County commissioners got a dose of good news, and a shot of some that was troubling, about its libraries Tuesday morning, and ended up being split on how to handle it.
On the positive side, the commissioners agreed to extend an offer to hire Corey Bard, from Ruidoso, New Mexico, as its new library director, to replace Lisa Lance, who left her post nearly four months ago to pursue her career in Tennessee.
The vote was 3-2, with Noah Lockley and William Massey opposed.
Bard, who holds a master of library science degree from Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois, will be offered a salary of $45,000, based on his education and experience.
On the negative side, the commissioners also voted 3-2, to uphold a recommendation from Leonard Carson, the county’s labor attorney, to suspend the use of volunteers at the Carrabelle branch until Bard is onboard.
The attorney’s recommendation came as part of a nine-page report based on his investigation of complaints that had arisen at the Carrabelle branch.
“Over the last few months I have received complaints regarding the manner in which staff and volunteers were treating each other at the Carrabelle branch during business hours,” said Michael Morón, who has served since Lance’s departure as interim library director, working closely with Kate Aguiar, chair of the library advisory board.
“Some of these complaints rose to the level of possible litigation, so I contacted (Carson) and asked him to conduct a series of interviews, then provide a report that should include conclusions and recommendations,” he said.
Doing his best to be tactful, Morón said conflicts in Carrabelle were between “Team A and Team B and it’s clashing. When I tell you commissioners, it’s bad, it’s bad.”
Smokey Parrish wasted no time in expressing alarm at Carson’s findings, and indicating he had no tolerance for allowing volunteers to engage in public conflicts.
“Why do you got A and B?” he said, angrily. “The library is run by staff and assisted by volunteers. Volunteers don’t run the library; they assist the staff to make this thing the way it’s supposed to be.
“There can’t be no Team A and B,” Parrish said. “That ain’t the way it works. We’re all on the same team.
“I don’t see where that should be even a recommendation,” he said. “If volunteers can’t get on board with staff, they need other volunteers. They need to drop off and let somebody else drop on.
“Jesus Christ, this is one mess right here. The volunteers ain’t running no library. That’s my opinion,” Parrish said.
“I’m with you on that,” said Massey. He went on to say that he observed some of the problems when he stopped by the Carrabelle branch, which is located in his distrct.
“A couple didn’t even know who I was,” Massey said. “I seen what was going on. It’s not all the girls in Carrabelle’s fault. It’s bad; I sat there and watched it.”
In the earlier discussion regarding Bard’s hire, Massey questioned Aguiar as to why Bard had left his job in Dec. 2017 after six years as library director of the Ruidoso Public Library, at a salary of $75,000.
“He wanted to make a change and this interested him geographically,” said Aguiar.
She said she had spoken with a reference of Bard’s back in New Mexico, and she had given him an excellent recommendation. “She said given the opportunity she would hire him in a heartbeat,” Aguiar said. “She said he was an amazing person to work with. We will do a background check, and based on that, (see) if there are no skeletons.”
Aguiar said she and others in the hiring committee - library board member Shelly Shepard, Friends of the Franklin County Library President Pam Tullous, and retired state library employee and Carrabelle volunteer Judi Ring - were impressed with Bard’s decade-long experience as a library director.
“He has worked exclusively in rural libraries and is well-suited to small town life,” she said, noting his experience is with libraries and staff of similar sizes to Franklin County.
Aguiar said Bard has proven himself a successful grant writer, has found ways to increase programming for both children and adults, and brought more than $25,000 in new technology to the New Mexico library.
“He has formed a network of traveling musicians as he established Music Nights that will mesh nicely with our Music as a Second Language program,” she said. “He also worked to increase programs to promote adult literacy.”
Aguiar said the committee met with Bard last month, and learned of his dedication and philosophy. “He is enthusiastic about forging new relationships with other county entities and groups to improve the libraries’ reach throughout the county and to expand services to our patrons,” she said. “He has a deep understanding that a 21st-centiry library exists as more than a place to borrow books, it is the center of the community and offers extensive services to its patrons.”
Parrish said he would like Bard’s contract to include a requirement that he give at least 90 days’ notice in the event he decides he would like to leave the post.
“We need to figure this out so we don’t have a gap in supervision,” he said. “When you have nobody leading the ship, this is the kind of thing that happens.”
Lockley said the new director needs the power to interview potential volunteers when it comes time to reinstate the positons in Carrabelle.
“You don’t need to let them volunteer,” he said. “There has to be some kind of control of these personalities.
“It’s adults over there squabbling and carrying on,” Lockley said. “If he’s doing his job you got to support him.”