Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mendocino County Library Director Resigns

It is with great sadness that I share this report from Sunday's Ukiah Daily Journal.
Thank you, Mindy, for your service to the community of Ukiah and the Ukiah Public Library! You will be missed! ~mk

Mendocino County library director resigns unexpectedly

Updated: 03/30/2014 12:00:14 AM PDT
Conflicts with Friends groups dogged her
Ukiah Daily Journal
Mendocino County Library Director Mindy Kittay is resigning after a year and three months on the job, the Mendocino County Executive Office announced Friday.
Kittay submitted her resignation Thursday, two days after the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors reviewed her job performance in a closed-door meeting Tuesday.
At the time of her hire in November, 2013, the county executive office lauded her innovation in a "well-respected and award-winning library district" and contribution "transforming a failing library system in Colorado into a library success story" featured in Library Journal and the L.A. Times.
"I'm really going to miss her," said Ukiah branch manager Eliza Wingate. "She was brilliant.... She brought about more positive change than we've had in a long time. This place looks great, and she made it happen."
Wingate continued, "She had so much energy and ideas, and she actually worked in a quality library system, and that counts for something." Citing budget cuts that had put the financial responsibility for the library system largely in the hands of various friends groups throughout the county, Wingate said, "And we had forgotten. We were just in survival mode."
Kittay's March 25 performance evaluation was her third in five months. Such evaluations usually happen annually. She was evaluated Oct. 21, Dec. 16 and again in March. County Counsel Doug Losak said Friday that he couldn't comment on Kittay's departure because it's a personnel matter.
Ukiah City Councilman Benj Thomas, who has sat on the county's Library Advisory Board for the past eight years, said Kittay "didn't feel secure in her job" since she'd been under close scrutiny from the board. Thomas said he had received "a considerable amount of negative comment about Mindy, which I never felt represented a significant portion of the community or library users."
Thomas said he is "deeply sorry that it didn't work out for Mindy and the library and the county," and called her departure "a real setback for the library system."
"She ran into some real opposition from friend of the library groups," Thomas said. "What she was doing, in the opinions of many, was a brilliant job of moving the library in the direction of a 21st century library. Some did not like the changes she made, and had been very vocal about that, but her vision was excellent."
Kittay had vocally disagreed the Friends of the Ukiah Library's board of directors when it took a controversial vote in October to set aside $75,000 of its $115,000 budget to fund a new library building.
Kittay objected, saying there were no plans to build a new library, and wanted the Friends to instead use the money to meet the Ukiah branch's more immediate needs for books and materials, computers, staff training, a new meeting room and new carpeting.
The meeting was contentious, with board members claiming most of the set-aside money came from book sales the Friends had organized over 40 years. Some attendees argued that the community had contributed at those sales and other events to run the existing library, not to build a new one, because the only plans for a new building were informal and vague.
The debate around the October decision got so heated that two of a handful of audience members urged the board to put their emotions aside before voting. Several board members said their decades of membership entitled them to be emotional.
Kittay urged the board to instead launch a capital campaign and put aside $10,000 to seed fundraising efforts specifically for a new library building for the sake of transparency to the public. She urged the Friends to consider that roughly 70 percent of the Ukiah branch's books are upwards of 10 years old, and the computers are 10 years old and also in need of upgrading.
When some of the board members said the county of Mendocino should be responsible for some of the items on Kittay's list of needs, such as a meeting room and new carpeting and furniture, Kittay said the county's budget is tight and its Board of Supervisors doesn't plan to contribute more of its general fund.
Six out of 11 board members voted to set aside $75,000 for the new building. The October meeting followed another high-emotion meeting with the Ukiah Friends in September.
Kittay had also told the board that she was using 70 percent of the revenue from Measure A -- a one-eighth cent tax to support the county's library system -- to pay for staff time and benefits in order to extend hours for the public at the Ukiah branch.
Thomas said the measure's passage and influx of money at the advent of her time with Mendocino County was both an advantage and a burden.
"An advantage because there's more money to spend, and a burden because the expectations can get very high, and sometimes exceeded what could get done with that money in terms of staffing," he said.
He suspected Kittay also encountered conflict between Ukiah and outlying communities as she worked to centralize the county library system, making some of the outlying branches less autonomous.
"Certain jobs are better done, and more efficiently done, through a central organization, rather than through a dispersed one," he said.
Adding that the Library Advisory Board's concern is for the best interest of the entire county library system, Thomas said, "We had really high hopes for Mindy being able to stay in the position and bring about some of the changes that she wanted to. I hope her successor would have some of the same vision."
Tiffany Revelle can be reached at udjtr@ukiahdj.com, on Twitter @TiffanyRevelle or at 468-3523.

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