Birmingham Public Library Executive Director Floyd Council has been suspended without pay for one month by the library system’s board of trustees, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.
The decision was made in a library board meeting Tuesday. As with all personnel decisions, the board held the discussion and took the vote to suspend Council during a private executive session. Details of the suspension, including the reasoning behind it, were not immediately made public.
Deputy Director Janine Langston will take over as interim director.
Council’s suspension follows last month’s announcement that 158 library employees would be furloughed due to city budget cuts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a Sept. 16 phone call with board members, Council and members of the City Council, Mayor Randall Woodfin said that the library’s budget for FY 2021 had been cut to $6.2 million — much lower than the previous year’s $15.3 million budget. Because the library already had spent $2.6 million since the fiscal year started July 1, Woodfin said, that meant the library would have to make its remaining $3.6 million last until June 30, 2021.
In a Sept. 22 press conference, Council told members of the public that the BPL would “have to use what we got until we can get back what we want, and we will not complain. We will not side with politics … . We are hopeful that at some time funding will be restored.”
During a Sept. 29 meeting of the BPL board of trustees, board member Sherri Nielson questioned whether Council had presented too rosy a picture to the public. “I want any PR that’s going out to reflect the realistic view of what we can accomplish with this reduced funding,” Nielson said. “I don’t want it to be this sunshine view that we can accomplish everything we need to … because that’s an untrue statement. I want to be truthful with the public.”
Council interjected multiple times, arguing that the library’s “staff objective is not to engage in politics” and that, “during this time of doom and gloom, it’s very important for somebody to remain positive.” When Nielson again reiterated her desire to hear from the board instead of him, Council became indignant.
“Ms. Nielson, you will not yell and scream and holler at me. I am a grown person! … That’s disrespectful, and I’ve had enough of it. If you’re not going to respect me, don’t expect me to respect you.”
Council was appointed executive director in November 2017 and has been the subject of controversy ever since. In October 2018, roughly 20 library employees complained to the board that Council fostered a “hostile” work environment and that they had been “berated and treated like children in front of other employees and patrons.” Several high-profile staffers resigned several months into Council’s tenure, including chief of security Kevin Bernal and Director of Development Olivia Alison.
“Our reputation (and) our work ethic has been demeaned,” Monica King Slater, who spoke for that group of employees, said at the time. “Some of us have been berated and treated like children in front of other employees and patrons … . We fear retaliation if we make a suggestion, have an idea, or speak up .. . Fear and uncertainty are perpetuated throughout this system … . A place once known as a home away from home has now become a dreary, dark place, an empty vessel.”
Council dismissed those complaints as “extreme outliers” seeking a scandal where there was none. “It takes courage in a leadership capacity to absolutely change anything, and we have tried to be as sensitive as we can to every single employee in the library system,” he said. “Leadership is not for the faint of heart. There are days when I hear things that people say and do to me and talk about me to where I could spend a whole day crying. But I am a man of faith; I am a man of character. If there’s a situation where something needs to be talked about, I’m always willing and ready to listen to concerns.”