28 October 2015: Library District exhibits dysfunction

Library district exhibits dysfunction

Succinctly put, the library district is on the hot seat. As controversy swirls in the wake of Sue Lathrop’s termination of long-time John Tomay Library director John Ewers, the library district’s governance board, one of a number that oversee two libraries, seems determined to stand behind Lathrop.

Lathrop’s credibility was challenged if not shot the moment she sent the email saying Ewers had “chosen to pursue other options and has left the Library District.” In fact Lathrop signed Ewer’s Notice of Termination on August 31, 2015. One cannot be terminated if he/she voluntarily left.

Complicit in this affair is county attorney Bob Loeffler, who serves as treasurer of the District Library Board but has taken on an outsized role. The inclusion of Loeffler by Lathrop in her dealings with Ewers has to be seen as a subtle message meant to intimidate.

This drama ordinarily would be of concern only to library patrons and to Ewers’ friends. But given the library district is generously funded by our tax dollars and what is coming to light in the wake of Ewers’ termination shows a dysfunctional organization in need of scrutiny, this has become a legitimate area of concern for every library district taxpayer.

There arise questions of accountability and transparency, of which there seem to be none. In addition, what happened to Ewers is apparently nothing new but the latest case of ongoing practice from years past.

When one compares the Clear Creek Metropolitan Recreation District organization, from its professionally designed, inviting and easily-found website to its human resource policies, to the Library District, the comparison is stark. Professionalism v. amateurism.

In my September 23 column, I note how the employee is hit over the head with the introduction to the handbook letting them know in uppercase letters they are at-will employees who can be fired for any reason at any time. Of course, the law says differently.

Contrasting that language, the CCMRD employee handbook reads, “Any individual may voluntarily leave the employment of CCMRD upon notice or may be terminated at any time for any reason as long as there is not a violation of federal, state, or local law.”

In addition, there is a delineated, clearly-defined progressive procedure for discipline.

“We believe it is important that all employees are treated fairly and that disciplinary actions are prompt, consistent, and impartial,” the handbook reads. “The purpose of a disciplinary action is to correct the problem, prevent it from happening again, and prepare the employee for satisfactory performance for the future.”

The policy goes on to lay out a four-step process that “may lead to rumination,” noting though that if the process is successful the slate could be wiped clean after three months.

Checking with the Special Districts Association of Colorado, a professional organization that serves as a resource to and assists special districts in their mission, I learned the Library District is not a member in 2015. It was in 2014. It wasn’t in 2013, but it was in 2012. The CCMRD, on the other hand, has consistently renewed its membership.

The district’s in-and-out, inconsistent participation is another indication about the mismanagement and lack of concern for the professional well-being of the libraries.

Despite their track records to date, I like to think there is hope for Lathrop and the board to get it right. Maybe they can begin by un-cancelling the November meeting at the John Tomay Library. Maybe they can move it to the Georgetown community center and set up a forum in which Lathrop and each board member a host small group listening session. Maybe they can announce they have hired an independent auditor to conduct a complete head-to-toe analysis, which, when completed, would be presented to the board in a large space to accommodate concerned citizens who in the end only want what is best for their libraries.

Maybe. We’ll see.

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