After only about three months as chair of the Cambridge Selectboard, George Putnam stepped down from the position after censure by fellow board members last Tuesday.

His censure followed the resignation of Krista Huling, the former chair of the Varnum Memorial Library’s board of trustees — whose tenure was marked by efforts to bring fiscal solvency and long-term sustainability to the library that were at times met with criticism and protest — as both a library trustee and as justice of the peace.

The selectboard strongly condemned Putnam for releasing Huling’s letter of resignation to the News & Citizen. Cody Marsh was appointed the new chair of the board.

According to Courtney Leitz, selectboard member and its designated liaison to the Varnum, the board condemned Putnam not for the release of the resignation letter itself, but because he violated procedure and norms by releasing the letter to the press less than 24 hours after its receipt, before the board was able to discuss the matter.

Huling’s resignation followed an interaction with Putnam in which she requested he remove a member of the Cambridge Finance Committee for allegedly threatening to vote against funding the Varnum over his personal feelings regarding the library’s decision to stop participating in the HomeCard program, an interlibrary cooperative that allows Varnum cardholders to withdraw books from other participating libraries.

On June 1, Huling wrote Putnam asking him to “consider taking away” the appointed position of Gary Chicoine as a member of the town finance committee.

Huling stepped down as chair of the library’s board of trustees in May and was replaced by Teelah Hall, president of the Crescendo Club Library Association, the group that operates the library in cooperation with the town.

Huling also noted that even though he led a public campaign on social media and in letters published in the News & Citizen, Chicoine never disclosed his position on a committee that helps decide what funds are given to the library. In an email, Huling included copies of an envelope sent by Chicoine to the Varnum library staff that contained his library card cut into nearly undecipherable pieces with the message “Shame on you!!” and “Arrogance or Ignorance?” written on either side.

Huling said she found the message to be “threatening” from a town official who is charged with making funding decisions for the library.

Chicoine denied Huling’s accusation that he threatened to vote against funding the Varnum and meant the destroyed library card only as a protest, not a threat, and sent it in a fit of anger following what he experienced as Huling and the library’s board of trustees’ refusal to discuss their decision to abandon the HomeCard program.

Putnam responded to Huling’s emotionally charged email by criticizing her grammar and wording while also chastising her for referring to the library’s board of trustees, which is comprised of town-appointed trustees and Crescendo Club-appointed trustees, as the “Varnum Board of Directors.”

Putnam also took the opportunity to reiterate a previously expressed critique of the Crescendo Club’s bylaws.

The next day, Huling agreed with Putnam that the club’s bylaws were “trash” but balked at his critique, saying the private organization’s bylaws were not his “lane” and that he should concern himself instead with defining the roles of a town-appointed library trustee.

“I hope the record shows that you were more worried about grammar than the fact a selectboard-appointed board member behaved in such a horrible manner,” Huling wrote.

Putnam later apologized and said he thought Chicoine’s behavior was “way out of line,” but the damage was done. A few minutes before resigning her position on the library’s board of trustees, she emailed Putnam to withdraw her request for Chicoine’s removal.

“I also hope the town thinks hard about their relationship with the library,” Huling wrote. “Right now, the situation only works by the sweat and tears of volunteers that as a group regularly puts in over 50 hours a week. And for the most part, these volunteers are working moms with small kids. They do so in spite of the nastiness of social media that has enveloped our town.”

The day after receiving this message, Putnam forwarded the correspondence and resignation letter to a reporter and a community columnist with the News & Citizen while also thanking Huling for her service and updates on Crescendo Club business.

April Tuck, another town-appointed library trustee, also resigned following Huling’s interaction with Putnam.

At the Tuesday selectboard meeting prior to Putnam’s removal as chair, Huling read a statement criticizing Putnam for revealing privileged information not yet made public and asked the town to consider developing a communications policy for its officials, saying she felt targeted by Putnam’s actions.

Huling also excoriated the Cambridge community for making “insulting volunteers a sport on Front Porch Forum and on private Facebook pages” and urged the board to lead by example.

Leitz also read a joint statement with the Crescendo Club condemning Putnam for sharing Huling’s resignation letter before selectboard members or club members were able to review or discuss it. The club claimed that Putnam damaged the relationship between the club, overshadowing the summer programming and other positive news from the library.

The town now looks to appoint two new members to the Varnum Library board of trustees to replace Huling and Tuck, a matter that will be discussed at the next selectboard meeting on June 21.

The board will also receive a report updating it on the Varnum’s use of funds at that meeting.

(1) comment


What an extraordinarily complex tale!

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