La Porte County Library announces 19 layoffs

The La Porte County Library Board of Directors has released an open letter outlining what happened at several executive sessions that preceded the initial layoff of 19 employees at the library.

But an attorney representing some of the employees said it isn't enough to fix the problem.

The letter, which was submitted to the newspaper on Wednesday, explains that the hiring of a new director, the layoff of employees, the closure of the Hanna branch, and employee benefit cuts were all discussed at a series of executive sessions held prior to Nov. 11.

But it states that no decisions or votes were taken until a public meeting on Oct. 27.

According to the letter, information on three applicants for the library director's job was received at the meetings. Candidates were then narrowed to a woman from Sheboygan, Wis., who declined the position. The position was then advertised again, and this time it was narrowed down to current interim director Fonda Owens.

The board also received information regarding projections of a budgetary shortfall during the meetings. This included monthly financial reports, tax draws, and financial spreadsheets from the former library director, and updates provided by the interim director, which anticipated a more than $500,000 shortfall in the coming year.

A study to evaluate the library's operations was then authorized at the sessions. The results of this study were eventually discussed, along with recommendations from Owens on employee cuts.

Comparative skills of the employees were discussed too, in terms of who would be kept.

Alternatives to layoffs, like borrowing money from the rainy day fund were also discussed.

When interviewed on Wednesday, Owens said the board's goal with the letter was to increase transparency in what led up to the layoffs.

The release of the letter comes after an order from La Porte Circuit Court, temporarily restraining the layoffs, hiring of Owens, and other changes made on Oct. 19.

The order asked board members to present evidence "showing they have apprised those injured and other citizens of all the information received and other official action taken during meetings held in violation of the statute."

Attorney Shaw Friedman, who represents several of the employees laid-off from the library (who temporarily have their jobs back), said the board's apology may be good for the confessional booth, but shows no commitment to fix the problem.

"These are further admissions of error and law violations," he said, "but this doesn't constitute 'substantial reconsideration' which the law requires."

He said it actually appears the board broke the law again by adopting this at an executive session.

"They have affixed signatures to a document they decided on in private," he said. "They don't seem to understand that final action, like adopting this letter, has to occur in public.

Friedman said this was further evidence that a preliminary injunction is necessary.

The court has set a hearing for the preliminary injunction on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. Both parties are ordered to appear and submit the evidence requested by the court.

Source: Herald Argus