GN Library director receives sweeter contract after harassment

GN Library director receives sweeter contract after harassment
Great Neck Library Director Denise Corcoran received a new five-year contract in November, in the midst of her prior contract, which was obtained by Blank Slate Media. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Great Neck Library Director Denise Corcoran was awarded a new five-year contract in November that grants her a year’s severance pay if she were to resign due to harassment, according to a copy of the contract recently obtained by Blank Slate Media.

The contract came two months after a trustee raised his voice at Corcoran during a public board meeting and was later found to have violated the library’s harassment policy. The agreement was approved at the same meeting where the board accepted the trustee’s resignation from the board.

Blank Slate Media received a copy of Corcoran’s new contract through a records request which the library fulfilled after two months. Efforts to reach Corcoran for comment were unavailing.

Corcoran was hired as the library’s new director in August 2021. She originally assumed the director role in January 2018 but resigned a year later in 2019.

The contract for Corcoran’s 2021 hiring was through September 2026 but the new contract approved in November now extends her employment to Sept. 12, 2028.

Corcoran’s contract outlines that if her resignation is due to misconduct related to harassment, workplace violence or sexual harassment, and determined by a neutral attorney mutually agreed upon by the director and the board at the expense of the library, Corcoran’s resignation is effective within one year of severance pay and payment of any COBRA payments by the library.

A source close to the library told Blank Slate that the ability for the director to receive a year’s severance, if it is determined her resignation is related to harassment, was in response to the incident where former Trustee Donald Panetta yelled at Corcoran during a board meeting.

Panetta was found to have violated the library’s harassment policy, which was read at an October board meeting where Panetta resigned.

The source said Corcoran resigned after the incident with Panetta, and later rescinded her resignation under the terms of receiving a new contract – which the source referred to as “blackmail” and “strong-arming.” The source said the board never approved or declined her resignation despite board procedures.

The source said the contract is a misappropriation of taxpayer money, calling the board’s actions to approve it “irresponsible to the public.”

They said Corcoran’s contract is not comparable to any other library director’s in the past.

“I’m not saying she should be run out of town,” the source said. “I’m saying, why? Why was it necessary to give [Corcoran] such a contract?.. Why was it necessary to revamp [Corcoran’s] entire contract based on a one-meeting, bad discussion with a trustee?”

With the addition of Corcoran’s ability to resign if claiming harassment and receive a year’s severance after the fact, the source said this fosters an environment of employers walking on “pins and needles” amid criticism of Corcoran. They said this is especially harmful when morale is already low among library staff.

The contract also stipulates that criticisms, complaints and suggestions made toward the library’s administration are to be made during executive session, to the extent of which Open Meeting Laws permit.

If Corcoran resigns, it now goes into effect no earlier than 60 days, and no earlier than 30 days if the library employs an assistant director at the time of the resignation.

These resignation parameters can be waived or modified by the board if the trustees immediately accept the resignation or if it is due to misconduct enacted against the director.

The board voted to approve the amended five-year contract with Corcoran at its Nov. 16 special meeting, with board President Rory Lancman and Trustee Barry Smith voting against it. Upon approval, members of the public erupted in applause.

Lancman said at the November meeting that 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 voting no” on the contract, Lancman said at the meeting 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, saying his concerns were limited to the contract itself.

The source close to the library attributed the new contract to actions taken by board members as necessary before its membership changed, saying that with a new board in January the contract’s passage would not have been as likely.

The director’s contract grants her a salary of $185,000 from Sept. 13, 2023 through Sept. 12, 2024.

Corcoran is also granted an annual $5,000 increase in her salary, which will result in a salary of $205,000 in her final contracted year.

The source said that Corcoran’s contract is also increasing the number of vacation days awarded to her, amounting to 30 days starting in 2024. The total annual paid vacation days for the director will increase by one day each succeeding year in her contract.

Corcoran is also receiving 15 sick days and four personal leave days annually.

The contract also grants the director to be paid for her unused accruals if she is terminated from her position at the rate she is paid at the time she leaves.

The source also said that Corcoran’s contract removes the board’s power to approve expenses incurred by the director, including her attendance at professional conferences and the expense associated with such travel.

Corcoran’s health benefits from the library are also secured in the contract and requires that she must serve 10 years at the library before retiring to receive health insurance coverage. The 10 years also include her prior employment time at the library.

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