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Wobbled by months of management controversy including calls for the director's resignation and a board member departure the Salt Lake City Public Library has teed up an ambitious transparency initiative that includes the quick release of draft minutes and perhaps televised board meetings.
The certain-to-pass measure, unveiled Thursday and slated for a formal vote in one month, is intended to mend the award-winning library's wounded reputation.
But it did little to quell the still-raging tempest. During the testy three-hour meeting, one employee chastened the board for recently renewing the library boss' contract, accusing Director Beth Elder of putting a "happy, disingenuous" face on the unrest. A decade-long volunteer scolded the board for not being accessible to the public, then called for the board president's ouster. A group of residents advocating an alternative location for a new Marmalade branch stormed out, declaring "the fix is in."
And after, board member Luana Chilelli in the role less than three months told The Tribune she is quitting. "I'm very uncomfortable with them," Chilelli said, riding the elevator down from the fifth floor boardroom. "There's some real issues that need to be addressed, and they're dismissive. I'm very disappointed, and I'm very sad."
Chilelli, who did not point a finger directly at Elder, didn't inform the board of her resignation before leaving. The decision caught President Hugh Gillilan by surprise. "It's just about her own concept of what a board member should be," said Gillilan, adding he "absolutely" was troubled by the news.
Since the beginning of the year, the Library Board filled three of its four vacant positions, but now appears down two seats.
At one point during the meeting, a City Council staffer asked if the board actually uses Robert's Rules of Order. "We try to," Gillilan said with a chuckle.
Endorsing a planned retreat to get training, board member Kevin Werner likened it to taking "Library 101."
"It's clear from the events of the last couple months, that the public and the employees have high expectations," he said. "Some of us don't feel comfortable with the training we've received to that end."
Since last year, employees have been on edge over Elder's management shake-up designed to bolster efficiency but also prompting a vote of no confidence in the director from library managers. Elder has pledged to own some of the "tactical" mistakes and work to boost morale. That includes frequent meetings with the Library Employees Organization.
"It is my hope that progress can happen," Elder said. "I am very, very encouraged."
Still, employee Christine Smart said petitions have been started to ask the board to reconsider its 7-1 vote to renew Elder's contract. "The majority of staff are more discontent with the lack of trust and leadership," she said. "What is your definition of a good-faith effort?"
Volunteer Susan Hardy went further, saying she attended the meeting to put a "public face" on the controversy. "The frustration is really ebbing and exploding everywhere," Hardy said, noting employees look beaten down. "The chagrin that all of them are carrying is just unbearable. This library is not a political place."
When Gillilan told her the three minutes to comment were up, she became indignant. "My time is up? I'm sorry, your time is up," she told Gillilan sharply. "I understand [his board presidency] is coming up in June. And hopefully, you will not be renewed."
Borrowed largely from City Hall, the transparency rules include widely noticed agendas, board member profiles and public email, and easy access to minutes and audio on the library website.
But a corresponding set of rules to govern public comment was not as smooth a sell. Board member Mark Alvarez objected to language, written in the spirit of decorum, prohibiting comments about people or personalities as well as the threat of "removal."
"If a person comes here, sacrifices their time," he said. "That person should be given an opportunity to speak. We should intervene as little as possible."
The board will debate those restrictions before a vote in May.