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Trustees Dismiss Library Head Griffin

By Judith Scherr
Friday June 09, 2006

After almost two years of staff-management strife, a page has turned at the Berkeley Public Library: Wednesday evening the Board of Trustees announced the departure of the embattled library director and the appointment of an interim replacement.  

It took a joint meeting of the City Council and Board of Trustees to approve a settlement with Director Jackie Griffin, who had threatened to sue the city if she were fired and another closed-door session of the library board to approve the temporary appointment of Interim Director Roger Pearson. 

Griffin’s four years and 10 months at the library brought the controversial and expensive Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) check-out system, staff cut-backs and a host of complaints from library workers who say their input was ignored and that they faced retaliation for speaking out. While her last official day at work is today (Friday), she was not at the library on Thursday. Attempts to reach her for comment were unsuccessful. 

While workers and union representatives greeted the decisions with optimism, they told the Daily Planet they would not be satisfied until the violations they say they suffered under the ousted management have been rectified. 

Andrea Segall, librarian and union shop steward, said in an interview outside the council-trustee closed-door meeting that negative letters in personnel files should be removed, people with requests to transfer away from managers with whom they are in conflict should be honored, and people whose promotions were denied because of conflict with Griffin should be promoted. 

A majority of the staff signed a statement of no confidence in Griffin, delivered to the City Council and Board of Trustees in April. 

“The employees are thirsty for someone to listen to them, to be receptive to their ideas,” said Anes Lewis-Partridge, senior field representative from Service Employees International Union 535, addressing the Board of Trustees during the public portion of their meeting. 

The hope is that new management “will come with an open mind and open ears,” she said. 

In the settlement agreement signed by Griffin and her attorney Jonathan Siegel, Griffin promises not to sue the city. Reached by phone on Thursday, Siegel declined to say on what grounds Griffin, an at-will employee, had threatened to sue. 

The settlement leaves Griffin on the city payroll using accrued vacation time until the end of June. She will also be paid $34,000, equal to three months salary, get airfare and hotel expenses at a library conference in New Orleans for $1,500 and receive medical benefits for six months equal to $6,200. 

Emerging from the closed-door session, trustees introduced Interim Director Pearson to the group of library workers and the union representative who had remained in the lobby during the more-than-two-hour trustees’ executive session. 

Pearson “will meet the needs of our great community,” said Trustee Vice Chair Terry Powell. 

Pearson retired as Sonoma County Library director in 2001 and since has served as interim library director in Spokane, Wash.; Dixon; Kansas City, Mo.; Sonoma County and at the College of Marin.  

“I’m in a dream career, I get to meet so many people all over the country,” Pearson told the Daily Planet, adding that he did not want to talk more about the job until he has signed papers and is in the position. 

Until Pearson steps in around July 1, Trustee Chair Susan Kupfer and Vice Chair Powell will manage the library and have the authority to designate managers to act in their stead. 

Passing the resolution to delegate that authority (the vote was 4-1 with Trustee Ying Lee in opposition) sparked some controversy during the Trustees’ open session. 

Lee argued that decisions should be made in consultation with all five trustees. “I hope this is a new chapter,” Lee said. “I want to be sure there is a clean slate.”  

About a dozen library workers came by the meetings, many sitting on the carpet outside the closed sessions at the sixth-floor city administration building meeting room. As they watched the closed doors, they shared hopes with each other about how they’d like to see the library—one where managers were out front with patrons and library workers, and where library workers would have time to spend with patrons, recommending books and helping to find them on the shelves.  

Lewis-Partridge told the Daily Planet that the removal of the director was just the first step. The fight would not be over until conditions improve at the library. 

“We said from the very beginning that we’re not going away,” she said.