Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of discussion and opinions regarding what is going on at ImagineIF, the Flathead County library system. Fortunately, much of it is factually incorrect. I want to take this opportunity to correct the misinformation and share the facts.
I appreciate the interest and contribution of members of the public who attended our meetings and wrote to me. There is usually not enough time at board meetings to respond to specific comments, so I’ll cover a few here. This is my letter, written in a personal capacity, and I do not pretend to speak for the rest of the board.
One writer said he wanted the library to be maintained for many years. I agree! This is why we are working to tighten our proverbial belt buckle. One way to achieve this has been to reschedule salaries for vacant positions before making new hires. It also allowed us to increase salaries for critical positions where we were understaffed and unable to compete with the local job market. So far it seems to be paying off and hopefully it will continue. I have proposed the change in the salary scale for vacant senior management positions. My reasoning is that salaries represent approximately 70.5% of our total annual budgetary expenditure of $ 1,761,584. With the benefits (paid additionally by the county), $ 1,675,486 goes to 15 full-time and 22 part-time employees. The last manager earned $ 91,766 ($ 121,625 with benefits). Even with salary rescheduling, these senior executive positions pay well above Flathead County’s median per capita income ($ 32,050 in 2019). As county workers receive cost of living and longevity increases each year, we’re quickly approaching a pinch point, after which we’ll have to decide which ones to cut jobs or materials. Either scenario is a losing proposition or will not serve the audience well. Some people think the simple answer is to increase the budget. People in the opinion pages have said that we have cut the budget, which is absolutely not true. The council also did not interrupt any programs. Anyone who doubts it is free to seek it out. Our budget usually comes from the recommendation of staff to the board, which either approves or modifies the recommendation. Historically, the board follows staff recommendations. The proposed budget is then submitted to the county commissioners for approval or modification. Commissioners set the budget and we are free to spend it as we see fit. Again, we usually defer to the staff.
Some people have accused us of changing policies so that it is impossible for library staff to do their jobs and cause “self-inflicted chaos”. I challenge you to name a policy that we changed that affected employees materially or procedurally. In accordance with our statutes, we are required to review all policies every three years. The director leads the review process. Unfortunately, we are years behind in reviewing some policies. Hope we will rectify this soon, so changes will be coming.
We have been accused of hunting the right people. The former director left of her own free will, without ever having had any trouble with the members of the board of directors, to my knowledge. In fact, she had just received a good review and a contract renewal offer. His departure was unexpected. We didn’t ask anyone to leave. It is my enlightened opinion that ImagineIf employees are knowledgeable, enthusiastic and passionate, great qualities that I admire and appreciate. There is another quality that I admire in employees: the willingness to follow the directives of the board of directors. Differences in philosophy can cause job dissatisfaction. When philosophy trumps the ability to work together, management’s opinion usually prevails and dissatisfied employees may choose to leave. It is their prerogative and I respect their decisions.
Regarding the challenges of the book to come, the board has an obligation to respond. We cannot and must not ignore them. As unpleasant as the situation is, we need to seriously think about what to do. Whichever side of the argument prevails, the other side will be outraged. In other words, we cannot win. But that doesn’t mean we have to avoid hard work. We will do what we think is best for the community we serve. It is our right and our responsibility to do so, and we will do so without apologizing. We have already received threats of prosecution if we do not vote as some wish. It is quite possible that we will be prosecuted anyway. If so, the cost of defending the library will be out of our budget. Is this how you want us to spend taxpayer money?
As you may know, we have embarked on a multi-year campaign to acquire and stock a larger Bigfork library branch. Many donors have put their money where they say it is. The Library Foundation has worked hard. The Bigfork community is excited about this project. There were obstacles. Let me assure you that we are working with the County Commissioners to overcome the problems of the past and make this dream a reality.
I was accused of having exceeded my limits as a trustee. This accusation is based on ignorance. Before such charges are made, I ask you to study the Montana Code Annotated regarding library law. No one went beyond his authority. Please do not confuse the advice of library groups, such as the American Library Association, with the law. Too often people get so used to “the way it’s always been done” that they start to think it’s the law. It’s not.
Being part of a council invites criticism because you can’t please everyone when there are different points of view, and I expect that. I am a taker of opinions and ideas. Personal insults are not welcome, but I have thicker skin. One thing I ask you to keep in mind, especially as we are looking for a new director, is that by trying to shame the board, your negative opinions can sway potential candidates. People always say they support the library, but stoking the flames of mistrust and dissent in the community, like recent letters to the editor and even the journalists themselves have done, is not helping us. to attract new employees, and your doom prophecies become self-fulfilling. Since the library manager needs to be able to work with the board, denigrating the board to the future manager sets us all up for failure. If you really care about our library, please work with us, not against us.
Doug Adams, Vice-President
ImagineIF Board of Directors