Birmingham Public Library Deputy Director Sandra Lee bid an emotional farewell to the library’s board of trustees Tuesday afternoon, praising the BPL’s “passionate” staff and emphasizing the important role that libraries play in communities.
Lee officially retired Dec. 7 after working at the BPL for 25 years. Before she was appointed deputy director by the board in 2015, she had served as the eastern region and adult services coordinator of the BPL’s Central Library.
Lee had served as the library’s interim director after the board fired Angela Fisher Hall as executive director in June 2016. Lee was one of three finalists to take on the job permanently, but the board was unable to reach a consensus and extended the search until Floyd Council was hired as executive director in October 2017.
During Tuesday afternoon’s meeting, an emotional Lee sought to remind the employees and board members present that their work with the library matters to the community at large. “Don’t ever doubt for one minute that what you do each and every day means something,” she said. “You may not know it … You may never know, (but) what you do every day of the week means something to someone.”
Lee’s departure will leave a significant leadership gap amid ongoing controversy at the BPL. In October, approximately 20 BPL Central Library employees appeared before the board to complain about a “hostile, toxic work environment” under Council’s administration, saying that they had been “demeaned, berated and treated like children in front of other employees and patrons.”
Council has responded by calling employees with complaints “extreme outliers” who “will develop a coalition because what they want is a scandal.”
The board refuses to publicly discuss the complaints made against Council, calling it a private personnel issue. But they have adopted what they described as a “corrective action plan” for Council — though, again, without publicly releasing any details.
Since then, the focus has been on Lee’s departure, as well as the departure of Tobin Cataldo, the library’s coordinator of collection management, who left his position last month to head up the Jefferson County Library Cooperative. Cataldo’s role has since been filled in an acting capacity by Caleb West.
After Lee’s remarks Tuesday, the board went into a private, executive session. They did not explain why, although Council — who has left the boardroom during previous executive sessions — remained inside.
When the executive session ended, the board agreed that Council was authorized to search for and hire employees to fill three vacant positions: security director, accountant and community engagement manager. The previous security director, Kevin Bernal, resigned several months into Council’s tenure.
Board members asked about plans to hire a development director to replace Olivia Alison, who also had resigned months into Council’s administration. Council said he would “have to find a vacancy” to pay for the position’s salary before beginning a search.
Council also told board members Tuesday that he thought Lee’s replacement could be hired within the next 45 days. Board member Kimberly Richardson responded that 45 days was “optimistic.” A large number of applications for the position have already been received, said board member Sherri Nielson, “and some of them are qualified.”