Lewis County Commissioner Edna Fund said she was “appalled” by behavior exhibited at a Wednesday Timberland Regional Library (TRL) board of trustees meeting, where tempers flared and staff members pushed back against former trustee Brenda Hirschi’s recent criticism of pay increases — critique some staffers called “irresponsible” and “disturbing.”
In a Nov. 13 letter to the editor in The Chronicle, Hirschi critiqued “whopping increases” in staff salaries during the pandemic, suggesting it could impact services to patrons who were already faced with potential closures of rural libraries. But staffers Wednesday repeated sentiments that the increases were overdue, justified and transparent.
Director of Operations Brenda Lane called Hirschi’s letter and other public comments “character assassinations,” saying the “irresponsible comments have created a divide between us all.”
Page Preston discussed one letter she said Hirschi sent to TRL trustees, which “questioned the need for superfluous staff members.”
“I’d like to go on the record that we do not consider any individuals in this organization ‘superfluous,’” Preston said. “It’s deeply disturbing that this former trustee felt the need to single those individuals out as part of her greater complaint.”
HR specialist Kandy Seldin said she feared the “incorrect and incomplete information” could lead trustees to reduce wages for non-union staff members, which would “immediately erode the integrity” of the 2019 salary study that led to the wage increases.
According to Lane, it was the first salary review conducted in over a decade.
“Tell the taxpayer ‘yes, salaries were increased, because we had not done a salary review in 14 years, and staff were underpaid,’” she said.
Tensions remained high throughout the beginning of the meeting, with one staff member using nearly twice her allotted time for public comment, despite protests from president and Pacific County Trustee Bob Hall. Fund, a former trustee, was in attendance and expressed dismay at the state of internal TRL affairs.
“I’m a bit appalled hearing the way people are addressing the trustees and former trustees, and not listening to the time limits,” Fund said. “That doesn’t show me as a commissioner a lot of respect that the employees have for their governing board, and that concerns me.”
Hall concurred, saying “it felt like we were really getting beat up on by the staff.”
“It’s true that the two former trustees did a lot of questioning, and some of the information they published was not totally accurate. I don’t know that it was 100 percent inaccurate, though,” he said. “It seems like some of the staff members don’t realize that the views of individual staff members and the collective view of the board is not the same thing.”
Thurston County Trustee Nicolette Oliver noted that she hopes “we can improve relations,” and that as much as staff is demanding respect, “that’s also true for board members. Because we’re here volunteering our time and energy.”