Gough keeps job as library investigation wraps

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Manhasset Library Director Margaret Gough will keep her job, as an investigation into allegations of comments perceived as racist comes to a close. (Photo by Teri West)

Manhasset Public Library Director Margaret Gough will continue to serve in her position, as an investigation into allegations of comments perceived as racist came to a close, finding that there was “insufficient” evidence of bias.

The Library Board began the investigation began two months ago when Gough was accused of calling a group of student musicians, many of whom were of Asian descent, “foreigners” at a violin recital held on Dec. 14, 2019 in the library’s multi-purpose room.

Elena Cacavas, a former judge who was hired as an independent investigator by the library board, was retained to conduct the investigation on Jan. 14, finished the interviews finished on Feb. 6 and rendered her report to the board on Feb. 13. The board released a statement on the findings early Thursday morning.

“The investigation found that there was an insufficient basis upon which to conclude that racism and anti-Chinese bias motivated the Director’s actions on December 14, 2019,” the statement said.

Violinist Roslyn Huang, who held the recital for her music group, the Long Island Camerata, had said in December that the event was catered by Pearl East Restaurant, and that Gough had taken issue with the food present. The investigation determined that this was accurate.

“The investigation addressed an alleged comment about ‘foreigners’ that was unsubstantiated by any witness, and a comment about a ‘yoga group lying on rice’ or words to that effect were determined to be if said, a reference by the Director expressing her concern about the possibility of the Community Room being soiled by the food being served, as that the room was to host an exercise group the following Monday morning,” the statement said. “It was determined that Ms. Gough reacted to event irregularities which she felt were occurring in violation of the Library’s Community Use Policy. Many of those irregularities which she claimed took place were confirmed by video footage and multiple witness accounts.”

Huang further told Blank Slate Media that two days later, Gough canceled the Camerata’s contract for a similar recital in the spring. The investigators could not confirm this.

“For clarification, neither the Library Director nor anyone authorized to act on the Library’s behalf notified the Camerata organization that its contract for June 2020 would be canceled and that, in fact, the Library employee who handles contracts for use of the Community Room confirmed that no signed contract or a deposit exists from the organization for an event on or about June 2020, as yet,” the statement said.

The statement also addressed the creator of a petition entitled “Eradicate Racism from the Manhasset Public Library,” which has received nearly 800 signatures.

What will change because of the incident, the statement says, are rules relating to the use of the library’s community room.

“On the basis of the investigation’s findings, several recommendations were made for the Board’s consideration, including revisions to the Board’s Policy for Community Room Use, internal controls for stricter enforcement of use contracts and other business risk issues,” the statement reads.

Recommendations regarding personnel actions will be considered by the board, but not publicly released, according to the investigators.

“There was, however, no recommendation made for the Director’s removal, or for the removal of any other employee associated with the events of December 14, 2019,” the statement says.

The statement also says that the investigation took place “over the past four weeks and consisted of thoroughly reviewing all written accounts and video footage, as well as interviewing 14 first-person witnesses, the availability of whom took three weeks to implement, in person, with some interviews lasting several hours.  Other alleged witnesses who were not library employees were invited to participate and declined.”

Of the 14 witnesses, Cacavas says, three were involved with the Camerata, including Huang. Cacavas also said she made efforts to speak with others involved with the Camerata, and held the investigation open for a time to try and find more people to speak with.

“When I do one of these investigations, I do it on the condition of being independent,” Cacavas said. “I meet with people alone, I set my own rules, if people want anonymity they get it. I don’t have any allegiance to either side. my sole purpose is to figure out the situation. This was a thorough investigation, I met with people on weekends to keep it expediting and accommodating.”

The inquiry was also made during the course of the investigation into claims of impropriety by the Director which were not directly related to the December 14, 2019 incident, but which were asserted in support of allegations of racial bias.”

Investigators say Gough cooperated fully with their work.

“Based on the investigation’s results, the Board of Trustees unanimously supports [Gough’s] continued leadership of the Manhasset Public Library,” the statement said.

Huang said she would not comment until reading the investigators’ statement in full.

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