Letter: Library director firing ‘explained’ but not justified

By on August 18, 2011

As tax-paying citizens of Sugar Grove and library patrons, we’d like to thank Trustee Bill Durrenberger for finally providing some explanation for the Sugar Grove Public Library Board of Trustees’ (SGPLBT) July 14 firing of long-time Library Director Beverly Holmes Hughes. Mr. Durrenberger’s letter is no doubt well intentioned and provides some sorely needed “inside” perspective for the board’s actions, but it provides no inkling of the “new direction” that the board reportedly has envisioned. And while Mr. Durrenberger’s letter may be an accurate look at the apparent reasons four trustees engineered Mrs. Hughes’ firing, the reasons he cites don’t accurately reflect reality as captured for the public record in the minutes of the board meetings during the last year.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, we are writing a long letter here because we don’t have time to write a short one. So, please bear with us as we examine the facts.

So, if the board trustees’ who ousted Mrs. Hughes “rationale” doesn’t wash with the facts, what’s the reality?

The March 24, 2011 SGPLBT meeting minutes show that President Roth did indeed discuss more first- through sixth-grade children’s programming during the school year. However, Director Hughes clearly cited several reasons for not scheduling such programming: today’s staff and funding limitations; overlap with Park District programming; poor past participation in such programs due to conflicts with busy after-school and extra-curricular schedules of school children today. In fact, the library does offer extensive programming for primary and secondary school children during school breaks and in the summer.

The point here is that President Roth did not at any time propose a formal motion for board vote to require Director Hughes to develop such programming, nor has President Roth formally proposed any actions to provide staffing and funding for such programming. Understandably, without clear board direction, Director Hughes did not pursue additional programming and continued to provide the programming that she knew worked for our community’s children.

As to the program suggested by a “volunteer”: Kaelynn Wilson-Bennet, Trustee Julie Wilson’s daughter, proposed the program in question. According to the minutes for the March 11, 2011 SGPLBT meeting, Director Hughes stated that such a program “would be complementary and embellish any current programs for the youth.” Following this comment, Trustee Sabrina Malano made a motion to support the program and “appropriate internal funding of $150.” Although this was the only program ever to be proposed directly to the SGPLBT—effectively circumventing standard procedure of proposing such programming to Youth Services Manager Sarah Barbel—Director Hughes certainly “allowed” Mrs. Wilson-Bennet to develop the program. In fact, it could be argued that Trustee Julie Wilson’s family relationship with Kaelynn Wilson-Bennet constitutes a conflict of interest and inappropriately added to friction between some trustees and Director Hughes.

Now let’s follow the money:

Trustee Durrenberger writes that the board felt they had trouble getting financial reporting from Director Hughes in a “timely manner or in the form requested.” Although there certainly had been problems and disagreements about accounting software and report formatting over the years, the recent dispute about financial reporting came about because Director Hughes combined several months of financial reports into a single document in her attempt to satisfy the board’s requirements despite her part-time work schedule while recovering from a six-week medical leave of absence due to a serious illness. As Trustee Durrenberger himself stated at the May 12, 2011, meeting in question: “I am saying that the woman has been seriously ill and everything else falls behind that. I’m not saying (the reports) are not important. She is our library lirector and we need to work around it. It’s that simple.” For those who have either been on the board over the years or have attended board meetings, trustees Roth and Morrical’s ability to actually read the financial reports seems to be a more serious problem.

Finally, Trustee Durrenberger says that the four trustees felt that Director Hughes made expenditures or fund transfers without “adequately informing the board in advance or explaining the matter after the fact.” This claim seems to most recently refer to a discussion at the June 2011 board meeting about expenditures and transfers of funds—and the meeting minutes clearly state: “Several Board members had various requests for explanations of several items in the financial report, which explanations were satisfactorily provide by Beverly (Director Hughes).” Following Director Hughes’ explanations, the board voted unanimously to “approve the financial report.” Clearly, the board has the power to not approve a financial report if there are serious questions about the reporting, but again, the board did not act or provide new direction.

If you’re still with us here, the more important point is one that Trustee Durrenberger’s letter does not address: the board’s undefined “new direction.” As taxpayers, we still are owed a detailed description of that new direction and a well-reasoned, business-like rationale for why that new direction could not include our director of over 20 years.

As Trustee Durrenberger himself concludes: the SGPLBT has “made a monumental mistake” in firing Director Hughes. As of this writing, the board is scrambling to cope with the latest fallout of this debacle: the resignation after less than a month of the new interim director.

And we taxpayers are still left worrying … about where the money will come from to replace the recently disbanded (in protest) Friends of the Library support—nearly $100,000.00 per year … about paying an Interim Director $80 per hour—reportedly twice Director Hughes’ hourly rate … about how we’ll pay for the board’s mounting legal fees at $180 per hour … about how we’ll pay for a search firm at over $10,000 … about the future of our library—a future that four Trustees have put in serious jeopardy without a single word of explanation that makes sense.

Jim Quinlivan
Sugar Grove