Our Views: How Did Buttoned-Down Libraries Get So Controversial?

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When confronted with poor decisions, a person has several choices on how to respond. Down one path is the opportunity to admit fault, say you’re sorry and accept your penance. It might not be pleasant to swallow your pride and hand over a few mea culpas, but it tends to defuse potentially explosive situations — like when your bosses, staff and citizens in five counties are angry with you. 

Cheryl Heywood, director of the Timberland Regional Library system, has not chosen that path. 

Instead, when confronted with Chronicle reporting showing administrators had little interest in public input on a plan to close eight rural libraries — and actively silenced staff who begged for transparency — Heywood is firmly entrenching herself, digging in with her heels despite the facts of the situation. 

On Tuesday, she sent a memo to TRL staff justifying her own actions to keep the plan’s development from the public and blaming the media (The Chronicle) for taking information “out of context.” 

On Wednesday, she confronted a Chronicle reporter, balking at answering a simple question while saying he would “twist” her words. 

To catch any stragglers up, here’s the story. In mid September, an East County pastor raised the alarm after hearing Randle’s Mountain View Timberland Library was slated to be closed in a draft TRL facilities plan. Library staff and residents had long heard rumors but weren’t getting any straight answers. 

Residents showed up by the dozen to the Sept. 20 town hall at Randle’s fire hall, and many made the long drive later that week to Ilwaco Sept. 26 for the Timberland board meeting.  Board members got their first look at the capital facilities plan that day, which recommended closures at Randle, Packwood, Salkum, Tenino, Oakville, Hoquiam, Montesano and Amanda Park, and consolidations elsewhere. 

“TRL staff brought these options to the next TRL Board meeting (September 26) as the trustees are the sole authority in making decisions related to library service points,” Heywood wrote in Tuesday’s memo. 

Yes, it’s true that the board has the final say — not the only say. 

More than 40 citizens spoke at that meeting, making impassioned pleas to save their libraries, saying they act as hubs of small communities like Randle and Packwood. The Chronicle obtained public records including emails dating back to this summer discussing the closure of Randle’s Library, while others showed administration team members admonishing Randle librarian Mary Prophit for advocating for public input.

The board got the message, and has taken the closures off the table. 

TRL’s administrative staff is another story entirely. Rather than listening and learning from the public outcry, Heywood is still trying to spin her own narrative.

“As your Director, I made decisions with my senior management team to start the process on our budget revenue shortfalls and alternative service models without involving the entire staff,” Heywood wrote in her memo. “It was important that we develop our ideas before sharing them with all of you. I felt circulating this information too early on in the creative process would have caused the panic and angst that we are now seeing in our communities. I understand you would like to have deeper discussions about critical topics such as our budget revenue and alternative service models. When appropriate, I will share more details with you in an effort to work more closely together to address budget shortfalls.”

As the administrators of a new “ALT TRL” Facebook group wrote, “(W)e would remind Director Heywood that the ‘pain and angst we are now seeing’ is entirely the result of her own actions, lack of transparency, and condescension for her staff.”

Randle residents have also felt the brunt of Heywood’s condescension. Speaking about the Sept. 20 town hall, she scoffed at the turnout. 

“I know there were about 200 people there, but that doesn’t represent everybody who lives out there,” she said. “Is that everybody who lives out there? I don’t think so.”

Let’s be clear Ms. Heywood, you work for a public agency that receives tax funds and has a board appointed by elected officials. You don’t get to decide when to release information — your budget, long-term planning and yes, even your emails, are a matter of public record. You work for the public, not the other way around. 

•••

Emails between TRL administration and library staff have formed the basis of The Chronicle’s reporting in recent weeks. In response to Heywood’s claim of statements taken out of context, we’re releasing the emails in question, which will be posted to chronline.com when this edition is published.

 

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