Library board discusses changes in operations amid interim director resignation

Cullman County Administrator John Bullard is seen at the Cullman County Public Library Board Meeting on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023. (Cayla Grace Murphy)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The Cullman County Public Library Board at its meeting on Thursday, Nov. 16, discussed director pay and changes in operations, rescinded a disassociation letter to the Friends of the Public Libraries of Cullman County, the forfeiture of a $25,000 collection development grant and the resignation of interim director Josie Harrington (effective Dec. 1, 2023.)

Director pay scale discussion

Given concerns held by the public and the board concerning director pay, the board invited Cullman County Administrator John Bullard to discuss the appropriate pay scale for a starting director of the Cullman County Public Library System.

“The way the County pay scale operates is designed to reward longevity. We have a starting point for directors that is not set by me, it’s what the commission has felt comfortable starting at,” said Bullard. “If someone has an associate degree, they have 5% incentive; if they have a bachelor’s or higher, the incentive is 10%. A $57,000 salary, with the 10% incentive, would be $62,700.”

He continued, “I know the question I’ve gotten from several board members was, ‘Why is the pay at that lower rate, that is on the lower end of library director salaries?’ and it just has to do with the fact that it’s a starting point. I can only speak to the few years that I’ve been here, but we’ve done a step each year.” Bullard said if someone started out at the previous director’s salary, eventually he or she would be out of salary range.

Board member Drew Green posed the question of possible flexibility in salary assuming a highly qualified candidate applies, given the Master of Library and Information Studies degree and experience required for the role.

Bullard replied, “I don’t think they’re going to want to go much higher than that, given my discussion with them, given that they’ve started the past directors with experience at that rate.”

After a brief discussion of whether the commission would be responsible for posting the position, given the County’s recent move to place library employees back on the County payroll to participate in certain employment benefits, Bullard suggested that the board also post the position on a hiring platform like Indeed, whereby the commission could share the posting versus posting the position on the County employment page. This would bypass the Cullman County Human Resources Department, which will not be participating in the hiring process.

“We’re in an urgent situation, being without a director at the end of the month,” stated Green, “It’ll be a more positive reflection on the County to have a director, and not have that position open.”

Board member Brenda Scott offered the contingency plan for Max Hand, previous library director, to step in as interim director pending a permanent hire for the position. The board discussed this and decided to reach out to Hand, with Scott confirming that she had reached out to Hand about this contingency plan before the meeting. A special-called meeting was set for Nov. 27 for the board to discuss this plan.

Board rescinds disassociation letter to Friends of the Public Libraries of Cullman County

The board rescinded a disassociation letter written in January to the Friends of the Public Libraries of Cullman County. The concern and cause for the letter, according to Green, was that the Friends had no accountability to the library.

“We’re the name being used to raise money. We should have some influence on how that money is raised and spent,” said Green.

New board member Jill Meggs said she believes, as a member of the Friends, that they would be willing to have those discussions.

“It’s complicated because they are an autonomous group, and they’re affiliated with this organization. But, I think legally, if you have a fundraising arm like that, you can’t have legal control over it. I think we would just have to come together and have those discussions,” explained Meggs.

Green posed the issue of financial audits and accountability, and Meggs said that through the shuffle of prior administrations, certain documents became lost, causing strain for the current Friends administration.

“I’m OK to try this longer if there is an agreement that we have better communications. And as soon as its feasible, to get a report regularly,” decided Green.

Library forfeits $25,000 collection development grant amid director uncertainties

In the last year, the library received a $25,000 grant from Alabama Public Library Service to develop the collections in the main branch and branches throughout the county. Given that Harrington has stepped down, and amid uncertainties about the hiring of a new director, the grant has been forfeited. The board will reapply during the next fiscal year to ensure a smooth transition with the next director.

“We have chosen to forfeit that collection development grant for this year, and it can be resubmitted in fiscal year 2025, with just a couple of updates to numbers,” explained Harrington. “That will hopefully make it easier for the next director to not have a half-completed grant hanging over their head.”

Harrington explained the bottom line impact, given that the budget had included the $25,000, saying, “The grant was $25,000, about $5,000 per branch. We’ve had grants we’ve had to forfeit in the past for one reason or another, but APLS is amazing at granting it just a year later.”

The board also:

  • Tabled the review of financial reports as the board is waiting for most recent report
  • Appointed Meggs chair of the board; Tanya Allcorn was appointed vice chair; Rusty Turner was appointed treasurer; Green was appointed interim secretary (secretary duties are typically performed by the director)
  • Approved a backpay request from Harrington; Harrington assumed the director position and had not been paid for the duties performed, maintaining her assistant director pay during that time
  • Approved adding new treasurer Turner to the library’s bank account and removing Harrington
  • Received a complaint from resident Shirley Arnett alleging the board violated communications bylaws by allowing Scott to attend its last meeting by phone; the board decided that while Scott did vote, there were enough members physically present at the last meeting to qualify as a quorum, and the board stood by those meetings. The board ratified the actions of the last meeting to ensure no further confusion.

The library board will meet again on Thursday, Dec. 14 at 4:30 p.m.; the meeting will be held in the back room of the main library located at 200 Clark St. NE.

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