WESTBROOK — The Walker Memorial Library Board of Regents will be replaced with an advisory committee after an unrelated investigation turned up “conflict and dysfunction” at the library.

On Monday the City Council unanimously agreed to abolish the library’s board and replace it with an advisory committee with more clearly defined roles, a move that has angered former board members who say there is no need for it.

The change came after an attorney working for the city interviewed former and current library directors as part of an investigation into a “personnel matter” within the library, Mayor Mike Foley said at the council’s June 1 meeting.

“Conflict and dysfunction” at the library was pointed out during those interviews, unrelated to the personnel issue being looked into, he said.

“Many of the issues are longstanding conditions which date back multiple years,” Foley said.

The root of some of those issues was that the Board of Regents played both an advisory role and a hands-on role within the library, and that caused rifts between the staff, the board and the director, he said.

“I wish to express my support for the repeal as a former director from 2006 to 2014. I have personally experienced the confusion of the situation,” Karen Valley said in a letter read at the meeting, the only public comment on the issue at the meeting. “I agree that this is appropriate to address past and current issues, and is long overdue.”

Valley could not be reached for further comment.

Library Director Rosemary Bebris, in an interview with the American Journal Tuesday, said she has seen the dysfunction since she started at the library late last year.

She said the Board of Regents was angry with her and expressed their disapproval that she spoke to the American Journal without their permission for a story about her when she was new on the job. She was surprised by their reaction because she hadn’t experienced anything like that in previous library positions, she said.

“That’s just a small example of where the city needed to decide who was in charge down here and what are the roles,” Bebris said.

A former chairman of the Board of Regents is upset about the council’s action, saying dysfunction at the library is among the staff.

“I am angry. That board has been there since 1894. It’s a very upsetting thing for the trustees, who are appointed by the probate court for life,” Judith Reidman said in an interview with the American Journal.

“We put a lot of time and money in this. It does not have a good director, the staff doesn’t get along, they did away with emerging tech job, it’s very bad and we are going to lose some people,” she said.

Reidman said she was never formally informed that the board would be disbanded, only hearing about it the Friday before final approval.

“It’s been awful and we didn’t know (this was coming,)” she said.

A former board member also disagreed with the repeal of the board.

“The board does not want to micromanage the library and is more interested in doing what all good boards of directors do: set broad goals and policies,” Alice Persons, who served on the library board for four years until 2019, said in a letter to the City Council.

“The board is comprised of individuals who care a lot about the library, and its longest serving members in particular have a valuable amount of institutional memory about policies, procedures and history,” she wrote.

The advisory committee will provide oversight with clearly defined roles while still following the intentions of library benefactor Joseph Walker as laid out in his will, Foley said.

Bebris said the change won’t affect services.

“The only thing (patrons will) notice is that things run better and we are more efficient and able to respond to our patrons needs in a timely fashion,” Bebris said.

Members of the disbanded Board of Regents and the public are invited to apply for the committee, which will be formed after the City Council approves its policies.

The change is supported by Maine Director of Library Development, Foley said.

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