Letter: Micro-management or ineffective leadership?

By on May 27, 2010

The Sugar Grove Library Board Meeting of May 13 was attended by a number of community residents who had concerns about recent board actions.

These included possible efforts to change the bylaws without appropriate feedback and community involvement, and the board’s reported micro-management of day-to-day library operations.

A number of attendees expressed their opinions and concerns, making a concerted effort to deal with this situation in a supportive and constructive way.

That being said, I would like to make some additional comments about the actions and demeanor of the board.

At times it was difficult and unpleasant to see how this board meeting was being conducted. I saw an enormous difference between the way Library Director Beverly Holmes Hughes treated the board and the way she was treated in return.

Beverly’s communications were professional, polite, well organized, cooperative, transparent and helpful. Her recommendations and responses to questions showed extensive professional knowledge and a very detailed understanding of library operations and expenditures.

In contrast, the board’s communications toward Beverly were generally bullying, blaming, nit-picking and demanding.

Micro-management is probably too polite a term for the types of directives and questioning demonstrated by the board.

Why is the board subjecting the library director to extensive questioning about minor library expenditures? Janitorial supplies, embroidered shirts (worn by the board at the library dedication), a pizza dinner for staffers who worked until midnight assisting with the library relocation, a Walmart purchase for Christmas tree lights. And, having received satisfactory answers, now demanding a detailed accounting of petty cash? Are they implying mismanagement, or is this the role that they see for themselves?

When the director suggests a summer replacement for an employee who will be out on maternity leave and states that this person has extensive volunteer experience and is currently pursuing a teaching degree, why is the board president questioning Beverly’s judgement? What additional library experience does he expect for a position that is temporary and pays something in the neighborhood of minimum wage?

At two separate times I saw Beverly provide good, positive information to the board and saw the negative, blaming responses she received in return.

When she informed the board that she had identified several library expenses that could legitimately be reclassified and should be paid out of the building reserve fund, she was scolded by the board president for not informing him of this sooner (referring to a conversation that he recalled but Beverly did not).

Improvements to the library website (intended to fulfill board objectives and completed free of charge) drew a negative remark from the board vice president that she “had never seen this before” Beverly’s presentation to the board. To Beverly’s credit, she responded in a helpful and constructive way, offering to facilitate additional development and future communication directly between the board and her website development volunteer.

The Library Board has enormous challenges and responsibilities, and I do not envy their job in the least. But I think they are failing to provide the vision, direction and support that the community has every right to expect from them. It is certainly possible that the cause is a lack of knowledge and experience. And if so, I would hope that the board would receive and accept appropriate mentoring from community leaders.

I hope that at the very least the board takes a hard look at its focus and that it attempts to improve communications toward and treatment of a library director who is well-liked and highly regarded by the community.

Catherine J. Rady
Sugar Grove Resident