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Library policy committee meeting unravels into argument

GURNEE – Warren-Newport Public Library's policy committee was interrupted by a heated argument between committee chairman Ron Friedman and former Gurnee mayor Richard Welton.

On March 3 the Warren-Newport Public Library policy committee met to continue their Feb. 24 debate on policy regarding trustee ethics and power. 

Library director Stephen Bero was giving a presentation on the flow of authority between the state, library director, trustees and constituents when Friedman interrupted saying that Bero's three minutes were up.

Welton, in the audience, was angry at Friedman for the way he conducted the meeting, Welton said. Policy meetings are closed to public comment, but Welton voiced his concerns.

Welton said he spoke up because "almost every rule and regulation is in the state statute. This [revised] code of conduct appeared to be giving the trustees hiring and firing powers that are normally delegated to the professional librarian."

After Friedman asked Bero to stop his explanation of the board's powers, Welton addressed the committee saying, "Here's your professional and your constituents would like to hear what he has to say."

Friedman said Welton got angry and called him names before he "came on the platform [where the trustees sat]. 

"[Welton] came toward me in a hostile manner. I was stunned and opened my arms to show I'm not aggressive in any manner."

Welton said he raised his voice and confronted Friedman. 

"He wasn't listening," Welton said. "I thought someone should stand up to the committee."

After Welton restrained himself, Friedman directed a security staffer to remove Welton from the meeting.

Instead of escorting Welton out of the meeting the security staffer replied, "Fat chance."

The comment was met with applause, and then Friedman adjourned the meeting.

After Friedman left the meeting, the remaining members of the committee opened the meeting for public comment, Bero said. 

Welton apologized to the room for raising his voice. 

"I want [the committee] to know they're being watched and can't just rewrite laws to accommodate their objectives," Welton said.

Friedman said, "My rationale for wanting to revise policies stems from the library board's collusion with the library director. 

"According to statute, trustees do have authority to govern the library and the library director's authority. There's been too much coziness between the board and the director and the result is that the director has undue influence over the board."

Bero said the recent dysfunction among the policy committee and library board members, which overlap, stems from a Feb. 14 incident in which trustees Friedman and Socrates Rivers tried to obtain information from staff when the library director was not present. Following the incident, Bero sent an email to trustees reminding them that they are considered visitors in the library and should follow rules of conduct.

Friedman declined to comment on what he and Rivers were looking for Feb. 14 because he intends to reveal it at a future meeting, he said.

"Trustee Rivers and I have a videotape that will show what happened and reveal the mis-statements that have been made to discredit us," he said.

Bero said it's his job to enforce policies as they are. 

"Trustees have a right to edit policies, but I am not recommending changes," Bero said. "These have stood the test of time." 

President of Friends of the Library Kristy Trouy said there have been two instances in which donors have withheld long-standing donations due to the recent incidents. 

"We are very concerned at Book Ends [the library's book store]," Trouy said. "We work long, hard volunteer hours to pay for events and activities. If patrons withhold donations, it affects what we can do."

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