Friday, 16 April 2010 00:00
The candidates for Manhasset Public Library Trustee were given questions by the Manhasset Press to enable the community to better understand their positions. Following are the questions and their answers.
Four candidates are running to fill the five-year-term position on the Manhasset Public Library Board of Trustees being vacated by James E. Pelzer. These candidates are Robert Carrozzo, Karl Eschelbach, Donald O’Brien, and Margo Vignola. Additionally, Joseph T. Vogel will be running to succeed himself for the two-year term.
On Monday, April 19, at 8 p.m. in the Community Room of the Manhasset Public Library the Port Washington-Manhasset League of Women Voters will conduct a Meet the Candidates evening, and the community is invited to attend.
1. What is the primary reason you are seeking this position?
Carrozzo: The library is a tremendous resource and the cultural hub of the community. My family and I have spent countless hours utilizing the facility and it is my strong desire that the library continues to grow and is enjoyed by a greater number of Manhasset residents.
Eschelbach: Under New York law, library trustees are charged with the duty of maintaining and enhancing access to free public libraries within their respective communities. The current Manhasset Library Board of Trustees has done an excellent job in fulfilling this duty. My primary purpose for seeking a position as trustee is to ensure that the Manhasset Public Library remains a vibrant centerpiece of the community. (An excellent article discussing New York library law is available at the following website: www.nyla.org/content/ user_1/Public_Library_Law.pdf.)
O’Brien: As a longtime resident I decided to get involved in the library because of its important role in most of our lives. I am a proponent of education and believe we should continue to learn and challenge ourselves throughout our lives. The library provides the resources for a lifetime of learning and personal growth.
The job of a trustee is interesting and challenging and my business career experience provides a transferable skill set.
My goal is to be a bridge between Manhasset residents and their library.
Vignola: I have a keen interest in the library both as a heavy user and member of the community. I believe the facility can become an even greater focal point for the community in both its service offerings and outreach.
Vogel: For the past 22 years I have been an active patron and supporter of the library. During my life the library has been a thoroughly utilized resource. I recall attending story-time as a young child and participating in the summer reading programs in the Children’s Room. Besides its function as a place to find and read books, I have enjoyed the library in its role as a community center. In my youth I was active in the Young Friends of the Library helping out the Friends with events and communications. Later I was involved in several community service projects helping the library to establish a library room at the Manhasset-Great-Neck EOC. After taking full advantage of the library for so many years I would like to give something back to that institution which has given me so much and played such an important role in my life. I believe that I am able to actively take on the responsibilities of a trustee and positively contribute to the well-being of the library.
2. What special qualifications or particular expertise do you bring to the position?
Carrozzo: As an attorney I am familiar and comfortable with negotiations involving contracts and costs. As a board member of a tax district, I am used to dealing with tax issues, governments and bureaucracy. As a small business owner, in these difficult economic times, I am responsive to the cost controls, financial needs, and the tax burdens on the residents of Manhasset. As a patron of the library, I am cognizant of the collection, tapes, programs, services, activities and facilities.
It will be my task to utilize these diverse skills to expand the collection and programs, embrace the new technologies available, and maintain the building in the most economically, fiscally responsible manner while minimizing the tax burden on the residents.
Eschelbach: Since the primary function of the board is to manage the finances of the library, my background as a tax lawyer and CPA enables me to understand financial issues. Throughout most of my career, I have been deeply immersed in financial data.
O’Brien: My undergraduate and graduate degrees in finance and my commercial real estate investment career with major financial firms provide the knowledge and experience directly applicable to the duties of a trustee.
A major trustee responsibility is adopting the annual budget prepared by the library director. I have extensive budget experience and find it imperative to ask appropriate questions and thoroughly review budget assumptions. This skill set developed over my career is directly transferable.
Commercial real estate requires knowledge of building operating and capital improvement costs. This experience is also transferable since many topics on the monthly meeting agenda pertain to the library building.
I am committed to ensuring that our library is an asset to the community while operating at a reasonable cost. If elected, I will take advantage of the training offered by the NYS Association of Library Boards.
Vignola: I bring 25 years of experience in finance, which provides an excellent background for review of budgets and expenses. I also have extensive experience of management and training which could be invaluable in internal and external activities. Likewise, as a user, I can appreciate some of the core needs that the library has yet to meet—but has great potential to do so.
Vogel: I do not have any special qualifications directly related to library management. However I do have a deep respect for the library and a strong understanding of its inner workings. I think my quantitative training can be useful for effective analysis of the library’s issues and formulation of solutions to any problems that arise.
3. Did you attend any library board meetings before you decided to run for trustee? If so have you participated in discussions with trustees at board meetings?
Carrozzo: When the new building was being proposed I was very engaged in the discussions surrounding it. I have had one-on-one discussions with a board member and I was at last month’s meeting and found it to be very informative. I encourage all residents to attend meetings when their time permits.
O’Brien: My attendance at the March meeting was a factor in making the decision to seek election. Mr. Tortora and Mr. Pelzer provided background information on many of the agenda topics. I asked questions and made comments on the various issues.
Vignola: No. I attended one board meeting in conjunction with the candidacy. I did not participate in the discussion and did not believe it was appropriate at that point in time.
Vogel: I have been serving as an appointed member of the board for the past several months. I have been active in discussions and the decision-making of the board, particularly in the creation of the budget and in the staff contract negotiations.
4. Are you a member of the Friends of the Library? Have you attended meetings of the Friends of the Library? Do you have any ideas for making the Friends more involved and active as they are in neighboring communities?
Carrozzo: The Friends of the Library are an underutilized asset. They enhance the use, scope and diversity of the library’s collections, and it functions at no cost to the community. Both the library itself and the Friends must do a better job of educating the community as to their function. In talking with members of the community it appears that many have no idea that the Friends exist. I numbered myself among these people. While the Friends do have a presence on the website, I believe that their work should be documented more fully. All donors should be listed in the newsletter and website and all activities underwritten or supplemented by the Friends should be celebrated more prominently. More people will become active in the Friends if their generosity is publicized.
O’Brien: My family has a membership. I feel it would be beneficial to meet with neighboring Friends to understand their programs.
We could: develop academic contests for students to propose fund raising programs involving family participation; encourage planned giving, such as a financial bequest or real property in a will; dedicate rooms or sections to donors.
Vignola: While I am not currently a member of the Friends, I have participated in events in the past, though note that the number has trailed off in recent years. I believe the Friends could provide more fundraising activities that point out of the importance of the library and enhance its ability to leverage its presence in the community.
Vogel: I would like to get the Friends of the Library more involved directly with the board of trustees. The Friends are a valuable resource and we should take advantage of the fact that our community hosts a group with such support. Currently the Friends are very helpful in getting word out about the budget and trustee elections. In the future we should work more closely with the Friends to increase awareness of the library and all that it has to offer to the Manhasset community.
5. Can you attend the evening monthly meetings? Are you available for an emergency during the day if needed or in the middle of the night if necessary?
Eschelbach: I will be available each and every month for meetings, both scheduled and unscheduled.
O’Brien: Yes. I will also be prepared by reviewing beforehand the information and documents supplied by the library director prior to meetings.
Vogel: I am available any evening and weekends for meetings. I have attended every meeting since my appointment as interim trustee.
6. What is your experience with the library? Is any one area far better or worse than others? What do you consider its strengths and weaknesses, and what do you propose the library does about them?
Carrozzo: Having lived in Manhasset for over 20 years and having three children born and raised here, we use the library on a weekly basis. I believe that the library must track which books, tapes, programs, and services are most utilized and expand on them. Further we have to keep up with the new technology that is coming online. The e-books, Sony readers, Kindles, and other devices will come into more general use and the library will have to more easily service them. We must also monitor the physical use of the facility and the staffing thereof so that we deploy resources in the most economically expedient manner possible.
Eschelbach: I regularly use the library, generally borrowing new books in the non-fiction area. Given interlibrary lending of books, the Manhasset collection of books is excellent and can be easily supplemented. The one area of weakness is CD collection, at least compared with Port Washington’s collection.
I would not necessarily strengthen this area due to the gradual migration of music from CDs to other formats.
O’Brien: Children’s services provides many programs to generate an early interest in reading and learning – a major benefit to the early educational process.
Many residents and I are impressed by the ability of the Reference Department to respond to multiple requests on a timely basis.
Circulation responds daily to all requests for library materials from the other 53 libraries in the Nassau Library System. The Manhasset Library was ranked No. 3 in circulation performance by NLS.
Residents feel there is an opportunity for some staff members of many departments to improve their performance when interacting with them. Further training in customer service skills could be beneficial.
Vignola: We have lived in Manhasset for 27 years. As a lifelong user of libraries it was among the first places we visited when my children were 3 and 6 years old. Not only did they enjoy endless story hours and activities, but I was a constant reader and thus frequent visitor—though realized the old facility was small, cramped and inadequate. The new building is attractive and a fabulous addition to the community. It is always full of patrons. The addition of new media, like DVDs, has expanded the offerings and broadened the customer base, as has the lovely public space. The public programs are diverse and do appeal to many age groups. However, the library is the largest public facility within Manhasset and could be an even greater magnet by providing a broad array of services and programs that capitalize on the large, diverse and knowledgeable population. Most if not all of these potential programs could be provided at little or no cost, simply by taking advantage of the skills and experience of locals (e.g. help in job searches, résumés, tutorials on government programs etc.) With the beautiful public space, more art exhibits and performances could be made available.
Vogel: I have thoroughly enjoyed the use of the library for over two decades. I mostly use it as a source of books for pleasure as well as reference. I have also made use of the library’s study rooms and the computers. The library offers many great programs that are well attended, but I would like to work towards expanding the audience that is served by these programs. In particular we should offer more programs targeted to the 18-40 age group, which in my opinion is underserved by the current programs schedule.
7. The library is organized as a school district library which requires cooperation with the Manhasset School District. Have you any experience in working with school board members or with the staff of the school district?
Carrozzo: As a board member of a tax district I often need to coordinate the actions of various governmental entities. I feel that this is an area that can and should be more fully exploited to the mutual benefit of both institutions.
O’Brien: All NYS high schools must have a librarian. The Manhasset district has librarians for each school. Therefore, there is an opportunity for the school librarians to work closely with the public library on materials required for assignments, summer reading, databases, etc.
I interacted with school board members and staff when our daughter, Kelly, was a Manhasset High student. I have the ability to contribute to a close working relationship.
Vignola: No. Though I note that the relationship between the two is not obvious in any way—or leveraged to each one’s benefit.
Vogel: I have not.
8. As a library user and after reviewing the Manhasset Library’s Long Range Plan and By-Laws, what is your vision for the library?
Carrozzo: I believe that my goals are in accordance with the library’s long-range plans. The overriding goal is to serve the greatest number of residents with the most diverse materials possible with the lowest tax impact.
Eschelbach: I have reviewed the applicable statutes and by-laws governing the library but not the Long Range Plan. My vision for the library is twofold: to maintain it as a center for learning, reading and culture and to encourage everyone in the community to utilize the facility for any purpose, whether within the scope of a library per se or any community activity.
O’Brien: A Long Range Plan is being developed and, thus, unavailable. The prior plan related to building the new library.
I read the By-Laws, which establish the structure of the board and its specific role and responsibilities. In my opinion it creates a clear division of authority and provides for limited terms for officers.
I would focus on the goal of providing a full range of services through cost effective management. It is the community’s library and I am asking residents to vote for me so that I can represent them on the Board. The Board must work closely with the library director who is responsible for the day-to-day management.
Vignola: I strongly believe that the library’s superb facility and central location could make it a far more visible community source. While the activities are extensive, they are clustered into a few areas. Some possibilities for expansion might include: job fairs, help with résumés, networking events, tutoring for all levels, exam preparation, art exhibits, performance (e.g. music), presentations by a variety of government officials, tutorials on government programs like Medicare... these are just a few of my thoughts.
Vogel: I think the library does a good job at its main purpose, and we should continue to work towards providing the maximum benefit to the community at a fair price for everyone. I think we are making progress on running the facility more efficiently and can focus more in the future on media and programs.
9. Since increasing the number of Manhasset residents using the library would be a goal, what proposed strategy would you suggest to accomplish this? An example, should the library newsletter be mailed, mailed by request, or strictly online?
Carrozzo: The residents of Manhasset will more fully utilize the library if they are kept informed of the many programs available. The current method of notification through the newspaper and newsletter are fine but expensive. I would endeavor to reduce the costs of mailing by substituting e-mail for those who have embraced the technology. I propose that a master e-mail list be generated for all Manhasset residents, hopefully with their preferences and interests so that future e-mails can be targeted specifically to their wants and needs. These targeted e-mails could then provide information on a daily basis. Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, I do not see the total elimination of the mailings, but I do see a greater reduction as more people switch over.
Eschelbach: The library does a good job of communicating with the public. The use and expansion of email should be encouraged.
O’Brien: Over 70 percent of Manhasset residents have a library card and usage is trending upward annually. In January and February 2010, the number of visitors increased 7.7 percent over 2009 period figures.
I would place the priority on taking the library to the next level by identifying ways to improve the library experience. I suggest a survey that would be offered online and included in hard copy with the newsletter that is mailed only upon request.
Vignola: My sense is that the newsletter still has somewhat limited distribution. Email would be a terrific venue, though I note that participation in the library online system, ALISWEB, does not automatically mean receipt of the newsletter. Basic marketing of the facility beyond the newsletter appears limited to non-existent, an issue, which could clearly be addressed through more active programs. Overall, email distribution is fine and inexpensive—but the newsletter should be distributed throughout the community (e.g. at every local merchant).
Vogel: The mailing of the newsletter was ceased last year to save on the cost of distribution. Since then we have received several comments from patrons who missed getting the newsletter in the mail. I think if we can mail the newsletter by request at a reasonable cost, it would prove useful to those patrons. The newsletter is also available online and this should remain as it is.
10. Have you reviewed the library’s proposed budget? Do you agree with it or do you have suggestions for revision?
Carrozzo: The budget is comprised of certain costs that are fixed due to contracts or negotiation, such as debt service, salaries and taxes. Some costs cannot be neglected such as building maintenance, heating, and insurance. As a trustee, I would scrutinize every bill as it comes before us, to determine if we can get the same level of service for the lowest cost possible. It is my desire that no part of the collection, program or service be cut but the costs associated with the activity must be reduced.
Eschelbach: I have reviewed the budget. It would be rather presumptuous on my part to make any substantive suggestions for revisions. It appears to me that the budget is prudent given the current economic climate.
Many of the line items appear to be fixed costs, which cannot be materially changed. The variable costs pertain primarily to the hours of operation. This creates a Faustian trade-off: to save money the library would have to reduce hours of operation, but reducing hours limits access to the library thereby defeating the primary purpose of the library. Hence I would seek to maintain or even expand the hours of operation.
O’Brien: I reviewed the operating budget totaling $3,431,594 after deducting debt service. The “Salaries, Retirement, Social Security, Insurance” category estimate is a major concern because the existing employee contract expires on June 30, 2010 and the new three-year contract terms are not finalized. This expense category accounts for over 70 percent of the operating budget.
The Library Director will be challenged to keep total payroll expenses at almost the current level. There is some flexibility in this category because payroll costs can be reduced by attrition, replacing retiring employees at a lower salary level, or reducing part-time employee hours.
Health insurance costs are the same as last year, presenting another challenge. Many health insurance companies are forecasting increases in premiums for next year. Increased employee contributions under a new contract may be necessary as an offset.
The major increase in this category is the retirement expense. An additional contribution of $73,000 is required by the NYS Pension System to offset losses suffered in the stock market.
In summary payroll and health insurance costs must remain flat to achieve the forecast of a 1.44 percent overall budget increase.
Vignola: Yes. I fail to understand why the allocation for books is up sharply, but other media expenses are down. Virtually the entire increase in the budget is due to retirement outlays, which I do not understand either. These items require some scrutiny. I do not know enough to suggest alternatives.
Vogel: I have worked with the other trustees in formulating this year’s budget and we think it is a prudent and reasonable budget. We have reviewed every item in each department and examined the costs allocated in order to best use the resources of the community.
11. What do you think is the general public’s view of the library and do you think they are willing to support it with their taxes?
Carrozzo: I have always felt that Manhasset has a “Small Town Americana” feel to it. This feeling is fostered by the sense of community we have. Some of us are drawn together through school or church or sports or clubs but we all have access to the library. It is a meeting place, an educational institution, and a cultural hub. The very existence of the library creates this sense of community and it is one of the reasons that Manhasset is a desirable place to live. Even those unfortunate few who do not use the library enjoy the benefits that it provides in the higher property values it creates. We live in Manhasset, and Manhasset will always support the library, provided that we maintain the services that the people enjoy, and we do so in a financially responsible way.
Eschelbach: The public has been generally supportive of the library. As a trustee, it would be part of my job to ensure that the public continues to support the library.
O’Brien: I am visiting Manhasset residents as I campaign. I ask for their opinion of the library and specific comments. Residents of all ages speak favorably of the library and indicate using it regularly.
Several residents suggested emulating the Port Washington Library in seeking to improve the Manhasset Library experience. Others say Manhasset could update its book collection and the new budget actually restores $10,000 of the prior year reduction of $39,000.
The most common negative is about the exterior design. A number of residents feel that the building facade is neither architecturally nor physically appealing.
Although our residents like and use our library, they believe the operating costs should remain at approximately the same level.
Vignola: I believe the public is positively disposed to the library and that the community is very supportive. Now the new facility is open, it is a beehive of activity throughout the day and night. That said, I know people who have never been there, which gets back to your question on marketing.
Vogel: I think most of the public is satisfied with the services they get from the library and would be in agreement with the board that the amount raised by tax is fair and justified. That said, it is important to respect the fact that the library must be managed in an efficient manner and we must use our limited resources with the best interests of the Manhasset community foremost in mind.