Basalt ex-library director’s spending under scrutiny
BASALT – The Basalt Library District board of directors, facing pressure from a citizens group, is examining expenses accrued by former Executive Director Kristen Becker, a move that Becker said Tuesday that she welcomes.
The group, Friends of the Basalt Library, filed a Colorado Open Records Act request to examine Becker’s expenses on library credit cards from May 2009 through the end of 2011. Spokeswomen for the group told the library board Monday night they are plowing through the statements and receipts so they can prepare a report with their questions.
Group member Anne Freedman said their initial exam produced “irregularities” or “at the least” poor record-keeping.
“You really need to examine what she was doing with the library’s money,” Freedman told the board.
Becker parted ways with the library Dec. 15. She deemed herself terminated because the library board altered her proposed 2012 contract in several ways. Her housing allowance was to be pared by $10,000, and her health insurance benefits were going to be slashed from $1,159.48 per month to $300 per month. A provision in her 2011 contract allowed her to deem herself terminated if her contract was altered more than other applicable employees.
Becker demanded a severance payment of $26,232.40 by Dec. 30. The library board has paid no severance.
Freedman and other members of Friends of the Basalt Library urged the board not to pay Becker any severance until her spending on the job was thoroughly examined. One of their complaints was that the library’s record keeping of expenses with Becker at the helm was “in shambles.”
“We don’t have one statement that has all the receipts,” said Linda Crossland, a member of the group.
Library board president Judy Royer assured roughly 20 people attending the meeting that the district also is examining Becker’s expenditures, although no accusations of impropriety were made by board members.
“There must be a paper trail for all these things,” Royer said. “We will get to the bottom of everything.”
Royer said policies have been changed to track spending better, and she indicated that going over expenses made while Becker was executive director will help the district move ahead.
“Hopefully all of us will be fully satisfied,” she said.
Becker, who now lives in Kansas, said Tuesday that she welcomes an audit of her expenses.
“I applaud them for that,” she said. “I am willing and able to answer any question.”
She later added, “I have nothing to hide. I didn’t misappropriate any money.”
After Becker learned from The Aspen Times that citizens raised questions at the Monday board meeting about her handling of library funds, she wrote an email to library district attorney David Smith and board members explaining the targeted expenses.
“I have not misappropriated library dollars as is being alleged and I am happy to provide any information the library feels it may need in order to answer questions which may arise from the public,” Becker wrote.
Following are expenses that citizens questioned, along with Becker’s response to each:
– Friends of the Basalt Library questioned three nights of lodging at the upper end Broadmoor hotel in Colorado Springs. Freedman alleged that even if there was a legitimate event to attend, cheaper accommodations should have been found.
Becker responded that she stayed at the Broadmoor one night on March 1, 2010, when she traveled to Colorado Springs for a meeting and to pick up copper signs that hang in the library. She said she requested a copy of the invoice from the hotel but does not believe she paid hundreds of dollars as alleged by the group. The library credit card might have been used by another staff member to stay at the Broadmoor, she said.
“I believe there may have been a conference at the Broadmoor that someone attended, but I can’t remember who or for what reason,” Becker wrote in her email to the library board.
– The group questioned airplane tickets for travel involving Mankato, Minn.
Becker responded: “Several airline tickets for various trips for various staff members were purchased using Orbitz.com, a travel site. Orbitz appears to be headquartered in Mankato, MN and therefore, airline tickets purchased through Orbitz show on a credit card statement as coming from Mankato, MN. I do not know if anyone on staff has ever even been to Mankato, MN and I know I have not.”
– Group member Polly Pollard questioned an expenditure of “hundreds of dollars” in gift cards at Smoke restaurant and Subway in Basalt.
Becker responded that a library employee purchased gift cards to various businesses to award volunteers for reaching certain levels of service hours.
“I played no part in this,” Becker wrote.
In the past, another employee also purchased gift cards as part of the adult reading program. Becker said she didn’t play a part in those transactions, but one of her credit cards might have been used.
Becker told The Aspen Times that while the credit cards were issued in her name, they were for the library staff. Credit cards from Bank Americard and American Express were issued to Becker.
Other employees regularly used the cards to make purchases for the library or to conduct library business. She acknowledged that spending should have been recorded better.
“It was not as organized as it could have been,” she said. Becker insisted that when she left the building on Dec. 15, all records “should have been there.”
– Pollard alleged that Becker’s fiance was paid $450 for “consulting.”
Becker told the Times that her fiance was never hired for consulting at the library. To the best of her recollection, she said, he was hired along with other men with ties to people associated with the library to help with the move from the former structure to the new structure. The new building opened in January 2010. The library staff needed help for the massive job, she said. People were paid to erect shelves, move books, etc.
Becker said she didn’t recall if her fiance was paid at the same rate as other temporary help. The library had no policy for the circumstances, she said.
The library board met in an executive session Monday night to discuss Becker’s severance-pay demand. Before adjourning into the closed session, Royer assured the audience that no settlement would be pursued before spending’s being examined.
The library district board previously set a top-dollar amount it would pay – an amount below Becker’s demand, according to library board member Bud Eylar. Sources with knowledge of the negotiations said Becker made a counteroffer.
Becker confirmed Tuesday that the process is on hold. “I don’t believe at this point there’s any ongoing negotiations,” she said.
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