman’s and Smith’s comments to be stricken from the record to protect the library from legal liabilities.

Trustee Scott Sontag took a moment to praise Corcoran’s initiatives as director, saying that she has worked with the community and expanded library programs.

“I just think, you know, that it’s a blessing that she’s here,” Sontag said.

Sontag’s comments were met with overwhelming applause from members of the public attending the meeting.

The board then voted to authorize the director to enter into negotiations for employment contracts with the administrative staff, which was passed unanimously.

The Great Neck Library Board of Trustees will convene again on Tuesday at the Main Library. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.

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