A request for information from one of the Blount County Public Library board of trustees’ newest members prompted a multilayered and revealing set of disclosures during the board’s August meeting this week.
Board of Trustees Chair Susan Schneibel told members in their Tuesday meeting that one of them had requested information regarding a series of operational details including job descriptions, director evaluations and a full accounting of the library cafe for the past five years.
Schneibel showed a slide of the 10 different items the board member wanted to review and quoted directly from an email in which the requests were made.
She did not name the requester, but during the meeting newly appointed board member Stephanie Thompson — former Maryville director of schools — announced she was the one who asked for the information.
In an interview after the meeting, Thompson confirmed she had emailed library officials with her inquiries and that Schneibel’s presentation was an accurate representation of her request.
“I wanted a copy of job descriptions just to see what our employees do,” she told gathered board members. “I’m a former (school) librarian and former director of schools and that was one of those things we were responsible for submitting to our board.”
She added she did not mean to “open a can of worms and put you through all this.”
“No one has ever asked for this information,” library Director K.C. Williams replied. “I’m happy to give them to you.”
However, Schneibel made the decision to show the information to all the board members at the public meeting instead of giving them to only one board member. Some attendees at the meeting objected to this move, saying it was unnecessary and that there was no specific rule requiring it.
“I don’t want to see 50 job descriptions,” board member Cathy Hammon said, indicating it seemed unnecessary.
“It’s not that many,” Williams replied. “I think there’s 20 (job descriptions).”
Schneibel did not hand out job descriptions for all library staff but did produce and review one for the director’s position.
She also showed slides with individual and cumulative evaluation scores for Williams beginning in 2015 and extending through 2019. Averages over the years showed Williams scoring 3.54 out of 4 overall in the 2015-16 review and 3.617 in 2018-19.
Board members also noted the growth in operations and outreach the library has achieved since Williams took the position in 2014.
The scores received praise in the form of applause from some board members.
Before the scores were shown, Thompson asked if she could withdraw her request to see them.
Schniebel said that was not possible.
Before showing the scores publicly, Schneibel gave a presentation on the chain of authority and responsibility within the Tennessee Public Library governing structure.
“We are the governing body for this library,” she told board members.”The library director reports directly to us, not to elected officials.”
She added only the board has the responsibility of hiring and firing and that standards of governance were designed to ensure the management of local branches remained independent.
“We should not be subjected to any outside interests, political or partisan,” she said.
Schneibel’s comments came in the wake of funding controversies that arose when Blount County’s government compensation study required raises for library employees. The county stalled on increasing funds to pay for a percentage of those increases, but ultimately provided necessary money to match BCPL’s requests.
A contract with the state known as a maintenance of effort agreement relies in part on three local governing bodies — Maryville, Alcoa and Blount County — providing an agreed-upon sum each year. When the agreement is met, the state is able to provide millions of dollars worth of programs and resources.
The governing bodies have consistently met funding for this agreement over the years, giving BCPL a wealth of community-oriented resources.
But questions about the governing bodies’ roles when it comes to dictating specific operational details have arisen during the course of the funding controversies.
For instance, according to some discussion between board members during the meeting, the library is currently waiting on funds from the county to be released in order to fill three recently vacated part-time positions.
“Monetarily, they influence what we do,” said board of trustees member Logan Hill in response to Schneibel’s presentation, adding that the library should be open to dealing with any issues county officials had and vice versa.
In an interview and during the meeting, Thompson said she wished board of trustee training had given her more insight as to how to request information from library officials, but she also confirmed the presentation had answered her questions thoroughly.