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Hughes Supporters Pack Library Meeting

The Halifax County-South Boston Regional Library Board room was packed Tuesday afternoon as a series of speakers raised questions about library policy and spoke in support of former South Boston Library Manager Woodson Hughes. Hughes resigned earlier this month. Library staff issued a statement in support of Library Director Rhonda Griffin and library policies.
Halifax Library was not the quiet place it normally is Tuesday evening when the Halifax County-South Boston Regional Library Board met in a room packed to capacity with supporters of recently ousted South Boston Library Manager Woodson Hughes.

A total of 10 people spoke, most on Hughes’ behalf, supporting the library manager who resigned amid allegations he failed to collect library fines.

However, following an approximately 30-minute closed session on a personnel issue, the board members reconvened in open session taking no action on the personnel matter.

Prior to the board going behind closed doors, Hughes’ supporters voiced their opinion on the library manager’s resignation that ignited controversy in the community culminating with former Friends of the Library President Ron Miller’s resignation in protest.

Also in attendance at the Tuesday afternoon meeting were library staff and supporters of Director Rhonda Griffin.

A letter written and signed by all staff members at the Halifax County-South Boston Regional Library was presented showing support for the director and the way she communicates library policy.

Petitions seeking reinstatement of Hughes continue to circulate around South Boston and are expected to be presented to library trustees at a later date.

“We are still soliciting signatures, Anne Raab said yesterday. “There are still petitions out in the community.”

Prior to yesterday’s meeting of the library board, at least 381 signatures had been gathered, Raab added.

Speaking on behalf of Hughes Tuesday were Willa Hatcher, Jordan Litchfield, Anne Raab, Janet Adams, Betty Covington, Harry Daniel and Patty Grubb

Various speakers described the former South Boston library manager as a “tremendous resource,” “honest and straight forward” and “a faithful person.”

Grubb summed up Hughes’ supporters’ discontent with the resignation when she told library board members her perception was that the punishment did not fit the infraction.

However, in the letter signed by library staffers and read during the meeting by Library Business Administrator Carol Anne Beadles, staff expressed support for Library Director Griffin describing her as “a director who not only cares about the libraries, but cares about the patrons and staff.

“We have a director who consistently follows policy and rules. After she was hired, she updated our policies with the library board’s approval and gave each employee a personal copy. She reiterated in written staff correspondence as well as directly face to face with each staff member the rules and policies that we must follow.”

The letter offered “examples of her guidance” and cited an email that state library officials and Griffin had sent to all staff members on Sept. 15.

The email which explained the importance of collecting fines and overdue fees stated, “About a year ago I (Griffin) sent out an email stating that excessively and continually waiving patron fines was not acceptable or permitted. On June 9 of this year, I sent the … email from the state library about the importance of collecting fines, and I stated that mismanagement of money was grounds for termination.

“The … email was sent out June 9. Since that email, a total of more than $1,400 in fines alone has been waived. That is in just a little more than three months. I realize that some of this is due to the fact that we waive replacement cost of materials once the patron has returned long overdue items. We have to waive replacement cost when the patron returns the item, and that is expected. However, in that time, one patron alone had more than $84 in fines waived in a three-month period. I checked in Polaris and discovered that during the last fiscal year, we waived almost as much in fines as we collected (within $200).

“The policies are made for everyone. Exceptions should be made only under extenuating circumstances. Continuously waiving fines for one person is the same as embezzlement and is grounds for termination. Consistently failing to follow policies is also grounds for termination,” the library director’s email stated.

Signing that letter were staff members Allen Anderson, Julia Carrington, Paul Dyer, Carol Anne Beadles, Becky Ball, Rebecca Mulwee, Ratia L. Kirby and Tonya Chandler.

Also speaking in support of library policy was Elizabeth McGurty.

Addressing the board Tuesday evening was Curtis Waskey who raised questions about library policies and procedures.

Waskey described current library policies and procedures as “vague,” adding that, in his opinion, the board did not follow its own procedures. “It certainly does not follow industry standards in disciplining an employee,” he added.

In his presentation and before his speaking time expired, Waskey raised a number of questions that used the board’s bylaws as the basis.

In his prepared statement Waskey asked directors to answer the following questions:

• Was the called meeting Oct. 12 called at least seven days prior (before 10-6-2009)?

• Was the media notified of this meeting?

• Are there minutes recorded for this meeting?

• Explain procedures for going into closed session, how convened, what may be done, what may not be done in closed session, and how trustees adjourn at the conclusion.

• Employee evaluation questions concerned who performs employee evaluations? What time of year are evaluations conducted? Have all employees been given performance reviews for 2007, 2008 and 2009? Are these evaluations signed by both the supervisor and the employee? Are these evaluations presently in each employee’s file?

• Citing library personnel policies, which note pay increases will be given only if evaluations are satisfactory, the following questions were raised. Did employees receive raises in 2007, in 2008? Did or will employees receive raises in 2009?

• Under Disciplinary Action: Waskey asked what actions may be taken? Who takes the action? What is the protocol and procedure? Is the employee given a written list of infraction(s)? What is the protocol if employee denies guilt? How are infractions investigated?

• Under Library Materials Policy: Fines – Excluding holidays and Sundays, fines shall be 10 cents per day on each item up to $2 per item. Video fines will be $1 a day per item not to exceed the cost of the video or $5. Materials not returned within three weeks after a written notice may be referred to the commonwealth’s attorney for collection. Code of Virginia 4.1-74 plainly states that failure to return a library book or books or pay for them is punishable as a misdemeanor. Questions yesterday included: Under what conditions can these fines be forgiven? How does the present system track who is collecting the fines? What is the procedure for eliminating a fine from your system that is forgiven? Also, general questions: If an employee is not notified in writing about a complaint or perceived infraction, how can the employee file a grievance? Who is the director’s immediate supervisor?

Anne Raab, who signed off on the questions asked by Waskey, urged the library board members to respond to Waskey’s questions, and Waskey asked that they be placed on the board’s agenda for their next called or regular meeting.

Library Board Chairman Lisa Crews told Waskey and Raab that citizens were always welcome to board meetings.

The next library board meeting is set for Jan. 26.

The library board is composed of 11 members, with eight appointed by county supervisors and three appointed by South Boston Town Council.

Current trustees include Chairman Crews, Meredith Bowman, Dr. Charles Parker, Jewel Giles, Mickey Thomas, Heidi Dawson, Joan Hines, Valdivia Marshall, Tommy Reagan, Barbara Speece and Shirley McCaleb.

Attending Tuesday’s meeting at the request of library board members were State Public Library Consultant Kim Armentrout and Library Development and Networking Director Libby Lewis.