Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The City Council, The Windsor Public Library Board and The CEO

The CEO of The Windsor Public Library is today's front page news after some investigative journalism has revealed that Brian Bell has been articling at a local law firm while on sick leave from his library administrative duties. According to Bell, there is no malfeasance because working at a law firm is as relaxing as pottery lessons.

The WPL has been embroiled in this sort of drama for some years now. Here's the context as I understand it.

City councils in Ontario do not have the authority to make management decisions regarding libraries because of laws designed to protect library collection decisions from political influence. The Windsor Public Library is accountable to its Library Board. And yet its safe to say that The City of Windsor have been trying to gain control of The Windsor Public Library Board. Here's the evidence:

In March of this year, Windsor City Council requested a "line by line" financial audit of the WPL despite the fact that a similar audit performed two years ago found that the library system was running efficiently. Why so many audits? "Under provincial legislation, the only way council can take over [a library board] is if there has been mismanagement, and that's the driving force behind the financial request". Also in March, Council requested that the library cut its budget by $400,000 while stipulating that there would be no reduction in hours or services. Furthermore, in May, the City tried to prematurely end the terms of the WPL Library Board members.

Complicating matters it is no secret that the mayor of Windsor and his allies in Council are not fond of Alan Halberstadt who is the only remaining city councilor on the library board. In fact, they had the knives out for him after he did not side with City Council's recommendation for such large budget cuts (addendum) and again after it was learned that the Board mistakenly applied an Pay Equity payment to "funny how the former director of Human Resources could make such a mistake" Brian Bell. As an aside, I have a tremendous respect for Alan Halberstadt and I feel that the call to remove him from the Board by some of his fellow city councillors was deeply hypocritical.

And something that might be completely irrelevant or just might be further complicating matters is that Brian Bell succeeded previous Library CEO, Steve Salmons, who may or may not be the "former librarian" referred to by local columnist Gord Henderson who is part of the Ontario government's Detroit River International Crossing team, which is, incidentally, currently battling a heated turf war with the City of Windsor's own plans for a crossing.

I'm not sure how this is all going to resolve as the WPL operates under the Carver Protocol, a commercial governance model which, according to City Councillor David Cassivi, "largely renders the library board impotent" as it vests all responsibility in the office of the library's chief executive officer.

(cross-posted at New Jack Librarian)


WE Speak said...

Good summary Mita. It's definitely interesting to see it all laid out in a timeline. I hadn't even heard of Council's attempt to remove the board members before the end of their term. I have a lot of respect for Alan staying the course throughout this while Brister resigned and ran for cover when he couldn't force through budget changes Council wanted (Changes that would raid the library reserves and put them in an even more precarious financial position in years to come).

Considering the turmoil at other City agencies and boards such as the Windsor Essex Development Commission the continuing negative focus on the Library is very suspect.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mita said...

I approved an Anonymous comment and then, upon a moment's reflection, removed it.

Here's why: In matters small, I don't mind Anonymous comments but I have decided that I will not approve comments when an author criticizes named individuals but will not put their name to their convictions.