NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The Narragansett Town Council’s sudden replacement of three longtime members of Narragansett’s Library Board of Trustees has council critics claiming that politics, and the divisive issue of a new library site, played a role.
With their terms ending, Gail Shields, Ann Sullivan and Gloria Roman had requested reappointment to the seven-member board, which governs the Maury Loontjens Memorial Library. They have each served five three-year terms.
Instead, the council on Oct. 5 appointed Douglas McLaughlin, a former council member, and Jeff Dentler to the board.
The town had received five new applications, from Gina Giramma, Dentler, Mary Ann Grintchenko, Dennis Lynch, Catherine Moss and McLaughlin. Lynch had withdrawn his application, and the council held off on a last-minute application from Pat Brady to avoid any possibility of an Open Meetings Act violation.
Council President Matthew Mannix, Council President Pro Tem Jill Lawler and Councilor Rick Lema said the two new appointees would bring “fresh blood” to the library board.
“I believe fresh blood will be able to communicate with the library board,” Lema said. “You’ve got to be able to meet with these people, regardless of what their views are.”
But the move drew outrage from library advocates, who said Mannix, Lawler and Lema had voted to “fire” three hard-working incumbent board members seeking reappointment and replace them with hand-picked anti-library surrogates.
Resident Sue Amoruso is one of those critics.
“I think what’s troubling is that this council has members on it that have been non-supportive of the library. In fact, they’ve been hostile,” she said. “It really should be held off until after the election.”
Library Board of Trustees President Laurie Kelly, who is running for a seat on the council, also defended the three veteran board members.
“These individuals have served as active members of the board, they have also done considerable community outreach, time and money and volunteering for the staff and the patrons,” Kelly said. “During COVID they were in the library scanning books while the library was closed.”
Council member Jesse Pugh initially moved to reappoint the incumbents, seconded by Patrick Murray. Both are staunch advocates of a plan to move the library to the former Belmont/IGA market building at the Pier. Voters in 2016 approved a bond of almost $6 million to procure a new site for the library.
“Why is this even here 28 days before the election?” Murray asked. “We’ve got a major project happening after the election, I think we need to see where these folks stand and not just appoint them blindly 28 days before the election.”
Mannix said the council is trying to work through a backlog of appointments to local boards that languished during the first months of COVID-19 and over the summer.
“As you know, with coronavirus we’ve had a ton of distractions,” Mannix said.
Pugh withdrew his motion in favor of individual appointments. Attempts to reappoint two of the incumbents failed on 3-2 votes.
Pugh said it was “personal vengeance” on the council majority’s part to not reappoint the incumbents.
“The people that have been nominated have never spoken in favor of the library in the two years I’ve been on the council,” he said. “This isn’t a personal attack, it’s just a reality. They’re not library advocates.”
Pugh also said the new council next month could remove board members “as they see fit.”