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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."

Irina December 16, 2012 at 11:12 PM
blah blah blah.....I know BORING when I see boring. My name has nothing to do with recognizing boring. Griffith and Hayden put on fantastic shows. Something that can be done at Novins but wasn't done.
Jay L Neville-Neil December 17, 2012 at 02:05 AM
JNN...I was training under Gloria to become a Part Time operator at the Planetarium. Gloria was congenial, understanding and patient with me. However My Schedule was not condusive to the position. I hold a Masters in TV/RADIO Production, communications. HAVE WORKED OVER THE LAST 30 YEARS IN THE ENTERTAINMENT iNDUSTRY. Gloria , in my opinion, is a most professional astute and creative person as I have ever worked with. I wish her good luck in her future endeavors. I will always remember her as a loyal and concerned advocate of the Planetarium, and the staff under her charge!
Charles Dibbs December 17, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Don't know who you are, but are you so self absorbed you believe every "suggestion" you make should be immediately acted upon. Seriously, grow up.
bths06 December 17, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Time will tell as to why her contract was not renewed. I do believe that it is a good reason why the BOT did not extend her contract. Not having her come back is in the best interest of the college.
Fedup December 17, 2012 at 06:04 PM
The Ocean County College Board of Trustees is a joke.
Stephen Berr December 17, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Gloria has been a professional colleague of mine. While I am now retired from the planetarium field for years, I remember her and her battle when the planetarium was scheduled to be undone. I remember her ability to marshal forces that exerted force, and how she found the funding necessary to not only keep the planetarium open but to see that it was refurbished and opened with a new projector and a new life. If I had any suspicion it would be that this was a move directed against Gloria. Perhaps she (unintentionally) stepped on some toes when she demonstrated that it was possible to go around a board's decision, find funding, and keep an institution that brings good will to the college and the community operating. Administrators don't like it when their decisions are undone by underlings. It's too bad for the community, and I hope that Gloria finds a better place that will understand what creativity, determination and moxie are all about. What a shame that an institution should be run by such a narrow, petty board. But then, isn't that the way so many institutions are run?
Jim Craig December 17, 2012 at 09:43 PM
We in the planetarium field find that we often come up short on many things such as money, time, help and resources. However, there is something that is always in plentiful supply: someone who knows nothing about how a planetarium operates who thinks they know better how to make it run than the seasoned professionals who are striving day by day to make our planetariums better. To no small extent, it's our own fault. We spend so many late hours and missed weekends to make the operation look effortless that people assume it is effortless. So a board, director or manager will get the impression that just anyone can do it. And they'll try it then we read of yet another planetarium closed down. I've seen this reflected in situations like Gloria's and in more and more institutions offering pittance wages for skilled professionals. As for our armchair quarterback who's been commenting on Gloria's abilities as a planetarian, until you've put in your time under the dome and know the intricacies of balancing education and entertainment, you're just a spectator. I, for one, find laser rock shows to be boring so I guess that's all in the eye of the beholder.
Bowie Thelonius December 17, 2012 at 09:56 PM
Can't they just eliminate one of the many "administrator" positions that pay between 80 and 100,000/year? That would be a good start.
Bowie Thelonius December 17, 2012 at 09:57 PM
I doubt it.
Bowie Thelonius December 17, 2012 at 10:05 PM
More reasonable than the 90,000/year for Jon's assistant.
Walter876 December 18, 2012 at 03:33 AM
Interesting. Sounds like you're an OCC plant trying to disparage the woman. This whole thing stinks of Larson or someone in the administration having a personal vendetta. I have no doubt they've fabricated some kind of smear campaign together to make themselves look good and their victim look horrible. It speaks volumes about a person that so many of their employees and colleagues will step forward on their behalf. To Ms. Villalobos, congratulations on everything you accomplished there. Ignore the petty ignorant people who will try to disparage you. Maybe your next employer will have a brain in their head and an ounce of appreciation.
Walter876 December 18, 2012 at 03:37 AM
Amen!
Walter876 December 18, 2012 at 03:50 AM
Personally, I'm finding "I Have Spoken" boring. If you suggested laser light shows, Novins offers those. Wouldn't that be a suggestion taken & acted upon? First you say she "dissed" you, then you say she took the time to write you back and thank you for your suggestions. That shows she paid enough attention to read your suggestion and contact you. That's not disrespecting you, but you are certainly disrespecting her.
Joe Itanimulli December 18, 2012 at 04:54 AM
Someone who obviously has no idea of what's really going on. Duhh... Novins has and IS running laser shows. Hmm..Pink Floyd, Metallica, "Laser Retro", "Laser Vinyl" - all have rock music. There was even a full night of laser shows (I think 5 in a row) - so harping on that is just plain stupid. Novins runs them. Novins also runs current shows for ALL ages from pre-K to adult. Novins also has live sky shows on a regular basis which many "larger" planetariums DON'T do anymore. If your idea of a 25 minute show followed by "get out, 'cause we have another show in 5 mins" is so wonderful, then by all means spend a lot of $$ and go to "Hayden". By the way, "Hayden" NO LONGER runs laser shows and hasn't since the reopening years ago. What did you expect besides a thank you email? A position as full time critic of the planetarium?
CheerMom1 December 18, 2012 at 05:08 AM
Small planetarium with a small staff at a community college. Big planetariums in big cities with, it's probably safe to say, lots of staff. Oh yeah, that's a fair comparison. Whatever! My family and I go to the OCC planetarium regularly. The shows are great! Just took the kids to pajama night Saturday, and going back this weekend for observing and the christmas laser show. Almost every time we go the person presenting the show says "and running those 5 computers is our planetarium director." I've seen her in the lobby speaking with the other visitors, answering their questions and helping out the people working at the ticket counter. She's easy to spot. The busy lady running around the planetarium. I say everyone should make a point of visiting the planetrium over the holidays. Show your support for this great place, the staff and enjoy a great show!
CheerMom1 December 18, 2012 at 05:18 AM
I like it! Better yet, how about that $200,000+ position at the head of the food chain over there? When's he going to go join his buddy Ritacco & the former president of Brookdale?
PPNB December 18, 2012 at 05:23 AM
"Save The Director ".... S.T.D.
George December 18, 2012 at 02:22 PM
PNB that would be the right thing but that doesn't take care of friends and family.
Steve Russo December 19, 2012 at 02:14 AM
Joe is correct. If you want to be herded into a planetarium and herded out again like cattle going to slaughter, with no public interaction with any staff, then those big famous planetariums are for you. That's not the way that people like Gloria do things. As a planetarium director, she interacts with the public and her colleagues in the planetarium field. Unlike some directors in those big places who only care about THEIR image, Directors like Jim Craig, Stephen Berr, and myself have a combined, over 100 year experience in the Planetarium field and are successful because, like Gloria, we take the time to converse with the public, put in long hours, and just about live in our planetariums. Go ahead "I have spoken", and see if you will ever find the Director of that big planetarium actually in his facility actually talking to the public. You wont find him there because he is more concerned with his TV image than the public. I would rather have Gloria running my planetarium than someone who is just trying to make a name for THEMSELVES. So as Jim has said, until you actually work in the planetarium field like those of us who devote our lives to it, maybe the "armchair quarterback" hiding behind the "I have spoken" name, should keep quiet, as he, or she, has no clue as to what they are talking about.
Karen Wall December 19, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Apologies. That was a typo and I just now looked at the comments. I've corrected it.
sms23 December 20, 2012 at 06:00 PM
@Bowie Thelonius - I agree
sms23 December 20, 2012 at 06:10 PM
You have to wonder what OCC has up its sleeve. "Appropriately credentialed planetarium leaders" have to be few and far between and it seems we already have a good one at the helm of the place. Why get rid of her? I think someone hit the nail on the head, she must have PO'd Larson. Probably by getting th e place rebuilt when he wanted to shut it down.
sms23 December 20, 2012 at 06:20 PM
All the positive comments here from the public and those she works with says something about the caliber of person currently in the director position. Maybe it's time to just do the right thing.
Steve Russo December 20, 2012 at 10:59 PM
To sms23. You are correct. "Appropriately credentialed planetarium leaders" are VERY few and far between. Planetarium Leaders are a small group (which is why all over the country we know each other) of people who have a very unique set of skills. Each planetarium person must know planetarium methodology and technology. We have to know how to teach in the dark and teach and lecture WHILE we are operating scientific equipment, which in most cases can only be found in planetariums. We must know how to repair mechanical and electrical devices and trouble shoot daily problems with those devices. We need to be well versed in Astronomy, Earth Science, Meteorology and some physics and Chemistry. We planetarium folks also have many contacts at NASA. We also have to know about photography, sound recording, and be ready to talk to the media at a moments notice. How does one get all of this knowledge? Well lets see. Gloria has been in the field for 20 years, me for 40 years, and some of the other folks who have responded have been doing this for decades too. So lets see if the college can find someone with ALL of that kind of experience.
Fedup December 20, 2012 at 11:17 PM
The BOT consulted a psychic and came to their decision because the psychic said "it is written in the stars."
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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