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Library director resigns in wake of board action

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Annette Choszczyk

Delta County Library District director Annette Choszczyk has resigned after being placed on administrative leave on Nov. 4.

"The board felt they made the only decision that was available to them," said board president Laura Earley in addressing library users and supporters at a Nov. 18 meeting held at the Paonia Library ahead of the regular board meeting. "And I'm sorry that I can't reveal more of what this was based upon, but I can't."

Earley said that the board's decision is a personnel matter. Due to a non-disclosure clause, board members are "really restricted" on what they can say.

"We did not take this decision lightly, let me assure you," said Earley. "I really feel that every member on this board felt that they made the only decision, given the information we had, that we could make."

Records indicate Choszczyk was hired in September 2007, according to Earley. Her resignation letter is dated Nov. 11. Lea Hart, a six-year district employee and regional manager, has been named interim district director.

In accordance with Colorado state law, "...Choszczyk will receive a total of $8,343 as agreed to in her separation and release agreement," wrote Earley in response to questions emailed to the board by the DCI. "All other terms of the agreement are protected by a non-disclosure clause."

Earley, who was appointed board president in July, said that "some difficulties" were brought to the board's attention in August. Following a preliminary investigation, and at Choszczyk's request, Mountain States Employers Council, a Colorado-based organization specializing in employment law, completed an extensive management assessment. An attorney conducted interviews and recommendations were made in a subsequent report.

Earley said she's been spending 70 hours a week dealing with the issue. "I did not want to do it. I don't think there's a board member here that wanted to do any of this," she said.

At the meeting, Earley addressed speculation that the decision was related to reports of friction between up-valley and down-valley libraries. "I can assure the up-valley/down-valley never came up in this entire process, ever," said Earley.

"I would say that if the public wants to learn more, you're almost going to have to go through the court system and find out," said Earley, adding that the board is not responsible for the decision not to release related documents to the public.

"I don't think we want to go to court," said library user Ed Marston. "I think what we'd like to know is that the district will be fairly run and that this was not some up-valley/down-valley conflict and that the staff has not taken control of the system."

Earley told the crowd that employee discord was also not behind the board's actions. According to the minutes of the Sept. 16 board meeting, "Earley told the board she had been contacted by staff with complaints about a hostile workplace environment and the need for a process to complain. Earley and (vice president Nancy) Hovde will investigate the situation and update the board as the situation allows. Earley indicated that funds might be needed in case legal counsel was required."

The comments made "...were related to Ms. Choszczyk's employment situation but were not a dispositive factor" in placing her on administrative leave, wrote Earley in the email. "The action taken by the board was done so after careful consideration of the management assessment report we received from Mountain States Employer Council."

According to the minutes of the Nov. 4 board meeting, following an executive session, a motion was made to place Choszczyk on administrative leave through the end of the week, then on unpaid leave through Nov. 25. Six trustees voted for the motion, and the seventh member voted "present," a non-vote, due to the trustee's absence throughout most of the investigation, said Earley.

A motion to return to executive session was made and seconded, at which time John Gavan, IT director for the district, said that if he was to be the subject of that session, he would resign. Gavan resigned immediately following the decision to place Choszczyk on administrative leave. He had no comment for the DCI but to say that he is moving on and remains very active in his profession.

Karen Ortiz, an educational technology specialist, said she frequents the Paonia library and appreciates the technology infrastructure, for which she said Gavan is largely responsible. Ortiz called his resignation "a huge double whammy for the organization. The district is already advertising the position. "I'm guessing you had someone in place who could just take that over?"

Earley replied that there is no backup IT specialist. "That's another one of the challenges that we're going to face," said Earley, "but we'll face it and we have some plans for moving forward in that area."

Hovde said she believes the board and district staff remain dedicated to the district and are "fully committed to preserving the resources we have and improving them, if possible."

At-large board member William Crank said he agrees with comments made by Earley. "I would hope that nobody would think that the seven members of this board don't care greatly about the libraries ... We're on this board because we like libraries" and what they do for citizens.

Library user Betsy Marston asked if the hiring process for Choszczyk's replacement will be open to the public. "I'm just trying to figure out how you could make this a more open process, maybe to restore faith in what you're doing," said Marston.

Earley said there are state mandates for how the position can be advertised, and at least two board members will be assigned to carry out the process.

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