Birmingham Library Board Adopts “Corrective” Plan for System’s Embattled Director

The Birmingham Public Library board met Oct. 22, 2018.

Amid calls from employees to fire Executive Director Floyd Council, the Birmingham Public Library’s board of trustees voted instead to submit a “corrective action plan” to the embattled administrator. Board members refused to give any details about what that plan would entail, classifying it as a private personnel matter.

The board also voted to approve its first-year evaluation of the executive director — the details of which were also not disclosed — with a recommendation “to develop a specific performance improvement plan.”

In short, Council — who was not present at the meeting and who has refused to discuss the situation with the press — will keep his job for now. His one-year probationary period, during which the board can fire him without cause, will end before the board’s next regular meeting, on Nov. 13.

The board made its decision during a special-called meeting Monday afternoon, most of which happened in a closed-door executive session.  Executive sessions have been a frequent occurrence during Council’s first year, often being called to address formal written complaints made against him by library employees, some of whom have accused him of transforming the library into a hostile work environment.

During the library board’s regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 9, approximately 20 staffers gathered to express dissatisfaction with Council’s leadership. Monica King Slater, an 18-year employee of the library spoke for the group and said that, under Council’s leadership, “our reputation and our work ethics have been demeaned. Some of us have been berated and treated like children in front of other employees and patrons.”

“This is a time bomb waiting to explode,” she said.

Slater was one of five employees who spoke again at Monday’s meeting, again urging the board to combat what she said was a “toxic, dreary” atmosphere that had taken over the library during Council’s tenure.

Russell Lee, another employee at the central branch, told the board he hoped that the library would “go into the new year with leadership that can heal us and bring us together.”

“There’s a lot of brokenness and mistrust,” he said. “We don’t feel like we can really discuss issues with the current leadership… I would just like to say that sometimes, with leadership, you don’t get it right.”

Roy Williams, the BPL’s public relations director, said his work relationship with Council had been “toxic,” and that he and other employees “have been belittled, talked about, put down, made to feel as if we don’t know what we’re doing… We feel we deserve to work in a non-hostile work environment, like we have been having to deal for the last year under our director.”

Williams is one of the employees to have filed an official grievance against Council; the details of that grievance have not yet been made public.

Tom Flute, a security officer for the BPL, said that he had been treated differently after filing his own complaint against Council. “I was not spoken to anymore,” he said. “I was almost threatened to be (transferred to another library branch) because of my grievance … It’s not right, it’s not fair. I think, being an employee, I shouldn’t be treated that way.”

At Oct. 9’s board meeting, Council described employees with complaints about his leadership as “extreme outliers” who were unrepresentative of the library’s 287-person staff. “Sometimes people will develop a coalition because what they want is a scandal … There are some situations during change when people clearly do not want to take any level of change.”

But at Monday afternoon’s meeting, the board ruled that Council himself needed to change. Board President James Sullivan declined to comment on what the board-mandated corrective actions would be, saying he could not speak about personnel matters to the public.

At the meeting, employees expressed doubts that Council, 54, would be open to changing his leadership style.

Karen Jackson, who works at the library’s central branch, told the board she had been strongly in favor of hiring Council a year ago — he has “a lot of good ideas,” she said — but she added that her opinion of him had soured during his tenure due to his treatment of employees. “If I thought that he could change and stop treating us a certain way, I would still be a champion for him,” she said. “But I think he has some character flaws.”