Embattled East Baton Rouge Parish Library chief David Farrar Resigns

By Greg Garland Advocate staff writer  December 16, 2011

East Baton Rouge Parish Library Director David Farrar resigned Thursday, saying in an email to library board members and staff that the “negative focus on the library system over the past several days has made the work of the library a difficult task” and that he did not want to hinder the library’s staff from fulfilling their mission of community service.

The Library Board of Control voted at a meeting later Thursday to accept Farrar’s resignation. The board put Assistant Library Directors Mary Stein and Patricia Husband in charge of the system, pending appointment of an interim director, and started the process for a search to find a permanent replacement for Farrar as director.

The library board also voted to refer to the East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s Office and Louisiana Board of Ethics for investigation matters that were detailed in a letter an attorney for Farrar sent the board’s attorney. The letter questioned the propriety of actions by three board members — Stan Bardwell, Tanya Freeman and Derek Gordon.

Board President Kizzy Payton said after the meeting that the board “wants to do its due diligence in making sure that we investigate this fully.” She said the three board members involved support an independent investigation because they are confident that they have done nothing wrong.

“We want to win the public’s trust back and want to make sure they know we are looking at everything,” Payton said. “We want people to know we’re willing to move forward and investigate this and that it’s not being swept under the rug.”

Farrar’s tenure came to an end amid revelations of a 15-year-old case in Alabama in which he was accused of sexual abuse and impersonating a peace officer. He was acquitted of the sexual abuse charges but convicted on the impersonating charge, for which he received a three-year suspended sentence.

Information also surfaced this week that Aaron Brian Fielder, whom Farrar hired a year ago as his deputy director, had pleaded guilty in federal court in Alabama in September to one court of attempted receipt of child pornography. Fielder is a longtime friend, former business partner and sometime roommate of Farrar.

Fielder, who is awaiting sentencing, has been on an unpaid leave of absence since June, when he was arrested. He resigned from the library position Nov. 7.

The revelations came as the board was conducting a performance evaluation of Farrar. The board was scheduled to discuss his future employment during Thursday’s meeting and the Dec. 7 letter from his attorney, which included a threat of litigation for illegal termination if the board moved to fire him.

The board met for about 45 minutes in executive session to discuss the letter, which portrayed Farrar as a “whistle-blower.” The letter included an offer by Farrar to resign and sign a confidentiality agreement in exchange for a payment of $2.3 million to compensate him for lost pay and benefits and damage to his reputation.

Payton said no settlement or payment was made to Farrar in exchange for his resignation and no lawsuit has been filed.

Farrar did not respond to an email and telephone call seeking comment.

The text of Farrar’s email to board members and staff containing his resignation follows:

“The negative focus on the Library System over the past several days has made the work of the Library a difficult task. This is an outstanding Library System and it should not be hindered in any form or manner in its mission of serving the community. The record of accomplishment by this Library staff has been exceptional and professional and I applaud each of my employees, all over the parish, for a job well done. The attention to the Library must become positive again. This staff has worked very hard over many years to ensure that taxpayers know of our dedication to service. I do not take any aspect of the past several days lightly. The Mayor and Metro Council and our city-parish government must be able to move forward. The new Library Board of Control must do so as well. It is a new day for this amazing public institution and staff. In order to make the transition toward a more positive focus I am resigning my position effective immediately. I wish each of you the very best.”

Celia Cangelosi, an attorney for the library board, told members Thursday that certification by the State Board of Library Examiners e_SEmD which Farrar did not hold e_SEmD is a requirement in state law to serve as the library system’s director. She said the director’s title is the equivalent of being head librarian, the title used in the legislation.

She said the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office weighed in on the question in a 1990 opinion involving Jefferson Parish.

Referring to Farrar’s decision to resign, Payton said she’s “happy that we have reached a point where we can move on and stop talking about individuals and can refocus on the services of the library, the programs that are needed and the patrons of the library system.”

She said the events of the past few days are “not one of the proudest moments in the history of the library” and that the board “will be working extremely hard in the days, months and years to come to restore confidence in the system.”

Payton said the board will closely examine its policies as to the hiring of unclassified employees and administrative staff. Board members have acknowledged that they did not conduct a criminal background check of Farrar before he was hired in October 2008 and that he was not required to fill out an application for the position.

“We realize that we have to thoroughly review our policies and procedures as it relates to our hiring processes,” Payton said. “That is something I will urge the board to do immediately.”

Payton said East Baton Rouge Parish has a strong library system and “while this is a blemish, we cannot take for granted the accomplishments and strides that have been made in the past several years. This is one of the best library systems in the nation.”

During the public comment period, John Berry, an activist and longtime library board watcher, questioned whether the personal dealings some board members had with Farrar violated the ethical standards they are expected to uphold and called for an investigation of their activities.