Friday, October 8, 2010

And so it ends (badly)

UPDATE: Sunday night 8:15 PM (What more can I say?????)

Dear Chris Hoffmann, Bonnie Vigeland, and Will Bridegam,

Your letter below, Chris, I received from a Friend of the Library. Usually, when a writer mentions someone in a letter, the writer sends a copy to that person. When writing on behalf of the Jones Library Board of Trustees you should send a copy to all trustees. But clearly from the tone of this letter, you were not writing on behalf of the Board but instead attacking the action of one member and insulting three members.
You failed to copy all of these fellow trustees.

Measured criticism of the action of a fellow trustee is perfectly legitimate, indeed an obligation, but in my view should be done face-to-face or within the Board itself, not to a presumably broad number of “undisclosed recipients.” Insulting language is completely inappropriate. And, as your elder, I will add that insulting one’s elders is also inappropriate.

You apologized once at a Board meeting for losing your temper at meetings, and said that you'd "meant no disrespect" for other trustees. I hoped you would not do it again.

But you have.

Your latest example of the trustees’ “harassment”, the queries Sarah McKee has been making into how other library trustees are informed of a library’s finances, is not harassment in any sense. Instead it is an example of a trustee working on behalf of the Board and the financial stability of the library. Sarah’s research rises directly from the request made to Bonnie back in March, described in the minutes of the March 19th meeting, that she provide monthly cash statements and information on all library accounts. Bonnie has been providing cash statements, as you know, but we still do not have complete information on monies from gifts and bequests. Trustees at other libraries say they are amazed that the Jones Library trustees do not have this information. Such information is absolutely necessary to meet our fiduciary obligations. The Massachusetts Public Library Trustees' Handbook, a publication of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, lays down clearly that trustees' responsibilities include "[k]nowledge of the library's financial base and ... [k]nowledge of supplementary sources of revenue." Page 7.1.

You say: “Would you apply for a job knowing you'll be starting out with the level of harassment and muzzling that Carol, Pat, and Sarah are certain to be dumping on you? Would someone who agrees to come to the Jones with the expectation of playing second fiddle to the Carol faction even be someone you'd want running our library?” I take great personal offense at your language of “harassment” and “muzzling” and “dumping”, and your snide term the “Carol faction.” Your asking people “to put Carol and Sarah in their place as an annoying but impotent minority” is a rallying cry of the most undignified sort. I respect Carol and Sarah as I do all the trustees, present and past, who have contributed to the Board’s work for the library.

I also have great respect for the many good works done by the Friends of the Library. To Bonnie Vigeland, president of the Friends, and Will Bridegam, our former trustee and emeritus librarian of Amherst College, and to those who signed the August 3rd petition for a review committee, I hope you will do independent research into Chris’s accusations of harassment.

Chris, I am pleased that both you and Bonnie are willing to go forward with the facilitation, and I am also pleased that you are urging others to run for trustee of the library. May the best people win.

Patricia Holland
President, Jones Library Board of Trustees

From: Chris and Anne Hoffmann
Date: October 8, 2010 8:50:38 PM EDT
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: [Friends] Bonnie's resignation announced, and a plea for candidates.

As most of you already know by now, today Bonnie Isman announced her retirement, effective December 10th.

I was at the Jones this afternoon to talk with her. Unsurprisingly, she's in a very good mood thinking about her upcoming life of leisure. Her decision to retire now is largely personal -- it is a good time in her life to retire. But I'm sure the harassment from board has taken its toll on her and influenced the timing.

As just the latest example of harassment, yesterday I learned that Sarah had been talking with the director of the Forbes library and has wants to get a meeting between Pat, me, and their treasurer. Sarah continues to believe our accounting practices are negligent (or worse) and won't even listen to the accountants we hire to go over the books who are continually telling her everything is OK and our current methods are quite good. Sarah was actually upset with me because I cc'ed Bonnie and Tina in my reply to a message she'd sent to Pat, nme and the Forbes' director: Quoting: 'I find it disturbing that you included Bonnie and Tina on an email that I'd sent to Pat and you only. It is up to Trustees to specify the financial reports to be made. This is not to exclude the staff. It is to bring them in further down the line. It would waste their time to bring them in now.' This is how bad things are, folks.

Bonnie and I both want the planned meeting with the facilitator to go forth. So does everyone in the staff I talked with while there. I hope there will be no resistance from the rest of the board. If there is, I'll be sure to let you know.

And now my plea from me to you:

It's clear that next year's Jones Trustee election will be one of the most critical ever

A search for a director will take at least six months. The two people elected next spring will almost certainly be a third of the votes cast for our next director. Since we were founded in 1921, The Jones has had only five directors! They tend to stay for a long time. We have got to make a wise choice.

Beyond the problem of choice, also think about the work environment potential applicants are going to have to consider. Would you apply for a job knowing you'll be starting out with the level of harassment and muzzling that Carol, Pat, and Sarah are certain to be dumping on you? Would someone who agrees to come to the Jones with the expectation of playing second fiddle to the Carol faction even be someone you'd want running our library?

Folks, I've asked for help before. But I really mean it this time. Someone needs to step up and agree to run. Even if you can only commit to a single term, that should make all the difference. If we can create a solid core of rational people who are able to put Carol and Sarah in their place as an annoying but impotent minority, in three years' time the trustee culture should be so improved that finding replacements won't be the nearly impossible task it is now.

Next year, I am up for reelection. Pat's second term is up. I don't think she wants to run again, but you know Carol is going to be putting a lot of pressure on her to stay. So we need one REALLY GOOD new candidate in case this becomes a contested race.

A Select Board member recently told me "we ignore the Library Trustee [races] at our peril". Indeed we do. Please. Help. Step up.


Original Post Saturday morning

Forever Jones Library Director Bonnie Isman announced her retirement, effective December 10, 2010. Yes, this is roughly the time frame cold bloodedly calculated by Trustee Carol Gray--currently ensconced in Cairo, Egypt--but I'm sure Ms. Isman figured out that her pernicious presence would be felt over the next year since she refused to resign as Trustee and would haunt future meetings via Skype.

Score one for the bad guys.


Anonymous said...

If it takes six months to hire a new director, we will be so lucky because Carol Gray can be on the search committee! I know that Miss Gray will want to offer advice to get that library running properly.

Anonymous said...

This is the most disheartening piece of Amherst news I've heard in a long time. Score one for the bad guys, indeed!

Anonymous said...

Carol Gray for Select Board.

As sure as night follows day.

Anonymous said...

And happening in Amherst...


Anonymous said...

Carol Gray. The Tea Party of one in Amherst. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

This is indeed a very sad day in Amherst. I think the flags should fly at half staff on December 10th.

I wonder if any of the library staff will follow her out the door? Perhaps Carol Gray can run and staff the library single-handedly.

Anonymous said...

The woman is a bulldozer.

Anonymous said...

"Carol Gray. The Tea Party of one in Amherst. Ugh."

Tea party is a reaction to corruption and anarchy. Look in the mirror and blame yourself.

Now, go take your Prozac (I hope it's organic).

Anonymous said...

I defy anyone to find corruption at the library!

Anonymous said...

Tea Party is a reaction to progressive and intelligent thinking. These moral-majority wannabes are a threat to anyone who doesn't think as they do.
No thanks. I don't need the prozac. I need to move outta here.

Anonymous said...

Could we get Taylor's opinion here on the campaign of personal destruction that Ms. Gray waged here?

I want to know where his "hatred" lies here.

Here we had a person who served the town and its libraries loyally for years, someone many people in the town credit with making our libraries some of the best in the state.

Now she's gone. Thanks, Carol.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely tragic.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Sarah McGee who constantly says the director is hiding "the true financial statement." She has added a lot of false accusations at every meeting.

Anonymous said...

Bonnie I is a nice person, but is she the be-all, end-all of library directors? She retired because it's time; it's nicer than being dismissed for insubordination: she didn't follow budget guidelines of the trustees. ( A few years ago Larry S came pretty close to the same fate for the same reason. ) Some of the other front office staff might take the hint.

Anonymous said...

"Tea Party is a reaction to progressive and intelligent thinking. These moral-majority wannabes are a threat to anyone who doesn't think as they do."

Sorry the VW bus broke down on the way to finding yourself.

Want some skittles?

Anonymous said...

This is a sad end to a distinguished career. And, it's just the beginning of what these "well-meaning" Trustees will do to Amherst's libraries and its dedicated employees, now that they've gotten Bonnie Isman out of the way. Keep watching and remember to vote!

Anonymous said...

skittles and prozac? I guess that's the best you can do. you have my sympathy.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:52pm,
You use interesting terms: "dismissed for insubordination" and "front office staff." Sounds like you have insider knowledge, like a disgruntled employee or (horrors) maybe a trustee, or someone's sock puppet. But we know you're not Carol because Carol could never write such a short post. Who are you?

And to counter your point, a hell-bent trustee will find an inexcusable offense, even if she has to move the bar a dozen times to do it. Thank god you're in the freaking minority!

Trustee elections next March. Vote!

LarryK4 said...

No, it was not cutthroat Carol as my sitemeter picks her up pretty clearly. And I don't get many (other) visitors from Cairo, Egypt.

Anonymous said...

"skittles and prozac? I guess that's the best you can do. you have my sympathy."

Oh, I don't have your sympathy...

But I get your arrogance...

Anonymous said...

Who is Taylor?

And whose Library Trustee position is up for election next March?

Anonymous said...

Larry, can your sitemeter tell if that threatening commenter's address matches Mary Streeter's address? We know Carol loves to get others to do her dirty work, and Mary was her pawn once before.

According to Holland and Hoffmann are up reelection next year. Sarah and Carol will be the following year.

Anonymous said...

Just for fun, and maybe a bit of critique, here is a summary of Pat's letter to Chris Hoffmann:

Bad, bad, Chris! Mind your betters! Wah, wah,... respect. Wah, wah, unfair accusations. Wah, wah, your shocking language! ...

Then, incongruously: "May the best people win."

Oh, Pat, we will.
Trustee elections in March. Run! Vote! Throw the high and mighty out!

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, I have a feeling that for the first time in a generation the race for Jones Library Trustee will actually generate buzz.

And I'm sure Cutthroat Carol will absentee vote from Cairo, Egypt.

Anonymous said...

Larry, let's hope you are right about this race!

LarryK4 said...

Let's hear it for Institutional Memory!

(Although, these days, I am going senile)

Anonymous said...

This time the race will have salient issues that the candidates will have to address, not just feel-good statements. Like-- how active should the board be in running the library? Too bad candidates won't have to submit to a bullying check. People knew Carol could be relentless, if not a downright bully, but Sarah sneaked her bullying past most people.

Anonymous said...

So Pat Holland thinks everyone should be dignified and respect their elders. That would be a first in Amherst.

Anonymous said...

Bonnie is considerably older than Carol. Does that mean that Carol's behavior towards Bonnie is "completely inappropriate" based solely on their years? Carol, bad, bad, bad! You can expect a scolding letter from Pat Holland any second now.

Anonymous said...

Whatever their ages, several of the Trustees have been consistently disrespectful (and worse) to Bonnie Isman.

Chris Hoffmann said...

I promised myself I would not make comments until after our meeting with the facilitator, but since my words are now on the front page and people are still adding comments I feel I must make a factual correction to a previous comment.

The anonymous poster who threatened the front office staff with dismissal for insubordination hasn't a clue about the relationship of trustees to staff.

Quoting the state trustee handbook (

"Trustees should not give orders or instruction to the staff except through the director."


"The staff is supervised only by the library director, who interprets policies to the staff and carries out the total library program as accepted by the board."

{Aside: notice the phrase "accepted by the board", and not "dictated by the board"? The handbook is pretty clear on the powers of the director that the trustees don't have. People should read it.)

So there's no way a library employee can be insubordinate to a trustee, because a library employee is in no way subordinate to a trustee!

Any work an employee does for a trustee is done because of the generosity of that employee, on top of their actual job, and if we had enough money would be compensated as such.

Only the director can decide whether a trustee's request is important enough to add to the employee's actual job, and trustees cannot discipline employees. For any reason.

Needless to say, this is not the practice at the Jones right now.

By the way, Larry, because of our staffing numbers the front office staff person mentioned can only be one person, and anyone who knows the library knows who that person is. This poster took advantage of the ability post anonymously to your blog to make a direct threat against an individual. That's terribly low, even for Amherst politics.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Chris Hoffmann!

Yes we should read the Trustees Handbook. I found it at

victim of it said...

"That's terribly low, even for Amherst politics."

Chris, it may be low for "blog polotics", but it isn't low for Amherst's face to face in real time politics.

Power ugliness is the norm here.

And the lower down you are, the more vicious and/or destructive (depending which side you're on) it gets.

If only more victims/witnesses had the courage to come to this blog and speak up...

If only.