Shreve Memorial Library Crisis Ahead

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by Marion Marks

Heezen Packing bags...
Heezen Packing bags…

On June 25, 2014, Shreve Memorial Library Director announced that he would be leaving the library system for a new opportunity at an undisclosed location. We have since determined that he will be serving as the Executive Director of the Las Vegas-Clark County Public Library System at an annual salary of $152,000-$177,000 plus benefits. In Heezen’s farewell email sent to library staff and Board of Control members, the then-anonymous library system was described as “a larger system that has already achieved a good deal of what we have targeted to do here.” This is good, as results do not appear to be one of Heezen’s strengths during his relatively brief tenure with SML. Indeed, under his leadership, the library has experienced many months that can only be described as “more of the same,” with accusations of unethical conduct and racist behavior that plagued previous Director and current CFO and/or Budget Officer Jim Pelton being sustained under Heezen’s leadership.

No so fast...
Bon Voyage!

Of course, we’d love to say “Bon voyage,” but that appears to be premature. In the same email, Heezen indicated that his last work day at SML would be August 29, 2014, at which point he would be on vacation until November 14, 2014. We are told that departing senior staff members taking months-long vacation is “tradition,” if not the “policy,” of SML, embraced by the Library’s HR expert-in-resident Jennie Paxton. While this practice may not technically be illegal, it certainly seems to be imprudent, as the Library is then faced with a number of options that are costly and counterproductive. The Library could appoint an interim Director, paying Heezen’s salary and benefits for the duration of the “vacation” while he continues to accrue time to an already strapped City of Shreveport retirement system, simultaneously also providing that presumably temporary interim staff member with a bump in pay until a permanent replacement is selected. The Library could keep the position open, paying only Heezen the largest salary-and-benefits package in the system while the ship continues to veer off course (any Captain is better than no Captain?). Indeed, Paxton has rationalized this strategy in the past, yet has also indicated that a vacant position cannot be legally advertised or filled until the previous person holding the position is indeed retired. These retirements have even been rescinded and/or extended for many months beyond the original date, as was the case with previous Associate Director of Public Services Cindy Ortego, to whom Paxton routinely “credited” back vacation days that Ortego allegedly worked, with “work” being defined as something as inconsequential as answering a phone call or sending a single email, therefore moving the final date of her second announced retirement to many weeks after initially expected and triggering a domino effect where new candidates could not be evaluated, interviewed, or hired until much later than expected (assuming they ever intended to do this in the first place, as Paxton and Heezen used smoke and mirrors to “appoint” Deonci Sutton, an existing Library staff member, rather than adhering to the existing application procedure).

Truth is hard to find
policies hard to find

These erratic “policies” beg the question as to how Heezen accrued so much vacation time to begin with? An inquiry into time-and-attendance records and vacation and sick leave accruals is forthcoming, and we will share the results of this Public Records Request if/when the library complies. It seems that regardless of the inquiry, professional HR “best practices” would have the Library Board of Control well within their authority to accept Heezen’s resignation, effective August 29th (if not sooner, as he is already routinely deleting emails sent by administrative staff members, clearly more concerned with future endeavors than the business already at hand). A staff member at the new Library system has already confirmed that Heezen is scheduled to begin work at the end of summer 2014; it seems irresponsible, at best, for the Shreve Memorial Library to continue paying a full-time salary and benefits to a vacationing employee who has announced his resignation and will be simultaneously on the payroll of another Library system in another state entirely. There is no question that Heezen should be compensated for legitimately accrued vacation time in accordance with City policy, but it is time to sever the ties and move forward. The Board can finally act in the best interest of the system, the Parish, the Library patrons, and the taxpayers, since Heezen and Paxton seem content to do the wrong thing until the bitter end.

Decision ahead
Decision ahead

Heezen’s departure, regardless of when it actually occurs, leaves the Library at a crossroads. While it may be convenient to appoint an existing staff member as “Interim Director,” it is clear that this step would be outside the best interest of everyone involved (except the appointee him or herself). Former Director Jim Pelton indicated during his resignation that there is no existing staff member qualified to take over in his stead; this remains true. Neither Paxton nor Pelton is prepared to take on this responsibility, even in the capacity as a temporary Director, and the allegations regarding their inappropriate financial and personnel decisions would make any action imprudent, particularly if the Board is serious in their claims to launch an investigation into this matter.

Staff insider...
Staff insider…

It is rumored that Library staff are already exploring efforts to organize under the AFSCME Public Library Workers division in an attempt to ensure fair treatment and consistent policies and procedures that have been denied to them time and again by Pelton, Heezen, and Paxton. If union organizing is already underway, the worst possible decision would be to imbue the offending leaders with even more power than they currently wield.

Going AwayInstead, it seems most appropriate to bring in an outside Library Consultant and/or management organization, such as Library Systems & Services, to at least temporarily see the Library through this transition and bring about some much needed change. It also seems prudent to manage the search for the new Director through a professional search firm, as neither Library staff nor the Board of Control seem to have the expertise, authority, or integrity to properly manage this process and identify a candidate with the proven ability to see the Library through such a difficult transition. Library leadership clearly lacks the skills, ability, and willingness to bring about these changes itself, and after many years of “chances” it is the responsibility of the Board of Control to seize a rare opportunity to actually “clean house” and end the reign of terror imposed on both Library staff and patrons alike.

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