Basalt library has issues | AspenTimes.com

Basalt library has issues

Dear Editor:

I have been viewing with growing alarm the actions of the director and the board of the Basalt Regional Library district. In my view, both the director and the majority of the board have acted irresponsibly and against the best interests of the district’s taxpayers.

Although the director was hired at the highest salary ever paid to a library director in the district, the board decided to add $2,500 a month to her compensation to allow her to live in the district rather than locating to a more distant, lower-rent area. The director pleaded that she need to live in Carbondale for the sake of her daughter. The board accepted that and allowed her to keep the extra $30,000 a year.

As a result, the director is being paid far more than the Basalt town manager and other local officials, and she is generally absent from events in the district. I imagine that most of the district’s residents have never met her, including the citizen volunteers helping the town plan a new park for the library site.

There are many legitimate questions that can be raised about the director and the board’s actions. Why did the board give the director sole authority to spend up to $20,000 per budget line item without any oversight? Why did the director and the board decide to reduce the library’s book holdings until citizen outrage forced a change? Why is the library open fewer hours a week now than it was before the new facility was built? Why does the library allocate only 10 percent of its budget to purchasing books, CDs and DVDs when most libraries allocate more than 30 percent of their budgets?

The previous board president attempted to look into these and other matters. For her efforts she was publicly humiliated and her ouster was engineered by the director and her supporters on the board. The current president is doing her best to act responsibly, but she has been stymied by the director. The board president suggested that a policy review committee be formed, which concerned citizens would be asked to join. She also suggested that the finance committee add a citizen member and suggested that the Basalt town manager would be a good choice.

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In her email reply, the director stated that she was “100 percent against you forming the policy committee.” She rejected the concerned citizens named as possible members because they had previously served on the library board. She wrote that they “had their chance to govern the library when they were on the board and I disagree with entertaining the notion of letting them govern now.”

The director then proceeded to lecture the board president at length, telling her, among other things, that she should not “overstep her boundaries” and that she should reject the help of the citizens who have been volunteering at the library and attending the board meetings because they do not “best represent the diversity of the district.”

I have served for years on the boards of the town of Basalt, Colorado Mountain College and RFTA, and I have never witnessed any official treat a member of a citizen board in this rude, dismissive fashion.

A group of citizens have been attending library board meetings and urging changes. Unfortunately, changes are not likely to come because the board and the director are not being held accountable. Eagle and Pitkin counties appoint the board, but up to now they have simply been ratifying the choices made by the board and the director.

Either the counties must change their procedures and independently solicit applications and evaluate candidates, or the board must be chosen through an electoral process. Only an outside force – either the county boards or an electorate – can remedy this situation.

Many of us in the valley worked hard to bring about the new library. The director was not part of that effort. I don’t think she understands that she works for us – the citizens of the district – and that the library is not her personal fiefdom. We need to take back our library.

Anne Freedman

Basalt