New chapter in library firing: Regional director may not have had authority to force Blake's resignation

Article Published: Sep. 8, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
New chapter in library firing: Regional director may not have had authority to force Blake's resignation

Two weeks after Watauga County head librarian John Blake says he was forced to resign, he is still searching for answers, as are some local library supporters.

All local library board members either had no comment or failed to return phone calls as of press time, though several who spoke on condition of anonymity expressed surprise at Blake's resignation.

There was apparently no board vote before Blake was asked to resign and the board's bylaws appear contradictory in making personnel decisions. One section gives all personnel decisions to the local library board while the director makes recommendations.

Louise Humphrey, director of the three-county Appalachian Regional Library System, said after Blake's resignation that she had no comment and was solely responsible for personnel decisions. Calls to Humphrey and the regional library system's legal representative were not returned as of press time.

Watauga County's library board members include chairwoman Jean Czermak, Hugh Hagaman, Audrey Hartley and George Holloway, who also serve on the 12-member regional library board. Other county board members are county commissioner Billy Ralph Winkler, Dot Barker, Cindy Ball, Joseph Bathanti and Tish Rokoske.

Blake said he appreciated the kindness of the community and wanted his staff to know he did nothing wrong.
"It pains me that that my board did not do more to find out the reality of my situation," Blake said. "I would have expected more from them and have no idea what role they played in my situation."

Gail Bedell, president of the Watauga Literacy Association, said, "I was shocked and quite disappointed to learn of the forced resignation of Watauga County head librarian John Blake and want the community to know why."

Bedell noted that Blake served on the literary association's board. "Our mission is to support literacy by provided trained volunteer tutors for people in our area wishing to improve their basic math, reading, and home/ workplace literacy skills," Bedell said. "John did more than sit on the board. He proved to be an encouraging, resourceful, and selfless part of our team--truly dedicated to literacy and his community.

"And since most of our activities are held after-hours, John assisted us on his own time. When he could have been home with his family, John was helping with everything from audio/visuals, to advice on Web searching, to active participation in tutor training workshops and activities. Moreover, under John's direction, the library staff connected several inquirers with WLA so they could get the help they wanted--and how fitting for a community library. It would be a shame, in my opinion, for Boone and Watauga County to lose such a dedicated, resourceful, and hardworking community servant."

Shelby Lane, head of the Watauga County Library Endowment Fund and a former member of the local library's board of directors, said, "I think the whole thing could have been handled better."

Lane said the library's bylaws are contradictory because one section gives the regional directory the authority to hire and fire while another section says a majority vote of the board is required before removing a county librarian. She hopes a clarification of the bylaws emerges from the controversy.

One section of the bylaws states, "County Boards: Each County Local Library Board will review and approve or disapprove actions that affect the library system in their county, including all budget and personnel matters, and recommend action to the ARLB. No ARLB action is to be taken specifically pertaining to a library system without the prior consent of the county library board."

The bylaws don't give specific firing powers to the regional director. The bylaws say, "The Director shall be the chief executive and administrative officer of the ARL and have sole charge of administering the ARL in accordance with approved policies of the ARLB. The bylaws read "The Director shall be responsible for recommending to the ARLB the hiring new and/or dismissal of employees."

Blake said he wished his staff well and said his tenure had been difficult under Humphrey, whom he characterized as a "micromanager."

"As for my library board, I am very disappointed that they aren't more interested in the facts of the situation, but at times like this boards tend to duck and cover and circle the wagons," Blake said.

"I've seen it many times before. Everyone is afraid of being sued."

Blake said "all options were on the table" regarding pursuing a grievance in court.

According to the bylaws, the Appalachian Regional Library Board exists "at the pleasure" of the county commissioners in each county. The bylaws don't spell out procedures for the hiring or dismissal of either county head librarians or the regional director.

"To Watauga, you've lost an honest and caring library leader and I wish you the best," Blake said. "Am I angry and bitter? Oh, sure. No one would want to be treated like this, but to be honest, the wrong person was forced out."

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