Work with Us, Not Against Us

Serving on a board invites criticism because we can’t please everyone when there are differing viewpoints

By Doug Adams

Over the past few weeks there has been a lot of discussion and opinion regarding the goings on at ImagineIF, the Flathead County Library System. Thankfully, much of it is factually incorrect. I want to take this opportunity to correct misinformation and share the facts.

I appreciate the interest and input of members of the public that have attended our meetings and written to me. There is usually not enough time at board meetings to respond to particular comments, so I’ll address some of them here. This is my letter, written as an individual, and I do not pretend to speak for the rest of the board.

One writer commented that they want to see the library sustained for many years to come. I agree! That’s why we are working to tighten our proverbial belt buckle. One way of doing that has been to rescale pay for vacant positions before new hires are made. It has also allowed us to increase pay for critical positions in which we were shorthanded and unable to compete with the local job market. Thus far, it seems to be paying off, and I hope it continues. I made the motion to change the pay scale for vacant upper management positions. My reasoning is that salaries make up approximately 70.5% of our total annual budget expenditure of $1,761,584. With benefits (paid additionally by the county), $1,675,486 is paid to 15 full-time and 22 part-time employees. The last director was making $91,766 ($121,625 with benefits). Even with a rescaling of pay, these upper management positions are paying far above the median per capita income for Flathead County ($32,050 in 2019). As county employees receive cost-of-living increases and longevity raises yearly, we’re fast approaching a pinch point, after which we’ll have to decide which to cut jobs or materials. Either scenario is a losing proposition or won’t serve the public well. Some people think that the simple answer is to increase the budget. It’s been said by people in the opinion pages that we’ve cut the budget, which is absolutely untrue. Nor has the board discontinued any programs. Anyone who doubts this is free to research it. Our budget generally comes from staff recommendation to the board, which approves or amends the recommendation. Historically, the board follows staff recommendation. The proposed budget then goes to the county commissioners for approval or amending. The commissioners set the budget, and we have the freedom to spend it as we see fit. Again, we usually defer to staff.

  Some people have accused us of changing policies so that it’s impossible for library staff to do their jobs and causing “self-inflicted chaos.” I challenge you to name a policy which we’ve changed that has materially or procedurally affected employees. Per our by-laws, we’re bound to review all policies every three years. The director leads the review process. Unfortunately, we’re years behind on reviewing some policies. I hope we rectify this soon, so changes will be forthcoming.

We’ve been accused of running good people off. The previous director left of her own accord, without ever having had a run-in with any board members, as far as I’m aware. In fact, she had just received a good review and a contract renewal offer. Her departure was unexpected. We have not asked anyone to leave. It is my informed opinion that ImagineIf employees are knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and passionate, great qualities which I admire and appreciate. There’s another quality which I admire in employees: the willingness to follow board direction. Differences in philosophy can cause job dissatisfaction. When philosophy trumps the ability to work together, the opinion of the leadership usually prevails, and dissatisfied employees may choose to leave. That is their prerogative, and I respect their decisions.

Regarding the upcoming book challenges, the board has an obligation to respond to them. We can’t, and we shouldn’t, ignore them. As unpleasant as the situation is, we have to seriously consider what to do. No matter which side of the argument prevails, the other side will be outraged. In other words, we can’t win. But that doesn’t mean we should shy away from a hard job. We will do what we think is best for the community that we serve. It’s our right and responsibility to do it, and we will do it unapologetically. We have already received threats of lawsuits if we don’t vote the way some people want us to. It’s quite possible that we could get sued either way. If so, the cost of defending the library will come out of our budget. Is that how you want us spending your taxpayer dollars?

As you may know, we’ve engaged in a multi-year campaign to acquire and supply a larger Bigfork library branch. Many donors have put their monies where their mouths are. The Library Foundation has worked hard. The Bigfork community is excited about this project. There have been obstacles. Let me assure you that we’re working with the county commissioners to overcome past issues and make this dream become a reality. 

I’ve been accused of overstepping my bounds as a trustee. This accusation is based on ignorance. Before such accusations are made, I ask you to study the Montana Code Annotated regarding library law. No one has overstepped their authority. Please do not confuse advice from library groups, such as the American Library Association, with law. Too often, people get so used to “the way it’s always been done” that they start thinking it’s the law. It’s not.

Serving on a board invites criticism because we can’t please everyone when there are differing viewpoints, and I expect that. I welcome opinions and ideas. Personal insults are not as welcome, but I’m growing thicker skin. One thing I ask you to keep in mind, especially as we search for a new director is that, in trying to shame the board, your negative opinions may influence prospective candidates. People always say that they’re supporters of the library, but fanning flames of distrust and dissension in the community, such as recent Letters to the Editor and even reporters themselves have done, doesn’t help us attract new employees, and your prophecies of doom become self-fulfilling. Since the library director must be able to work with the board, denigrating the board to the future director sets us all up for failure. If you really care about our library, please work with us, not against us.

Doug Adams, vice chair
ImagineIF Board of Trustees

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