Library critics ought to give peace a chance
December 16, 2011
When it comes to taxpayer money and how it’s spent, we all have a right to express our concerns to local elected officials – and even appointed ones.
That said, we’d like to urge those involved in the infighting at the Basalt Regional Library District to tone down the rhetoric over spending and management at the relatively new library facility on Midland Avenue. The time for all parties – critics as well as library board members – to come together in a spirit of positive compromise is long overdue.
We say this because of Thursday’s fallout from the recent library controversies: Executive Director Kristen Becker resigned from the district. There can be little doubt that her departure is primarily a case of being fed up with the fracas that has enveloped the library over the past year.
In case you’re not familiar with the situation, allow us this short recap: Becker, hired nearly three years ago to run the district and oversee the transition to the $11 million library – a jewel of a public facility if ever there was one – has been under fire from longtime district supporters over a spate of issues.
Accounts of the problems have varied, but the common thread related to her behind-the-scenes style, a desire to exclude the library’s “old guard” in favor of “new blood,” and decisions to trim hours, personnel and services as a way of dealing with shrinking property tax revenue to fund operations.
They also were upset that Becker received a $105,000 annual salary, a $30,000 housing stipend and other generous benefits. She also chose to live outside of the district boundaries, which didn’t sit well with many friends of the library. The board proposed to cut the 2012 housing allowance by $10,000, a move her critics said was too little, too late. Anyway, Becker decided to call it quits, making the pay issue moot.
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But the critics have been nearly as unhappy with the board, whose members are appointed by Eagle and Pitkin county commissioners. They point to a lack of order and protocol during board meetings, unwavering support by the majority for Becker and a general unwillingness to listen to suggestions. Not only have they called for a new executive director for the district – they’d love to see a few board members replaced.
It’s true that some of the board members are new to the process and trying to find their way. Their responses to critics’ queries have run the gamut between blatantly dismissive and stiffly cordial. (At least one board member, though, took the side of the critics.)
It’s also true that Becker was no Mary Poppins: In the face of mounting opposition, she lacked the necessary charisma to walk into a roomful of detractors, dispensing spoonfuls of sugar, turning frowns into smiles and softening the hardest of hearts.
But she seemed to be a capable library director with a professional and measured tone in response to recent controversies. The library itself has been a success during her tenure despite budget setbacks. Even some of her critics have admitted that she did a good job in the transition from the old library facility to the new one.
The downturn in the real estate market, which led to a decrease in the district’s revenue stream, certainly wasn’t her fault; nor should she take the blame for the fact that the board gave her a whopping salary, a housing stipend and a generous benefits package. She took what they gave her. Who wouldn’t accept such terms during a national recession?
We felt that Becker deserved another year at the helm, but that hardly matters now. What’s important in the coming months is for those who have been embroiled in battle with her and the board to call a cease-fire.
They’ve made their concerns known and forced major changes in the district. Now they must go to work for the common betterment of the library, the patrons it serves and the community at large. We hope their relationship with Becker’s replacement is less contentious.