Library director panned

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An Arizona company contracted to study employee turnover at the Moffat County Libraries is in possession of the names and addresses of former employees from the past 10 years.

Representatives from Private Sector Consultants will be in Craig next Friday to begin the study. Moffat County commissioners requested the study in an effort to settle some issues that have plagued the library for the past five years.

Foremost of the issues is employee turnover. Thirty-nine library employees have quit in the past six years.

Moffat County Library Director Donna Watkins sat down with the Daily Press on Thursday afternoon to discuss her tenure at the Moffat County Library.

First off, Watkins said, there are no employee problems at the library now.

"I have the greatest staff of any library I have ever worked in," she said.

Watkins previously has worked at two hospital libraries and two academic libraries. Among the county's three libraries -- Craig, Maybell and Dinosaur -- Watkins supervises 20 employees.

But in recent years, turnover twice has become an explosive issue at the library. The Moffat County commissioners first made it an issue in 2002, and it again became a controversy during the past summer.

Former Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton said former employees have complained to him that the library is a hostile working environment and that the director treats them unfairly.

Some former Moffat County Library Board of Trustees members have made similar allegations.

"I heard about a lot of abuses of county employees, intimidation, insults, entrapments, firings or intimidation/pressure to leave of good, valuable employees and it upset me greatly," former library Trustee Mary Karen Solomon wrote in a letter to Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton, dated November 2002.

Solomon was dismissed from the board by her fellow trustees two years earlier for missing four meetings in one year, a violation of the board's bylaws. She'd served on the board for six years before the dismissal.

Hampton developed a file of nearly 200 pages about library business during his four years as commissioner.

The file contains about a dozen letters from former employees and trustees, as well as library patrons.

Most of the letters are written in a tone similar to Solomon's letter, and almost all were written between August and November of 2002.

"I'm not sure when I first noticed her anger, her lack of desire to communicate, her unwillingness to solve the problem at hand. She appeared to enjoy punishing employees and portraying herself as the victim at the same time," wrote Judy Howe of Rock Springs in October 2002.

Despite those comments, Howe described the seven years she spent working part-time at the library as a "positive experience." She resigned in 2000 to relocate to Rock Springs with her husband, who recently had retired.

Watkins declined to respond to the allegations former employees have made against her.

"I'm not going to lower myself to their level," Watkins said.

But, she said, "There's usually not a good fit between person and job. People misunderstand the level of work and motivation the job requires."

Board member Linda Booker has said the turnover isn't necessarily indicative of a problem. Many of the employees worked part-time and quit on positive terms for personal reasons, such as their spouses obtaining work elsewhere, she said.

Booker is the only library board member that voted against paying for a turnover study.

Watkins has maintained that the turnover study is a waste of taxpayer money.

Some library trustees have voiced similar opinions, but the board ultimately opted to proceed with the study so that the issue no longer would hang over the library, tarnishing its image in the community.

As Watkins did with her employees, she lavished praise on the Library Board, which she always refers to possessively.

"From my perspective, I have an amazing board, whether those who are currently on the board or former board members," Watkins said.

But Solomon describes the board she sat on as divided on subjects about Watkins. Several members wanted to find a basis to terminate Watkins' contract, Solomon said.

Employee turnover has declined during the past two years, but the library board still has experienced high turnover. Just this year, two of the Library Board's seven members have resigned.

The study is expected to investigate why board members and employees have left. But study interviews weren't going to include current employees and board members.

They will be included at the board's request, but it will cost the library $2,000 to $4,000 more, bringing the total cost to as much as $10,000, Watkins said.

Public Sector Consultants has promised to finish the study within 60 days.

After that, Watkins hopes people begin focusing on the positive happenings at the library, such as the new computers, the complete automation of all three branches of the library, and the summer reading program.

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