Basalt library director turns page rather than stay in fray | AspenTimes.com

Basalt library director turns page rather than stay in fray

The battle in Basalt over where to build a new library made life “miserable” for the library executive director and forced her to quit after 17 years on the job, she said.

Jean Winkler submitted her resignation Monday, effective Dec. 31. She said she is “relieved in a way” by her decision but also saddened.

Winkler is the latest casualty in a small-town fight that has pitted some residents of Basalt and El Jebel against one another, spurred a partial housecleaning of the library board of trustees and created considerable internal bickering on the board.

The library district plans to build a new facility in the midvalley. It hoped to approach voters with a proposal this November, but couldn’t make a decision in time to reach the ballot.

Winkler said she remains concerned about “how they’re going to break a deadlock and make any progress. It’s going to be difficult for them to reach a consensus.”

Consensus is necessary to get voters to approve a multimillion-dollar funding request, she said.

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In her letter of resignation, Winkler singled out her relationship with two board members as the reason for resigning.

“Historically, the library district board and the executive director have acted congenially with each other to achieve library goals,” Winkler wrote. “Unfortunately, with the appointment of board members James Brundige and Peter Frey, an amiable, productive atmosphere has evaporated. Indecision, contention and conflict have become the status quo. There is not a climate for healthy, constructive problem-solving.”

She charged that Brundige and Frey came to the board with personal agendas and lack of respect for other viewpoints.

“Not only have Peter and James been disrespectful toward individual board members and the board as a whole, but also to me personally and the position of executive director,” Winkler wrote. “Peter has insinuated more than once that I am not quite smart. James stated at a public board meeting that he did not trust me and attempted to bully me by accusing me of favoring a library site at Willits for an acre of paved parking and a shorter commute!”

Winkler was in a difficult position in which many people who work for a multi-member board eventually finds themselves. She had to choose whether to stay neutral or actively participate in the politically charged debate ? in this case over where the library should be built.

She acknowledged that she initially felt that she had “as valid of a voice as board members.” Eventually she just wanted to see a decision made so the district could benefit from a better facility.

In September, Brundige asked her to refrain from participating in site-selection discussions and she agreed, she said. Winkler regretted that decision. “I realized I was betraying myself and my constituents,” she said.

Brundige said he was surprised by Winkler’s decision to resign. He said he didn’t want to see her do that.

“Jean has done a wonderful job running the library. We will miss her skills immensely,” he said.

But he didn’t back down from his opinion that her preference in the site selection clouded her ability to participate on the issue. The facts she was presenting “have been colored by her strong opinions,” he said.

He acknowledged that he has challenged her presentation of facts due to those circumstances, but he said he has in no way attempted to bully her.

Brundige and Frey both suggested Winkler had a difficult time adjusting to a new board with diverse viewpoints. Four new board members have been appointed in about one year. Three of those who were replaced worked extremely well with Winkler.

Brundige said there was sort of a “clubby” feel to the library district’s deliberations before the board turnover. Frey labeled it a “mutual admiration society.”

In a lengthy letter to the other board members, Frey said the only agenda he came to the board with was a promise to spend money wisely to provide the best possible library services.

He wrote that he is an independent thinker who has never shied away from expressing his opinions. Those opinions have sometimes been in disagreement with Winkler and board president Polly Pollard during the past six months. They misinterpreted his style as personal attacks, he wrote.

“It is unfortunate that our contrasting personal styles have led to unpleasantness and conflict,” Frey wrote concerning Winkler. “I deeply regret our failure to build a more constructive relationship.”

Pollard laid the blame for the poor relationship with Brundige and Frey.

“These two men are just bullies,” she said. “They are not interested in working with anybody else. They have done a real disservice.”

Winkler’s letter credited Pollard and library trustee Laura Anderson for their work.

Winkler will take a position next year with the Three Rivers Regional Library System. She will help train librarians in northwest Colorado.

The Basalt library board plans to conduct an in-depth survey of constituents to help resolve the site-selection issue.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]

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