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Sugar Grove library board faces plenty of questions
By Susan Sarkauskas | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 5/14/2010 12:06 AM

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Friends of the Sugar Grove Public Library took the library board to task Thursday night for changes it is making in the way the board runs the library, and for what it sees as bad treatment of longtime library Director Beverly Holmes Hughes.

And Hughes herself read a statement to the board, saying she thought a change to having an annual staff review by the board was prompted by disagreement with a "recent personnel decision" she made. "My decision to hire and fire staff, for 19 years, has never been an issue for the board," she told the board.

"How is the board more qualified than the staff we have in place?" Pat Graceffa said. She also criticized the board for having a committee meeting at a trustee's house in April, and said the board did not post adequate notice of the meeting.

The discussion came on the same night that the board honored Hughes for 20 years of service to the library, presenting her with a certificate and a lapel pin.

More than three dozen people attended the meeting. Not everyone in the room was a fan of Hughes. A woman who was fired criticized the way Hughes handled a memorial donation made to buy rocking chairs for patrons. Another woman also angrily criticized the Friends of the Library about the matter, but Graceffa said the chair donation was not sought by the Friends. Different kind of chairs were bought, and Hughes would not put a plaque or permanent sign by the chairs noting who they were memorializing, according to the women.

Several audience members asked for explanations of the bylaw changes, with some saying they might support them if they knew more about them. One man suggested action be put off for a month. Hughes said, before the meeting, that she had only learned of the proposed changes one week ago, and told the board she wasn't aware she could suggest changes Thursday night. She also said that she feels in the last several months the board has assigned her tasks that take away from her core description of running the library and making a strategic plan for it, instead sending her "off on errands of locating good places for words on our walls, increasing our play in social media, and revising the library Web site."

The board did postpone changes relating to board overview of the director's personnel decisions, and asked Hughes to give input.

Among the bylaw changes approved, the board lowered the amount of money the director can spend without first getting board approval; dropped its committee system; and added a committee-of-the-whole second meeting each month to its calendar, to work on issues formerly discussed by the committees. It also decided that the board president should be the one to speak about matters approved by the board when asked by the media, and that donations worth more than $100 must be approved by the board, not just accepted by individual trustees or the director.

President Art Morrical said the board added the second meeting because it was difficult to get members together for committee meetings, 'The committee meetings are holding us back," he said. Library trustees would be appointed as "representatives" for various topics, such as personnel, finance, audit, collections. "A library representative is just the person who has to organize the activity just like the committee chairmen did," he said.

"It just means we are going to do our job all together," Morrical said. And that he expects much of that time to be spent discussing the library's budget. Throughout the meeting, he mentioned how the library is "burning through" a reserve fund to meet its operating costs. Library voters have repeatedly refused to increase operating taxes for the library despite approving the construction of a new, larger building that opened last year.

"I know this is difficult. This is not enough money to run this library," he said.

After agreeing to have the meetings at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays, the board then changed the date of its second June meeting due to conflicts with members schedules, setting it for 2 p.m. June 23. That drew incredulous comments from the audience, with some pointing out it would be difficult for people who have jobs to attend a daytime meeting.