Letter: Library director firing explained

By on August 18, 2011

At its July 14, 2011 meeting, the Sugar Grove Public Library Board of Trustees, by a 4 to 2 vote, terminated the employment of Director Beverly Holmes Hughes. I was one of the two trustees voting against this termination. I have refrained from commenting out of respect for my fellow trustees, but with the expectation that an explanation would be provided.

The public is entitled to the explanation that they have demanded. This is not a minor personnel issue; what the board has done is equivalent to the nuns kicking Mother Teresa out of the convent. An explanation is also required to protect a good person’s reputation.

I have heard comments concerning the reasons for the board’s actions, many of which are vicious, ugly rumors. I can no longer sit idly by while my friend is hurt by these absurd remarks. I feel forced at this time to provide the explanation that the four trustees should be providing, as I have promised the community I would do.

It is my understanding that my four fellow trustees had reasons that fall into three general categories. First of all, these trustees would like different/additional programming that Mrs. Hughes was not providing despite their suggestions that she do so. For example, Board President Joan Roth has stated at several meetings that she would like to see more reading programs for first- through sixth-grade children. I have been told that on one occasion a volunteer wanted to initiate a particular program at the library, which program the trustees wanted but Mrs. Hughes would not allow.

Second, it is my understanding that the four trustees felt that they had had difficulty in the past getting Mrs. Hughes to provide them with certain financial and other information that they were requesting, in a timely manner or in the form requested by the trustees.

Third, the four trustees apparently feel that on an occasion or two, Mrs. Hughes made substantial expenditures or transfers of library funds without adequately informing the board in advance or properly explaining the matter to the board after the fact. If I am understanding my fellow trustees correctly, they are not saying that Mrs. Hughes’s actions were illegal or improper in any way; their complaint is that Mrs. Hughes did not fully explain or discuss the matter with them.

There are, of course, two sides to every story. In the three preceding paragraphs I am telling only one side—the side of the four trustees voting for termination—because that is my primary reason for making this statement—to speak for them because they refuse to speak for themselves. I am not going to go beyond that at this point in time, because to do so would make this statement unduly lengthy.

I have tried very hard in this statement to accurately state the reasons that I believe caused my four fellow trustees to terminate the employment of Mrs. Hughes. Of course, anytime one person speaks for another, there is a good possibility that something will not be complete or accurate. In this situation, to the extent that any of my four fellow trustees objects to anything in this statement, they have absolutely no reason to do so. They could have—and should have—spoken for themselves by now and if they had done so, then I would not be issuing this statement.

I want to make one point very clear: nothing in this statement should be interpreted as suggesting that the board has done anything illegal in terminating the employment of Mrs. Hughes. I certainly don’t believe that to be the case. Mrs. Hughes was an “at will” employee, and the board had the right to terminate her for any reason or for no reason at all. I understand that that is the law. And I also understand that these decisions are made by majority vote and that the number 4 is higher than the number 2.

But as my friend Jerry Murphy so wisely stated in his public comment at our July 28 board meeting, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should. In terminating the employment of Beverly Holmes Hughes the Sugar Grove Public Library Board of Trustees has, in my opinion, made a monumental mistake. Mrs. Hughes ran this library like a well-oiled, finely-tuned piece of precision machinery, and now she is gone.

We will see what the future holds, but at present, particularly in light of developments at the last night’s board meeting (Aug. 11, 2011), things do not look rosy.

Bill Durrenberger
Sugar Grove Public Library District