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Library, county continue dispute

Personnel lodge complaints against management

Josh Nichols

A month after an agreement was signed between the county and library board to help settle employee disagreements the disputes continue, and library and county officials continue to disagree on the chain of command involved in settling those arguments.

The agreement gave library employees access to the Moffat County Human Resources Department to aid in settling employee conflicts with one another and their supervisors.

“I think it will help,” library board member Linda Booker had said. “It’s something the board has felt needed to be done for several years. This gives the employees a resource if they have a problem.”

But last week, Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton forwarded several letters to the library board that included complaints from library employees about their working environment.

Hampton attended the library board’s last meeting at which time board chairman Dave Longwell said he was concerned about the commissioner’s actions.

“I believe that Commissioner Hampton is acting out of procedure,” he said during the meeting. “This board has a personnel committee and it is there to address concerns about employees of the library.”

“It is a concern to me that you continue to serve as a go-between,” he told Hampton. “In the future, I would like to see you forward the person directly to the personnel committee or to our public meetings. This is not a board of county commissioners issue.”

Hampton told the board he would like to defer his comments until later in the meeting during a discussion on the proposed library personnel policy.

Hampton later distributed a letter to the board written to him by Moffat County Human Resources Director Tom Skelding.

“As we had discussed last board meeting, I requested that Tom Skelding be included in the discussion but he’s out of town,” he said. “He reviewed the procedures and apparently, in the course of time between now and the last meeting, employees have taken an opportunity to meet with him.”

In the letter, Skelding said he met with library employees and listened to their concerns.

“If any of their allegations remotely resemble the truth, the Library Board and the Board of County Commissioners should be gravely concerned,” the letter read.

Skelding said in the letter that employees attempted to disguise their identity and insisted on meeting off site to reduce the possibility of being seen in the vicinity of the county Human Resources office.

A few of the allegations cast by employees about their supervisor(s) listed in Skelding’s letter included:

  • Conversations by employees being forbidden, including during non-working hours.
  • Phone calls listened to.
  • Constant subtle and not-so-subtle threats to job security.
  • Constant subtle and not-so-subtle insults to individuals’ intelligence and ability.

Skelding also questioned the library board’s motives in drafting an internal problem resolution policy, which outlines a six-step process employees should undertake if experiencing problems in their working environment.

“Unfortunately, however, attempts to establish cumbersome procedural hurdles, such as the two-draft proposals, bolster the perception that there may be something to hide,” Skelding said in the letter.

Skelding then made reference to a recent meeting he had with library director Donna Watkins, who requested a meeting with him.

“In a nutshell, she is claiming harassment by the county commissioners,” he said. “I find this to be unfortunate also. Instead of considering how she is being perceived by some of her employees and that perhaps some introspection on her own management style is in order, she appears to be going on the offensive with a claim of harassment in order to stop any further efforts to investigate employee complaints emanating from her organization.”

Later in the letter Skelding said:

“And I will summarize that my perception is that the library’s board and director are behaving as though they have something to hide, while they themselves hide behind their definitions of statutory independence, and in doing so are exposing the entire county and its taxpayers to considerable risk.”

After the four-page letter was distributed to the board, board member Linda Booker said the board should wait on a decision about adopting the problem-resolution policy.

“We can’t really resolve anything until we’ve had a chance to look at this document very closely,” she said. “We cannot address this unless (Skelding) is here.”

The board chose to table the issue until its meeting next month when Skelding could attend.

“Please be prepared to discuss this at the next meeting,” Longwell told the board.

After the meeting, Booker said state statute puts libraries in a unique situation from other county departments, and said the ongoing conflicts between the county and library board is because of the county prohibiting the library board from doing what its job.

“Even though the commissioners pay these employees, we, as a board, are their employer,” she said. “It’s very different than other departments. We need to have things in place that these other departments do not.”

As far as the dissatisfaction expressed in the letters given to the board by Hampton, Booker said she did not think the problems are as widespread as some are indicating.

“My feeling is there’s so much rumor going around right now,” Booker said. “This whole thing is being generated by a couple of different people and Les (Hampton) is part of it.”

Hampton said it is his job to listen to and address the concerns brought forward by county employees.

“When people call and ask for assistance from a commissioner and state they have problems and have lost confidence in the workplace, I think as a commissioner it is very appropriate to take whatever action is needed,” he said.

Hampton said the Moffat County Commission is concerned about the situation in Moffat County libraries.

“We are very concerned,” he said. “We don’t think the library should have a working environment with stress and constant complaints about mistreatment.”

The agreement signed between the county and library board last month gave employees another avenue to voice their concerns with the human resources department, Hampton said.

And employees have used it, he said.

“This reinforces there is serious concern here,” he said.

But Booker said the comments made about Watkins in Skelding’s letter concerned her.

“The other thing about that letter being brought forward was that it should have been kept private,” Booker said. “Donna went to him with personal concerns and it went public that’s very bad. Once it went to the board and was made public, it was a problem.”

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.


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