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UPDATE: OCC Trustees Vote to Replace Planetarium Director

Board approves letter notifying current director that contract will not be renewed, but votes to retain position as new business model reportedly in plans

UPDATE, 3:30 p.m.: In a statement released Saturday afternoon, the Ocean County College Board of Trustees affirmed its decision to end the contract of Gloria Villalobos, the current director of the college's Robert J. Novins Planetarium:

"The Board of Trustees stands behind the action taken at today’s meeting for the non-renewal of the employment contract for 2013-2014 of Ms. Gloria Villalobos, Planetarium Director. However, having heard the recommendations of the planetarium community, the Board also confirms that, after July 1, 2013, the Planetarium will continue to be managed by an appropriately credentialed planetarium leader."

Previous: The Robert J. Novins Planetarium could be without a director starting July 1, after the Ocean County College Board of Trustees voted Friday to notify its current director that her contract will not be renewed.

The vote, which resulted in planetarium director Gloria Villalobos being officially notified that her position would be eliminated at the end of this school year, is the first step in the implementation of a new business model for the planetarium, according to those who spoke against the move at the trustees' meeting.

Moving to have a committee to manage the planetarium is a recipe for disaster, especially in the wake of the more than $4 million spent to renovate it in 2009 and 2010, said Richard Gamba, who was president of the Save The Planetarium Fund, which helped raise funds for the renovation.

"There has not been any planetarium that has operated successfully without a director," Gamba said.

Villalobos has been the planetarium's director since November 2001 and received a salary of $76,174 as of July 1, 2011, according to records on the DataUniverse site maintained by the Asbury Park Press. In addition to being the public face of the planetarium, she told the trustees that she handles a wide range of tasks that keep the planetarium operating, from taking reservations for shows to operating the planetarium equipment during presentations.

"Eliminating that salary is a quick fix to help the bottom line," Villalobos said, adding that doing so will create bigger problems long-term.

"What's needed is to let your director be a director," she said.

Details on the new business model and on why it proposes to eliminate the director's position were not released Friday by the college. OCC President Jon Larson and Vice President of Finance Sara Winchester went into a closed meeting with trustees immediately after the adjournment of the public meeting and were unavailable for comment.

Trustee Stephen Leone offered the only response to those who spoke, saying, "The administration is very committed to the success of the planetarium."

"We all share the same objective," Leone, who has been a big supporter of the planetarium, including making a significant donation to help fund the renovations. "The administration has given a lot of thought to this."

John C. Sahradnick, attorney to the board, said the vote by the trustees may not be the final decision. There is a legal requirement to notify contract employees of the college -- of which Villalobos is one -- by Dec. 15 if their contract will not be renewed, he said.

But that vote does not mean the trustees cannot change their minds and change the direction by voting again at another public meeting.

Those opposed to eliminating the director's position in favor of a committee running the planetarium said there was much that would be lost by eliminating Villalobos' job.

Gamba said moving to a committee to manage the planetarium is a recipe for disaster, especially in the wake of the more than $4 million spent to renovate it in 2009 and 2010.

 

Novins Planetarium staffers told the trustees that Villalobos typically works long hours, between outreach and day-to-day operations of the planetarium.

"She spent six months as the sole operator (of the equipment during a planetarium show) so that we as presenters could concentrate on presenting," one man said.

He noted it is Villalobos who knows the planetarium's systems inside and out, allowing her to quickly solve problems that arise.

Bil McClain, another presenter who has worked at several planetariums in the state, said the Novins Planetarium is state of the art, and in the two years since the renovated planetarium reopened, the public is starting to return and take in all the planetarium has to offer.

"If you lose the one person keeping it together, you're going to lose that," McClain said.

Word of the proposal to eliminate Villalobos' position was only released a week ago, and in that time, Gamba said, the Save the Planetarium Fund and the college have received a number of emails urging the college to retain a director for the planetarium. Many of those came from the national planetarium community, from peers of Villalobos, in support of keeping a director.

"Obviously this is a financial issue," Gamba said. "We can deal with financial issues in another way. We have before."

Walter876 December 21, 2012 at 03:07 AM
I wouldn't doubt that in the least Fedup. Maybe that also qualifies the psychic for the planetarium job. I think we all know they won't want someone well qualified, just someone they can control.
CheerMom1 January 04, 2013 at 07:07 PM
"This man has poor taste in every decision he makes.... right down to his out dated Mr. Roper suits! He exploits others to TRY to make himself look decent... he's a blind fool! " Couldn't agree more Xtina. Wasn't there an investigation started after Larson eliminated positions last year? One can only hope they're still uncovering information on him & his days there are numbered.
CheerMom1 March 14, 2013 at 06:32 AM
". . . the Board also confirms that, after July 1, 2013, the Planetarium will continue to be managed by an appropriately credentialed planetarium leader." It's now been 3 months since Larson and the Board he has wrapped around his finger decided to get rid of their well-qualified Planetarium Director. There is no posting for a replacement position on the college employment site. March is almost over Dr. Larson, where is the "appropriately credentialed planetarium leader" that is to take over? Shouldn't they be looking to hire someone soon? Much to her credit, even with the BS going on and the end of her job looming large, I've seen this dedicated woman continuing to work hard and be nothing but personable, and professional with the public. Her passion and enthusiasm for her work is unmistakeable. If she goes, it is a crying shame and our loss.
Joe Itanimulli March 20, 2013 at 02:27 PM
Well, it's now OBVIOUS this article was a load of BS the Trustees and "King Jon" put forth to make themselves look good, after being made to look like a$$es. They are NOT going to hire anyone to manage the planetarium. They ARE going to let it be run by a "committee" and simply going forth with their original plan. They don't care about the people who donated to "Save The Planetarium" to keep it open. They don't care about the letters and emails from REAL PROFESSIONALS in the industry. They don't care about the quality of the management of the planetarium - and above all, they don't care about anyone else but themselves. (But we knew that already.) I have been informed from very good sources that the planetarium will simply be run by someone who has several other duties on campus - who has NO planetarium experience (other than recently sitting in a a few shows). This person will be advised by a faculty member and a "technician" who have had the responsibility dropped onto their plate. So again, NO ONE is being hired to manage the planetarium. That was NEVER their intent and the "cover their a$$es" statements made after the Dec. Trustees meeting was simply another in a string of lies and deceptions from this OCC administration. It was simple, they got bad press and quickly tried to "make good" on it. Repeating, there WILL BE NO "credentialed planetarium leader" at the Novins Planetarium. There WILL BE the equivalent of "Larry, Moe and Curly" running the place.
Joe Itanimulli March 20, 2013 at 02:47 PM
Hey, here's an idea! Why doesn't the "Patch" do a follow up story on this!? Get in touch with "King Jon" and the Trustees. Find out how their search for a "credentialed planetarium leader" is going. Find out what's REALLY going on at the Novins Planetarium. Seriously. Find out if there's any changes already taking place. It's already mid-March, so if the "update" after the Dec. trustees meeting is their true intent, they should already be preparing and in the process of hiring the "credentialed planetarium leader". It's already been stated that there is no job posting. Maybe they already found someone! Don't believe these posts on the web. Do a follow up story! This is a county college and a public facility that serves the entire region and all ages. Private and public money keeps this planetarium open, so it would be in the best interest of everyone for a follow up.

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