After county commissioners openly questioned the treatment of the Carrabelle branch manager, the library advisory board last week proposed conflict resolution training for the entire county library staff.
The controversy surrounding the working relationship between County Librarian Glenda Ondracek and Carrabelle Branch Manager Tonia Creamer Chisholm was heightened after a year-long string of emails surfaced at the April 16 county commission meeting. The emails were made public the day after the meeting, and reveal an ongoing tension between the two library administrators.
During a report on the status of the new Eastpoint library building, Commissioner Noah Lockley asked library board member Anna Carmichael about working conditions at the libraries. After Carmichael said she did not work at the library, commissioners asked Library Board Chairman Denise Butler to come to the microphone.
“We’ve been privileged with some emails from your top person to an employee over an email that is not above board and not very nice,” Commissioner Cheryl Sanders said.
Sanders said the emails were “ongoing and very negative to the (Carrabelle) branch manager.” Sanders said she was approached in the Carrabelle IGA about “tensions and hostility” in the library.
“It’s got to stop,” said Commissioner William Massey.
Butler said she was unaware of any such emails. She said none of the library board members from Carrabelle had informed her there was a problem.
Commissioner Smokey Parrish said he was certain the library board would resolve the problem and praised the Friends of the Library for their hard work.
Butler said the library board plans to conduct self-evaluations of staff in the near future. She asked that commissioners bring employment conflicts to the library board before airing them in a public meeting. Butler said she would immediately address the question of the emails with her board.
Following the discussion, at his request, Massey was appointed to replace Bevin Putnal as the commission’s liaison to the library board.
A day after the county meeting, copies of the package containing the emails referred to by the commissioners were distributed to the press and others via email by Deputy Clerk of Courts Michael Moron. They have now circulated widely through the county.
The emails, between Ondracek and Chisholm, deal largely with administrative issues including library operations, professional training and personnel management. Another group contains requests for payment for handyman Don Rider.
Most of the printed email copies had handwritten comments that Chisholm had penned in the margins.
Also included in the package was the job description for a library assistant; an incident report from a patron who was not allowed to check out a book because of back fines; and pages from a personal work diary belonging to Chisholm. Also included was a typewritten essay that Chisholm had noted was “From Sharon Rider,” about why the county does not need a library director. Rider, a library volunteer, is the husband of Don Rider.
When the emails were distributed to commissioners is unclear.
Lockley said he received a hard copy of the email package from Massey at the April 16 meeting. But, in a telephone interview April 30, Commissioner Pinki Jackel said she had not yet seen a hard copy of the documents and expected to obtain one from Director of Administrative Services Alan Pierce.
Library board addresses the situation
Butler convened a special meeting of the library board on Wednesday afternoon, May 2, where she distributed copies of the package to board members prior to the meeting. She said notice of the meeting had been posted on the doors of both county libraries.
Board members Kate Aguilar, Judi Stokowski, Anna Carmichael, Sondra Furbee, Ellen Ashdown, Mary Ann Shields and Butler attended the meeting. Also present were Ondracek and Refuge House employee Aimee Sapp. Massey did not attend.
Butler said Stokowski had extensive experience in conflict resolution during her employment with the US Postal Service, and had volunteered to intervene in the disagreement.
Stokowski then distributed a chronology of events described in the emails and commented on their content.
“These are basic employee issues that should never have gone before the county commission,” she said, noting that nothing in the emails or other documents provided by Massey showed evidence of a “hostile work environment,” as legally defined. She said both personal animosities, and personnel questions concerning qualifications and ability to perform required tasks, were involved in the conflict, and that it was her opinion some statements in the email package were “possibly libelous.”
Stokowski said county commissioners last revised their personnel rules providing procedures for dealing with workplace grievances in 2001. She said both Chisholm and some commissioners had failed to adhere to this grievance procedure process,
Stokowski who owns “Enjoy Apalachicola,” a consulting and concierge firm based in Franklin County volunteered to undertake the conflict resolution program and informal mediation free of charge. The conflict resolution training is being sought for the entire library staff, including volunteers.
Butler told the library board meeting that Chisholm is unique in that she was hired, at the request of former county commissioner Putnal, without review of her qualifications for the position.
“The procedure for hiring has always been that we advertise and there’s a job description. Then we do interviews,” Butler said. “It was awkward because other library employees were interested in applying for the position.”
The job description for branch manager says an associate or bachelor’s degree and five years of library experience are preferred. At the time Chisholm was promoted from library assistant to branch manager, she had a high school diploma and three years of experience.
Butler told the library board that Chisholm initially showed an interest in getting a degree, took some college courses and even qualified for a Pell Grant, but withdrew from college level training.
Ondracek told the library board that Chisholm refused to attend the Florida Library Association Conference in Orlando in both 2011 and 2012.
Chisholm refused to comment for this story on her educational pursuits or the situation at the library.
Butler said the most important thing is to keep the library open. She said four of the library’s five paid employees have given her letters of support for Ondracek and the library system.
“This is a waste of resources and energy at this important time when we are trying to open our new Eastpoint facility,” Butler said. She stressed the importance of having professional librarians on staff in the county library.