Former Parkville Library Trustee Donald Panetta, who resigned in August after a public dispute with the director over the temporary closing of the branch, said the board is dysfunctional and shortchanging the library’s patrons.
Panetta, who lives in New Hyde Park, said he resigned during the August meeting after what he described as “total frustration” with the library administration’s handling of the Parkville Branch closure – the only library located in New Hyde Park.
“You know I feel like we’re an appendix,” Panetta said. “We’re an afterthought. They really don’t care about us.”
Panetta said the library was closed for renovations on July 1. Renovations will be taking place for about six months, according to the library website. Library Director Denise Corcoran said at the last board meeting the branch was on schedule to open either at the end of December or the beginning of January.
Some of Panetta’s frustrations lie in the way in which residents were informed since they could only find out about the closure by visiting the library’s website. Panetta said he fought back against this, advising the library to inform the resident through other avenues.
On July 2, Panetta said they put a sign up on the library’s door announcing the closure.
His other frustration with the branch’s closure was the library’s lack of services to New Hyde Park residents. He said that in February when the library administration knew about the branch’s upcoming closure, options included a bookmobile or a new temporary location at an empty storefront.
Yet neither of those options was brought to fruition.
According to the library’s website, book holds can be picked up at the Hillside Public Library and museum passes and borrowed items from the Library of Things can be picked up and returned at the Station Branch Library. Books can still be returned at the Parkville Branch book drop.
Panetta said Corcoran determined opening a temporary branch at an empty storefront was “not feasible.” He said this was decided after she drove around looking at properties without a realtor.
Panetta said he sent a friend of his who is a realtor to consult Corcoran in August.
He said his friend did confirm that getting a short-term rental from August through December was difficult, which Panetta claimed Corcoran used against him to justify not opening a new branch. But Panetta said it would have been much easier if the library had started planning to secure a rental in February, when initial plans for the branch’s closure began.
“I was so flabbergasted and so frustrated,” Panetta said, adding that he “got a little loud” at the next board meeting.
Efforts to contact Corcoran were unavailing.
Corcoran said at the Sept. 19 meeting – where the dispute with Panetta erupted – that despite their efforts, no suitable spaces were available for rent to establish a temporary location.
At the library’s Sept. 19 board of trustees meeting, Panetta shared with the board the complaints of the New Hyde Park residents who were upset about the lack of alternatives given to them after the Parkville Branch closed. Panetta went on to criticize the board for not taking action sooner since the problem had been known earlier.
Corcoran attempted to address Panetta’s concerns at the meeting, asserting that the library’s feedback differed from what he was hearing. This led to a heated exchange, with Panetta yelling, “I’m out there every day and I see it.”
Board President Rory Lancman intervened, urging Panetta to allow Corcoran to reply to him.
“You have to let her communicate,” Lancman said.
Corcoran reassured the board and the public at the meeting that a solution was in progress and that patrons could use any library in Nassau County with their Great Neck library card without any additional costs.
“I think whoever the library director is needs to spend more time at Parkville to find out the needs and the wants and the desires of the Parkville residents,” Panetta said. “That’s never been done.”
The day after the meeting, Panetta said Corcoran resigned because of him. Blank Slate Media was unable to confirm this as efforts to contact Corcoran were unavailing.
He denied that he was the true reason for her resignation, saying he apologized to her for his actions.
But Panetta said Corcoran said she would return, rescinding her resignation, if the library granted her about 15 requests, which Panetta called demands.
Corcoran’s amended five-year contract was later approved by the board in November.
Lancman and Trustee Barry Smith voted against the contract, with Lancman saying he did 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.”
After the public dispute between Panetta and Corcoran, in which he yelled as he voiced his concerns over the Parkville Branch, Panetta said he was told the board was going to reprimand him as a trustee for his actions.
Before Lancman could read the statement at the October meeting, Panetta publicly resigned and walked out of the meeting.
Lancman went on to read the statement at the meeting alleging that Panetta had violated the board’s harassment policy and communications during its September meeting.
Panetta contended he was the one being harassed after being yelled at and told that Corcoran was resigning due to him.
“I was the one who threw the word harassment out,” Panetta said. “They kept on coming after me for being too loud because I supported Parkville in my frustration.”
But after his resignation in October, Panetta said he told Lancman that he would either stay on the board until Jan. 1 or until the nominating committee found a new candidate.
At the November special meeting, the board voted to approve his resignation – with Lancman and Smith voting against it – citing that once the resignation is provided it is effective immediately.
Going forward, Panetta said he will continue to be an advocate for the Parkville Branch, just from the outside.
“But then again, I always was an outsider to them even when I was on the board,” Panetta said.
He said an issue that affects the library is the Board of Trustee’s dysfunction, which he attributed to differences in personalities, unwillingness to compromise and differences in priorities. He said executive sessions are “nothing more than an hour screaming match.”
Panetta said it is the patrons of the library who lose out due to the board’s dysfunction.
“The library will be there despite the board,” Panetta said. “But like I said, will it move forward? Will it be innovative? Probably not.”
Panetta said that while the library is able to sustain its current operations, the dysfunction and fighting prevent it from moving forward.
“If I’m worried about today’s problem today… that means I did a bad job yesterday,” Panetta said. “The library can’t think about today because they’re so wrapped up in their problems.”