Very little clarity was revealed in the Great Neck Library’s press release last week regarding Ethan Mann’s status with its Levels program. It simply stated than Mann, after 16 years as the program’s director, had resigned.
The release did not address the assumption by his many supporters that he had been fired a month ago and only referred to Mann’s reason for resigning as a preference to “pursue other interests.”
At last week’s Board of Trustees meeting at the Station Branch, the Board and its counsel, Kenneth A. Gray, a specialist in collective bargaining, contract grievances and litigation, continued a policy of “no comment” in front of an audience of close to 40, primarily present and former Levels participants and parents of Levels students.
Were it not for the Mann controversy, the meeting would have been highlighted by two major announcements, the start of construction at the main branch and the selection of a permanent Library Director.
After some unanticipated delays, actual renovation of the main branch was scheduled to begin the day after Memorial Day and February 2016 was tentatively mentioned as the re-opening target. When the branch shut down at the end of this past October, it was estimated that the project would last about a year.
The board also announced the selection of a new Library Director, completing a process that started three years ago. A unanimous vote appointed Kathy Giotsas, the current executive director of West Haven, Connecticut’s library, effective August 1st. Giotsas will be paid $150,000 a year.
Board President Marietta DiCamillo, in answering questions about the salary and benefits the new director will receive, said “We did research and we found out what libraries in Nassau, Suffolk, Jersey and Westchester were paying and we were far below them. We had to ‘up it’ it if we wanted to get quality people.”
Attorney Gray began the open time part of the meeting by reading the following statement, in response to a question about Mann, who has been the Levels director since 1998: “The board wants everyone to know that they appreciate the comments and concerns raised by members of the public. Under advice of counsel, the board does not discuss matters related to personnel . . . Based on that, please be advised that the board will not be taking any comments or questions related to personnel matters.”
Despite his warning, the audience questions and comments over the next 55 minutes focused solely on Mann’s status and the Levels program. Despite some moments when voices were raised and attempts were made to adjourn the meeting prior to its stated 9:30 PM closing, the session was allowed to continue some 15 minutes longer.
Every question to the board was met with some sort of variation of the attorney’s opening statement. Questions and comments ranged from why information about Mann was not available, criticisms about the lack of transparency, feelings that students and parents were no longer comfortable with the program due to Mann’s absence and testimonials to Mann’s positive influence on program participants.
A key complaint from the audience was that the Board was avoiding any response or recognition regarding the protests, emails and phone calls about Mann and the petition of support for him that contained almost 1200 signatures.
Trustee Michael Fuller did choose to speak on that issue, offering some sympathy to Mann’s supporters. “We are not deaf,” he began in response to charges that the protestors were being ignored. “We are simply saying in this circumstance our counsel has told us that to protect the personal rights of individuals . . . we cannot comment on this particular case.”
“We hear you,” he continued. “It is uncomfortable for us to sit here and listen to this . . . I respect what Levels has done but there are some issues that right now we are being told, and I know you hate to hear it, repeatedly, that we simply cannot comment in a way that will satisfy you.”
“But it doesn’t mean that we don’t want to be able to satisfy you. It doesn’t mean that I’m not sitting here incredibly unhappy that I can’t give you what you’re so desperately asking for. I simply cannot do it no matter how many times you ask, no matter how nicely you ask . . . I’m personally very sorry that we can’t be more open.”
“We understand what your concerns are,” DiCamillo said, following Fuller’s statement. “We understand the passion.”
The Press release as sent to The Record by the Library:
May 21, 2015
Contact: Christine M. Johnson, Interim Director
Great Neck Library: (516) 466-8055
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Levels Director Resigns
Ethan Mann, Director of the Levels Program at the Great Neck Library, has decided to pursue other interests and has submitted his resignation. The Library thanks him for his years of service to the community, and wishes him success in his future endeavors.
The Library appreciates all of the input it has received from the community with regard to the Levels Program. The Board recognizes the importance of Levels and will continue to support it fully in order to maintain the energy and excitement it generates. Full funding for the program remains in place, and an outstanding staff remains committed to working with all participants. The Board looks forward to its continued success.