Both candidates for the position as trustee on the Great Neck Library Board currently held by William Morrill were interviewed by phone. As Marietta DiCamillo also served as a trustee some five years ago, both candidates discussed the position with specificity. We asked each candidate what he or she would do differently if they knew then what they know now. Ms. DiCamillo said that she would not get sidetracked by bickering over minor matters and would keep the big picture in mind. Mr. Morrill said that he would have urged the board to better publicize each step in the planning process and that further he would not have voted on a specific plan so quickly and would have waited until there was time for community input.
Mr. Morrill believes that while the library board has much work ahead, they are far from square one and that much of their work and the studies they initiated are still valid. He thinks that they will probably cut back the original expansion request by 8,000 to 10,000 square feet. (Plan three called for a 23,000 square foot addition, which would result in a new proposal for a 13,000 to 15,000 square foot expansion.)
He touched on the unanticipated setback from the Town of North Hempstead's building department that reviewed the proposal. The town's zoning code does not have a section that specifically relates to libraries; therefore, requirements were cobbled together from codes that appeared to be more commercially based. He says, "The space we were proposing to add was for more shelf space for books and videos, more stuff, more room to accommodate wheel chairs...rather than attracting many more people at one time...I'm not criticizing the building commissioner, but requiring that we have three loading bays just wasn't realistic for a library."
Mr. Morrill harkens back to the recommendations of the Ad Hoc Committee that studied the needs of the main library which were echoed by the public visioning session this past summer. He says that there is agreement on the priorities to make the library function better and serve current and future needs. Namely, the children's library needs much more space to allow for child-sized shelving and group programming; the audio-visual section needs more space and should be more accessible; there is a need for group study areas; areas specific for adolescents' needs; and more space for computers.
He believes that these needs will guide the board in reshaping the plans for renovation/expansion. He is frank in saying, "We're not going to get the building concept that knocked our socks off...but we do intend to meet the goals that were set by community input."
Although much has been made about the $300,000 which some critics say has been wasted, Mr. Morrill points out that the traffic study, the environmental study, the topographical study, the asbestos abatement study to name a few will still be valid and would have had to be done no matter the size of the expansion.
In regard to closing the building during construction, Mr. Morrill says that because of health and safety concerns there would be a need to close the building. He doubts that it would require two years. He says, "The architects told us that it might need to be closed for a year. To be on the safe side, we projected 18 months and somehow that grew into two years."
Mr. Morrill is firmly committed to the Levels program. He says that his son got his start in lighting design from his experience at Levels and he thinks it provides a unique opportunity for teens to get involved in productive activities outside of school.
His background in school administration gives Mr. Morrill an understanding of the proper functions of a board. He thinks they should not get involved in micro-managing the staff. He also believes that his study of pre-engineering and his minor in math and science give him an ability to evaluate alternatives for the library expansion.
Mr. Morrill says of his opponent, "Ms. DiCamillo has an analytical mind for numbers that is good, but on her watch the legal bills skyrocketed, two directors left and the staff contract was one year and a half overdue." He believes that he has a calm demeanor and an ability to work well with others and is not discouraged by the recent setbacks. He feels morally bound to finish a job started.
Although Ms. DiCamillo has not served on the library board for five years, she has continued to attend board meetings and participated on the Ad Hoc Committee that studied the nuts and bolts of the library's needs. She says that she is not opposed to a "sensible" expansion, but she is opposed to closing the building for two years, razing the building and ending up with a big price tag. She says, "It's all about the public...the public has made it clear that they are concerned about tax consequences and that they don't want to see the current building razed. Instead they want a building that is thought out and properly designed to meet the needs of the community."
It is Ms. DiCamillo's contention that the first thing the library board needs to do is to restore public confidence and trust. Specifically, she believes that more board discussions should be conducted in public sessions; that some meetings should be held in the morning so that there would be more options for the public to attend. "What's been missing is the thought process that goes into decision making...I think that would improve the relationship with the public."
Regarding the three plans and which one she would support she said, "I never saw plans for the two other concepts, so it's hard for me to comment on them...the approval by the board of plan three on the night the plans were presented by the architects was canned...they ignored the public's questions and comments...questions are viewed as antagonistic instead of a thoughtful process." She believes that lively public discussions are beneficial.
Ms. DiCamillo points to her work in civic organizations to demonstrate her ability to persevere and attain goals. Recently, the Schumacher House on the Clinton Park property was landmarked under the Town of North Hempstead through her leadership, drive and ability to work with community groups. Her professional experience as the comptroller for the Major League Baseball Association has given her in-depth experience with budgetary matters.
She says that board members need to ask questions. During her time on the board she says that the three branches were renovated, auditing recommendations were consolidated and Internet policies were developed.
Ms. DiCamillo says that once the public is brought back into the process creative solutions can be found to some of the obstacles. She believes that the library should have flexibility in design. For example, she states that once the Seattle airport unbolted its fixed chairs and tables, travelers described the airport as being more comfortable because there was more choice in seating arrangements. "We need more creative thinking," she asserts.
She also thinks that the library should develop more partnerships with local businesses and other municipalities. Ms. DiCamillo thinks that communications with library patrons could be improved through developing e-mail notifications and that participation could increase on a meaningful basis. She also thinks it would be beneficial to televise important board meetings.
Regarding Levels, Ms. DiCamillo says that to paint her as an adversary to Levels is a "scare tactic...Levels is a nationally recognized program of excellence for teens. I have always supported it...have never voted against it in the budget requests..in fact, I think Levels should be expanded into the branches." She does add that she thinks that Levels' computer space could be shared on Sunday mornings when the library is busy and when many teens are taking some time to catch up on their sleep.
She decided to run for the board again because she is committed to "the most important goal..to renovate Main. If we include the public and restore their faith, we can move forward with a plan that the public can embrace and support. We must rise above the bickering."