Basalt library board critic seeks better communication
October 17, 2011
BASALT – One of several vocal critics of the Basalt Regional Library District’s recent decisions said that many of her issues with the board of trustees and executive director could be ironed out if the board communicated more effectively.
Longtime library supporter Linda Crossland said that the seven-member board, which contains several new members, has failed to explain adequately its decisions to allow reductions in operating hours, materials (including new book purchases), personnel and services. She said the board also has not justified its defense of the compensation package enjoyed by library director Kristen Becker, who receives $105,000 in annual salary, a $30,000 housing stipend and other added benefits.
Crossland and nearly a dozen others attended last Tuesday’s board meeting to air their common concerns. They believe most board members, and Becker, have been generally aloof and unresponsive to their queries. They also think the board is favoring “new blood” over “old blood” with regard to volunteerism and committee assignments.
They also want to know what occurred Sept. 6 during a closed-door session in which board members with raised voices could be heard from outside. After that executive session, board member Liz Gremillion resigned as the entity’s president and was replaced by Judy Royer.
Royer did not attend last week’s regular board meeting. But Taylor Liebmann, the board member who ran the meeting, told the loose group of activists that “we take all comments seriously.”
Crossland said she had a productive meeting last week with Becker over a few of the issues, but the basic problems remain. The district covers parts of Pitkin and Eagle counties, and board members are appointed by each county’s elected commissioners.
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“This whole issue started out so simply in April, with concern about the hours and why they were closing on Sundays,” Crossland said. “And now it has reached a whole different level, and we realize that our wonderful facility isn’t exactly meeting the expectations of all the people who have worked so hard to bring it about.”
She said the Sunday hours have since been restored, but the library compensated by reducing hours on other days, resulting in a net loss of hours in which the public can access the library.
Crossland said that after last week’s board meeting, Becker invited her to meet Thursday and discuss “some of the core problems.”
“We discussed public access to hours, materials and programs; we discussed the need for her presence in town and in the library so that people could get to know her. You couldn’t find 10 people in this town who would recognize her.
“We felt like the board needed some direction on how to run a meeting and things to do and not do. I appreciated [Becker] giving us an opportunity to talk with her,” Crossland said.
Part of the concern lies in the perception, and possible reality, that some of the board members are busy with other jobs and activities and don’t have time to deal with the library, she said.
“The next discussion we need to have is with the board,” Crossland said. “Becker’s salary is a big problem for people in this community. She doesn’t have a lot of experience, so why they chose to give her such a big salary and housing stipend during an economic downturn is beyond me.”
Becker has been the district’s executive director since 2009. She helped to oversee the transition from the old library to the state-of-the-art $11 million facility on Midland Avenue, which opened in January 2010.
In a phone interview last week, Becker suggested that the issues between the longtime supporters and the board are exacerbated by budget problems. The library district’s shrinking property tax revenue has led to several unpopular cuts, she said, and the district has had to trim back on personnel, hours and services in order to get a hold on its financial future.
Some members of the group have criticized Becker’s management style, saying the library needs a director who’s more personable and less centered on administrative affairs. Becker said an ex-employee’s 22-point list of grievances, which accused her of heavy-handedness and political wrangling with the board, was fraught with lies.
Another issue among the supporters and volunteers involves the contents of the executive session. At last week’s meeting, board members agreed to release a transcript of the September closed-door session, saying that none of the information would bring harm to the legal matters discussed.
But Crossland said she understands now that there is no recording of the heart of the meeting, and so a transcript would be useless. She has hired an attorney to deal with matters related to the executive session’s contents – she doesn’t think the discussion met the legal criteria for such a session – but denies that she’s planning to file a lawsuit, as some board members contended.