By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette — Filling vacancies on the Niagara Falls Library Board is proving to be a challenge for Mayor Paul Dyster's administration.
For the second time this year, the city council's three-member majority rejected a request from Dyster to appoint a new library board member.
Back in February, citing an interest to add more diversity to the existing board, Council Chairman Sam Fruscione and fellow council members Robert Anderson and Glenn Choolokian voted against Dyster's move to allow one-time council candidate Alicia Laible to serve on the board overseeing library affairs.
Earlier this month, the same three council members turned down Dyster's request to appoint College Avenue resident James Lemke to a vacant library board seat.
Dyster said he intends to continue to present candidates for the council's consideration in future weeks, contending that the board needs active members in order to function at a high level.
"There are multiple vacancies on the board and my understanding is that they are having difficulty getting a quorum at times to do business," Dyster said. "I absolutely believe in having a diverse library board as I do a diverse administration but I don't think it's a reason to vote down Mr. Lemke."
Anderson said the majority's decision to reject Lemke had nothing to do with him personally. He said there was no advance warning from the administration that his appointment was coming and the council first heard about it when it appeared on its agenda for the first meeting in October.
"It had nothing to do with this individual personally because unless I see an individual's face, I don't know who the individual is," Anderson said. "We wanted diversity. That's all."
Anderson said voting to appoint a person to a key board like the library is difficult when you don't know much about the individual before the vote is to take place.
"There's a lack of communication in this city," Anderson said. "We don't always agree about everything, but let's sit down and discuss it first instead of all these surprises. We don't know we have another appointment until it appears on the agenda."
Anderson insisted the majority's stance on appointments isn't personal, but rather a stand aimed at adding more minority voices to library operations.
"This is what we want to establish in this city," he said. "It's for the people. It's not for me."
Dyster attempted to appoint Laible to replace former library board member Robert Restaino, who stepped down in anticipation of his campaign for state Assembly. He said there are other vacant positions on the board as well and at least one holdover whose term as officially expired in former school Superintendent Carmen Granto.
Dyster said he attempted to appoint Lemke because he felt the one-time member of the United Steelworkers union president's educational background and experience would serve the library board well.
The more candidates that are rejected, Dyster said the harder it is to find interested candidates.
"I'm going to keep trying to appoint people," he said. "I think it's difficult attract people and put their names forward when the council rejects candidates. If the library board is going to keep functioning, they are going to have to appoint somebody."
Councilwoman Kristin Grandinetti, who voted in favor of adding Lemke to the library board, said she's all for diversifying the board, but believes the council's majority may be more interested in playing politics in this case. She noted that Laible was passed over for a spot on the library board not long after she lost a close council election involving Anderson and Choolokian.
"Diversity is important but sometimes qualifications and enthusiasm and dedication are just as important," she said. "I think this is another appointment of the mayor's that they want to shut down and I think it's personal."
"I think it should be a diverse board but it shouldn't be a the expense of the people who want to serve," she added.
Grandinetti said any of the three council majority members have had plenty of opportunities to present qualified, minority candidates to serve on the library board but have not done so. She suggested if they don't like the mayor's opponents, they should present Dyster with some suggestions of their own.
"If they are so concerned about that board being diverse, why don't they bring (Dyster) some candidates?" she said.