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Supporters Urge Library to Reinstate Fired Employee

About 60 area residents jam meeting demanding Larry Sapienza's return.

Somerset County Library Commissioners faced an angry and emotional crowd at their meeting Wednesday, as about 60 patrons, volunteers and employees urged the commission to undo the dismissal of the branch's director and circulation supervisor.

Many in the crowd sported blue "Bring Larry Back!" buttons, in reference to the library's circulation supervisor Lawrence Sapienza, dismissed along with director Elaine Whiting on April 10 after a month-long imbroglio stemming from a change in policies regarding volunteer help at the Warren branch. 

"This whole mess and the dismissal of the very necessary administrators was mishandled," said Sylvia Gerken, longtime library volunteer and member of the library's advisory board. "April 10 has a black mark, which I hope can be erased—but you need to bring Larry back."

The stream of supporters praised Sapienza as a selfless and dedicated employee, who went out of his way to help others. Several volunteers noted his interest in their well-being, and his love of the library.

"Larry was always the first one to offer a volunteer form to someone; he was always the first one to step up," said volunteer Ashay Katakam, of Green Brook.

The commission members did not comment on the situation, and prior to opening the meeting to public comment, Somerset County Library System Director Art Carlson, of Hillsborough, noted the commission does not have "any say in the day-to-day operations of the library, including personnel matters."

But Sapienza has filed an appeal of his dismissal, and has made his battle public. Documents Sapienza has show a series of events that began in March, when Whiting told him the library would be limiting volunteers to cleaning shelves and "shelf reading" (arranging books in proper order on the shelves) as part of a series of new staff requirements, a recommendation by SCLS Assistant Director Keith McCoy. The change was being implemented, in part, to separate the volunteers from patrons' confidential information. 

Over the next few weeks, Sapienza says he and Whiting reviewed the plans, and prepared a statement that would be distributed to the volunteers. When volunteers were told of the changes on March 19, many complained to library staff members (Whiting was on a vacation at the time), and Sapienza forwarded some of the volunteers' complaints to SCLS Director Brian Auger.

By the time Whiting returned in early April, the situation was very muddied—many volunteers believed they were being told they weren't needed at the library at all; others were angry at being limited to menial tasks.

A meeting called for April 10 at 4 p.m., ostensibly to discuss the deteriorating situation, instead led to the firings, and was followed by a staff meeting announcing the personnel changes. 

Sapienza was dismissed for allegedly "exercising poor judgement with the communiciation and implementation" of the changes; drafting and distributing aletter to the volunteers "essentially terminating their service"; undermining his supervisor's authority with regard to the changes; and for not communicating "in any manner with the Library Administration when it became obvious that the situation was escalating..."  

Sapienza knows his employment with the county is "at will," meaning he can be dismissed at any time, but he does have the right to appeal his dismissal, which he filed this week. His repsonse includes rebuttal to the four charges, with emails and documents supporting his argument.

But perhaps the strongest argument for his appeal is the contingent of supporters who attended the commission's meeting and may take their battle to tonight's Township Committee meeting. While the Township Committee also does not oversee the operations of the library, the township owns the building and has considerable sway on the matter.

As for Sapienza, he said he is "filled with humility" at the outpouring of support. 

This article was edited to correct the spelling of Ashay Katakam's name.

Buck Futt May 03, 2012 at 05:36 PM
Sounds like this guy is being used as a patsy for some other cover up ! I'd love to know the whole story ! It's a library , aren't they suppose to provide the whole story ?
Georgette Madak May 03, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Somerset County is the only county in NJ where municipal employees are hired "at will" meaning they can be fired without cause. In every other county this Mr Sapienza would have a right to a hearing. So, it seems that the library had the "right" to fire Mr Sapienza but they didn't do the "right" thing.
Gail Madak May 03, 2012 at 07:50 PM
All who spoke last night were such heartfelt supporters of Mr. Sapienza. The SCLS motto is "Making a difference in people's lives"; Larry Sapienza epitomizes that claim. I hope that SCLS admin will make a positive difference in our lives. I thank the commissioners and administrators who listened intently, though several key people made no eye contact with speakers at all, which I find ... unusual. Also, please don't "pass the buck," Commission: if you are responsible for hiring the director who is responsible for personnel, then it follows that you are, ultimately, responsible for personnel.
Sarah Gillis May 03, 2012 at 08:26 PM
As a former Warren Township Library employee, I'm absolutely shocked at this news. Larry is the best employee that SCLS could hope to have. His enthusiasm, good natured attitude, and genuine love for the library and its patrons is legendary, and he is the best boss I've ever had, in any job. He has always made an effort to get to know the library's patrons personally, and I know many regular library visitors who say that Larry is one of the reasons they feel so connected to their library. Elaine Whiting is another extremely valuable part of the Warren Library family, and I wish she and Larry the best of luck. I really think it's a huge mistake for SCLS to give up such important assets so easily.
Candy Willis May 03, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Although the Library Commission is not involved in the day-to-day operation of the library, the sudden firings of longtime employees should arouse some questions in the minds of the members of the Commission - especially if the people doing the firing are relatively new and if the firing is for the reasons stated in this news article. Something is horribly awry - longtime employee & new administration...hmmm. I worked for the system for years and we never had this kind of drama - firings (aka forced retirement) and then 60 supporters showing up at a Commission meeting to protest. Bring back Larry.
David Greene May 03, 2012 at 11:54 PM
I am not sure what is going on here but I always found Larry to be pleasant, courteous and helpful to library patrons. For 60 people to take time out of their lives to show their support for Larry shows that he has done an exceptional job and should be immediately asked to return.
Fretz May 04, 2012 at 02:23 AM
This is a disgusting example of the administration covering up their wrong doing. It was their decision to implement this new policy and when it back fired, they lied, covered it up and let Larry take the fall. Larry did what the staff is told to do, follow his directors orders. Had he NOT done so, he could have been fired. But he followed it and got fired for "using poor judgement" The commission should understand this. Hopefully they do the right thing. The commissions roles, as they stated was to hire the director of the system. When the director of the system creates a chaotic scandal, accusing innocent employees of things, well commission wouldn't that be cause for termination under that "poor judgement" clause?!
SUSIE May 04, 2012 at 05:19 AM
SUSIE May 04, 2012 at 05:24 AM
also write greta bill oreilly and geraldo they try to go after the injustices when they see it they will send you jesse watters to try they will send you craig or geraldo or gretas investigation guy they can help because then 10000000 people will know what's up
TNTLLC May 04, 2012 at 06:19 AM
Morbid curiosity brought me to this meeting after reading the NJ.Com story but after seeing the Library Commission distance itself considerably from the Library Administration and then seeing the Deputy County Counsel watching from the crowd, I'm beginning to smell lawsuit in the air, hang on to your pocketbooks taxpayers this could be a bumpy ride.
TNTLLC May 04, 2012 at 06:31 AM
...and i'm not not sure which behavior was less professional than the other Ass. Director McCoy's "i can't be bothered to make eye contact with any of the taxpayers", or Director Auger's private conversation with the tablet on his lap ? Strange behavior gentlemen , These people were looking for signs of competence and unfortunately it wasn't coming across.
Fretz May 05, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Here I was thinking I was the only one seeing Brian looking at his lap and Keith's failure to look up AT ALL! UNBELIEVABLE!!!
Silvia Gerken May 05, 2012 at 09:31 PM
WINTER 5:27 Saturday, May 5th 2012 Did Kieth Auger & Brian Mccoy want to shake things up in the Somerset County Library system just because they are relatively new to the SCLS and want to let people know how "important" they are ? The firing of these two employees was completely uncalled for.
Frank May 05, 2012 at 09:59 PM
In previous years, when the branches and the system as a whole was a stellar example of public service, it did not operate with an assistant director who was afraid to look at his patrons or a director who maintained residency in another state. Larry performed more positive, effective and enhancing services in one week than these other two guys have done since their inception. This stinks and taxpayers should ask hard questions and demand specific answers!
stjohn May 06, 2012 at 04:42 AM
..".the meeting will come to order.Understand that although we oversee all, we can do nothing...Role call...Mr. Pilate ? Here !.....Mr.Serpent ?....presssssent
Gary May 09, 2012 at 11:42 AM
There is now a petition available to be signed... http://www.change.org/petitions/somerset-county-library-commission-brian-auger-keith-mccoy-deanna-gray-bring-back-larry?utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition&utm_term=friend_inviter_action_box
terry dunn May 10, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Larry is great and very helpful. He was probably let get to pay for the salary of all the new positions that are being created to make administrations work easier. We will NEVER--EVER get the whole story!!!!
lawrence sapienza May 10, 2012 at 05:45 PM
On April 3, 2012 I sat in SCLS Director Brian Auger’s Office with my Supervisor Elaine Whiting, her Supervisor Asst Dir. Keith McCoy , his Supervisor Director Brian Auger, and SCLS Human resources Director Deanna Gray. During this fact finding meeting, I tell Somerset County Library Director Brian Auger, that the Warren volunteer duty changes were initiated by Elaine Whiting and Keith McCoy who had decided that volunteers would no longer be performing staff functions, I turn to Mr.Keith McCoy and say "you told my Assistant and second in command that you knew of this volunteer change and that you approved it, and that was March 20, 2012 " to which he responds , "uh huh, uh huh" in the affirmative. My assistant has signed a affidavit verifying this information. Mr. Auger terminated me on April 10, 2012, in Mr. McCoy’s presence to silence me. ( continued on next comment)
lawrence sapienza May 10, 2012 at 05:46 PM
They are now denying any knowledge of the volunteer changes before they happened, which is untrue and can be disputed by about 20 witnesses, at the March 27, 2012 Warren Library Advisory board Meeting. Mr. Auger was contacted by the Library Commission regarding this matter on Friday March 24, 2012, and contacted by Freeholder Patrick Scaglione on Monday March 26, 2012 before the March 27, 2012 Advisory Board meeting in question , that is supposedly the reason that I was fired. Mr. McCoy and Mr. Auger were also in telephone communication with my Director Ms. Whiting over the March 24, 2012 weekend while she was still in Florida, they could have suspended the Volunteer Change initiative at any time before the March 27, 2012 Warren Library Advisory board meeting thus averting this entire episode, but they did not. So my question is …. Is this covered by the Whistleblower Law, or is this Retaliatory Termination, and since Ms. Whiting and I were forced out, shouldn’t Mr. Keith McCoy also be terminated since these changes to volunteer duties were initiated by him ?? Won’t someone much smarter than me please help? Sincerely, Lawrence Sapienza
Rich Welsh May 23, 2012 at 03:10 PM
"Won’t someone much smarter than me please help?" That's the thing, Mr Sapienza. A lot of people are smarter than you but you won't accept it and you are just fighting it and crying for blood. That doesn't sound like "humility" to me. More like bulling and revenge!
lawrence sapienza May 23, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Dear Mr. "Welsh" , I'm not quite sure why you would consider my desire to keep my job (the one I have dedicated the last 20 years of my life to) as "crying for blood". And what is it that you want me to accept and stop fighting ? The unjust reasons that I was fired ? I've been at the Warren Library for 7 years , and I have come to know many of the patrons by name ,and they me. I have been blessed (or cursed) with very strong memory skills, unfortunately the name Rich Welsh doesn't sound even vaguely familiar as a Warren Library user. I am certainly not a bully as you have inferred , but I am certainly not a coward either , and I will stand behind my name, my real name. Thanks for your insight and contribution , and I am sincerely glad that you feel more comfortable entering the Warren Library , that is our goal ! LJS
lawrence sapienza May 23, 2012 at 08:50 PM
PS: hi Paul !
Kevin Park December 27, 2012 at 05:45 PM
I heard that Larry was reinstated and I am glad since he is such a nice guy :D


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