Library board mum, employees side with whistle blower

By Mike Weland

Signboard at the Boundary County Library as of Tuesday.

“We at the library are currently failing to meet the reasonable expectations of this community,” Eric Lindenbusch wrote recently to patrons of the Boundary County Library in the wake of the April 25 KVT article ‘Allegations against library far reaching.’ Our situation at the library is very serious, and one that has been festering and growing worse. It began well before I began working there in January 2020.”

Lindenbusch is the only member of the Boundary County Library staff with a degree in library sciences, a masters earned in 2007, and he has pursued his passion for all things library in a career that’s spanned more than 30 years.

“I don’t like Mike Weland’s anti-Trump bias or his liberalism, but he is so far doing a great job in covering the library’s current plight,” he wrote. “His decision to post the still-shot of the pole stripper needed to be done, as wrenching as it is, in order to facilitate what I would describe as ‘lancing the boil’ that has festered at the library and its Board of Trustees.

“I can tell you that I fully support the whistleblower … Generally the Board of Trustees has been run like a ‘good ol’ boys/good ol’ girls’ club. For several months I took turns serving as the meeting minutes taker. I would compose the minutes, send them as an email attachment to then-director Craig Anderson, he would pass them along to the board members, who would approve them at a subsequent meeting, and then they’d basically disappear. If you asked me where past board meeting minutes get archived for the public to read, I would not be able to give you an answer. I don’t know!

“We have also done a terrible job in maintaining and weeding the materials collections, particularly the adult non-fiction books and all of the DVDs. There are a lot of purchased items that have not made it into the circulating collection – almost like a private library within a public library.

“They have been bottled up for months and even a few years in the case of 150 to 200 DVDs, I’d estimate, just sitting on shelves in the enclosed office. I know they’re not all donations. The adding/weeding stats for our library are way below any of our other peer libraries with similarly sized user communities in Idaho.

“No one has conducted an adult non-fiction weeding campaign in at least 10 to 12 years – we still have Windows XP (Microsoft ended support in 2014!) how-to books, an antiques pricing guide from around 2010, our newest World Almanac is from maybe 2014 … it’s inexcusable.”

On the day before that article was published, another librarian, Christine “Mac” Withers, was asked at a local flag waving event about things going on at the library “that we, the community, should be aware of.”

“I asked her to give me an idea and she was more than willing to share because she is a whistleblower and is being harassed,” Jeanine Betsher wrote in an email April 25 to members of the local John Birch Society chapter. “For months she has been attending the board meetings, accompanied only by her immediate family for support. She is a liberty minded individual who is trying to do what is right and she is being punished. She says to keep an eye on as a story should be coming out today in regard to what’s going on at the library and there may be a running series of stories for the next few months.”

Mac provided her a list of some of the key issues as she saw them, which Jeanine shared with JBS membership:

  • Conducting board meetings in secret over objection of the public.
  • Refusal to place public comment on any agenda despite repeated requests.
  • Protection of known sex offenders within the library, including sexual predators who prey upon children.
  • Refusal to take protective or corrective action on behalf of employees and patrons regarding above issues.
  • Intimidation and retaliation against employees who have identified these issues of serious public concern, including extreme fiscal mismanagement over a period of years.
  • Appointing supervisory personnel with the intent to cover up all the above actions.

Saying she and another member offered Mac their personal support, Jeanine encouraged other JBS members to do the same.

“I said that we would ask you for your support as well,” she wrote. “My understanding is that no one is allowed to speak (!?) but we are allowed to attend. I suggest that we show up and start monitoring the library’s actions, just like we’re now doing with the school board.”

Librarian Mac Withers takes her first granddaughter, Katana, for a tour of the children’s section of the Boundary County Library.

Mac and her husband, Ty, sat down for a KVT interview Tuesday.

“I’m Craig’s ‘problem child,'” she said, referring to former director Craig Anderson, who retired April 1. “That’s what he called me. I’m the one who started all this.”

Mac started working at the library in January, 2019, her first library job after a career working the public sector, mostly with school districts in Florida, Colorado and Riverton, Wyoming, from where the family moved to Bonners Ferry in March, 2018, to be closer to parents.

“I thought working at a library would be enjoyable and fun,” she said. “It’s the hub of the community, and mostly I looked at it as an ideal way to meet people and learn all about my community.”

On her first day, she said she took in and donated a bagful of DVDs, then she set about learning her new job.

About five or six months later, she said, she and another employee came across those DVDs, still in the bag she’d brought them in.

“I took them up so they could be processed and made available to the public, but I was chewed out for offering to help,” she said.

Hers weren’t the only donations unprocessed.

“They were piling up on the steps, blocking doors,” Mac said. “But things are so compartmentalized, so protected, that nearly any offer of help is resented and met with hostility.”

Mac said they began giving donated items away and taking them to thrift stores rather than take the time to process them in.

In talking about the two week state of emergency declared April 15, former library director Sandy Ashworth, brought in as an unpaid consultant following Anderson’s retirement, cited safety issues resulting from clutter that’s built up in a library that has seen expanded programs over the years with no expansion of space. The narrative doesn’t quite match that painted by employees who’ve worked there of late.

While she was called “my problem child” from almost the time she was hired, Mac said, her fellow employee, Dana Boiler, didn’t come to be seen in the same light until she refused to countenance treatment Mac was subjected to regarding her use of sick leave.

“In August of last year, I called in sick with a migraine,” Mac wrote in a letter submitted to board members and attorney Tim Wilson, now retained by the board. “I have suffered from chronic migraines most of my life and take several medications to control them. I returned to work to find that Craig had hired someone overnight to supposedly be my replacement … without any prior notice, she was dropped into the library during a pandemic, without any training, on a busy summer Saturday during a massive book sale. By the end of the day she had decided that she didn’t want to work there. I discovered fairly quickly that Craig was angry that I had called in with a migraine, and as a direct result he was intending to reduce my hours and ultimately let me go.”

She had, she said, disclosed that she suffered from migraines during the hiring process. Nevertheless, she was called in to a meeting with Craig, another employee to take notes and, after her steadfast insistence, Dana, who has an extensive background as a paralegal, who told Anderson earlier that his actions were retaliatory and in violation of federal labor laws.

“I didn’t want to go in alone,” Mac said.

She was, she said, called a liar, told that she wanted that Saturday off to be home with her husband and accused of abusing sick leave.

“He had gone through his phone and found 22 text messages over the last 2.5 years where I had called in sick,” she wrote. “I then told Craig Craig that I had just recently discovered from my co-workers that there was a sick leave policy, and I was eligible for paid sick leave. For 2.5 years Craig had failed to provide me with a policy manual, and in fact specifically told me that I had to always make up for my sick days if I wanted to get paid for them, which I did for 2.5 years.”

Anderson subsequently gave her two envelopes on two separate occasions, one with $45.03 in cash, the other with $25. Neither contained any documentation.

As explanation, he told her it was carryover sick pay from the previous year, despite the fact that the employee policy establishes that there is no carryover sick leave.

“I have never seen any accounting for these cash payments and assume withholdings were never taken out,” Mac wrote. “Likewise, I have never seen an accounting of my paid sick leave, FMLA leave, vacation leave and have no idea at this point what I have accrued.”

It got worse.

In mid-October, she wrote, library computer tech Derrick Grow,  appointed interim director of the library after Anderson’s departure, took a vacation to Utah and stayed with his kids, who had recently had COVID.

Shortly after he returned to work, he was diagnosed with COVID, the library closed and employees were told to quarantine at home. On November 3, Anderson emailed employees at the board’s direction establishing strict COVID protocols, though no board meetings had been held.

On November 4, employees were back at work, including an obviously ill Derrick Grow, wheezing, coughing, lethargic … and putting together face shields and other personal protective equipment for distribution to employees.

Mac tested positive for COVID two weeks later on November 21 and was out for two weeks, and she came back to a completely changed atmosphere, she said, and what appeared to be a disciplinary letter.

“I received disparate treatment when I tested positive for COVID,” Mac wrote the board, “especially from Craig but also from several other coworkers. When Derrick was ill, nobody criticized him for getting COVID even though he put himself in direct proximity to it and then came to work for a week symptomatic, then came back to work again 10 days later, still symptomatic. In fact, Craig called a prayer meeting, had everyone get in a circle and asked us to pray for Derrick.”

She returned to work from FMLA leave December 7 and was almost immediately given what appeared to be a disciplinary letter. She learned that while she was home with COVID, the letter had been shared with several staff members who had not been required to quarantine.

“There are two libraries,” Mac said. “One belongs to the ‘upstairs’ crew who go along to get along and are part of the inner circle, and the crew downstairs who want to see the library run properly and openly but who are banished away to where their voices can’t be heard.”

I have been asking to speak to the Board of Trustees for nearly five months,” she wrote at the beginning of her letter, “but was not provided with contact information and Craig would not make arrangements.”

The disciplinary letter was Mac’s banishment to the downstairs netherworld. Not only were her duties curtailed, so too were her hours. Instead of helping patrons, which to her was the best part of the job, “duties such as shelving, straightening, shelf reading, book covering and much more need your expertise.”

When she asked what she had done to merit demotion, she was informed that there were patrons, staff and the wife of a board member who made complaints while she was home recovering from COVID.

“‘Touch and Go’ contact with patrons and staff equals solid professionalism,” Anderson wrote in the letter, his way of saying she wasn’t to speak to others beyond the bare minimums necessary.

Again, Dana Boiler came to Mac’s defense, she said, explaining to Anderson the concept of retaliatory actions and FMLA, open meeting requirements and other human resource practices and principles and listing the many violations employed against Mac for which the library could be held liable.

Craig asked Dana to mediate a meeting between he and Mac and on December 31, and instead of punishment, he gave Mac a letter citing her for exemplary performance, told her he was purging the negative documents in her personnel file and he restored most of her pre-COVID status … but he never told others.

It wouldn’t have happened, she said, if Dana Boiler hadn’t stood up for her, refusing to be intimated and refusing to back down for what she knows is right.

“Dana is standing up for what’s right and she’s being ostracized and vilified by many of her co-workers and the board, who are spreading false accusations and trying to stir the community against her while they do their best to go right on as they have been,” Mac said. “Dana grew up here, went away to attend college and to start a family and a career, and came home so her kids could enjoy growing up in the same safe, wholesome small town she did. She doesn’t deserve this. It’s not right.”

Many of the library’s shortcomings continue from as far back as Sandy Ashworth’s tenure, Mac said, and since her return as an unpaid administrative advisor, Ashworth, she said, is perpetuating dysfunction.

For three days after her return, Mac said, Sandy remained closed in her office with Derrick and the upstairs clique, with board members coming and going, while the downstairs crew ran the library.

“Her first order of business after that three days was to come out and accuse Dana of campaigning for the director’s job, which is not true at all,” Mac said. Dana had made application to the board for the position and included with it several letters of support, but had not, she said, approached patrons asking for support as accused.

The two week emergency closure of April 15 should have ended Wednesday, April 28, as no action was taken by the board.

On Friday, Mac, Dana, Eric and other employees wondered if they would be called back to work.

Lindenbusch went to the library on Saturday in the early afternoon to put a book in the drop box and saw the signboard saying the library would open May 3.

While he was there, Grow came out to chat and he acknowledged that he had yet to hear back and receive further instruction from the board, that he still needed to plan the May work schedules and that the library would very likely not open Monday.

“We typically get a lot of patrons at the library on Saturdays, especially just prior to our 2 p.m. closing time, so giving them the idea that we would reopen today is not good at all,” Lindenbusch wrote. “It is bad enough that we’ve had to close on less than 24 hours notice, the day after the April 22 (sic) board meeting, and even worse that we’re confusing patrons further on when we’re reopening.

“As you might know, we ask library users not to return DVDs and books on CD in the outside book drop, but to return them inside when we’re open. Overdue fines on DVDs are normally 50-cents per day if not returned by the due date plus a two or three day grace period. Ultimately we’ll end up waiving a lot of fines. It reminds me of a very mild version of the IRS and its audits of some taxpayers.

“I believe we’re creating some unnecessary ill will among our patrons, who have nearly all been exceptionally kind and patient, at least up until now.”

KVT sent Grow an email early Monday morning with a public records request for minutes of board meetings and a questionnaire with a request it be distributed to each board member and to library legal counsel after learning that email addresses on the library website purportedly to individual board members actually go to the director.

Earlier attempts by KVT to flag to be unmuted during board meetings still held remotely via Zoom went unheeded, and so the questions remain unanswered beyond what was included in the article, “Boundary County Library going into dry dock, Ashworth says.”

As of this writing, there has been no response from anyone.

What is the true nature and scope of the emergency that shut down the library April 15? How would you characterize Dana Boiler and her complaints and allegations? What progress has been made in addressing the emergency and when do you expect the library to reopen?

They are questions to which library patrons and taxpayers are entitled.

Among the duties of trustees of Boundary County Library trustees, as established in “a quick guide to the roles and responsibilities of public library board members,” posted on the library’s website are “Ensuring the board’s legal and ethical integrity in compliance with the provisions of Title 74, Idaho Code, Transparent and Ethical Government, determining “policies to guide the staff in making decisions and exercising initiative while ensuring the rights, responsibilities, and equitable treatment of library users,” “holding effective and efficient board meetings in compliance with Idaho’s Open Meetings Law, chapter 2, Title 74, Idaho Code,” “Protecting assets and providing financial oversight as part of the board’s legal responsibilities,” and “using our voices as committed and informed champions for the mission of the library and the greater good of all public libraries.”

“My confidence in the board is shot, and I would fully support dissolving it entirely and beginning from complete scratch,” Lindenbusch said, a sentiment echoed by Dana Boiler and Mac Withers.

Public library boards in Idaho, pursuant to 33-2604 Idaho Code, are established so that the five-year terms of elected members are staggered so they end in different years to allow both continuity and transition. Both Mac and Dana believe that Boundary County Library trustees serve six year terms, though neither can say they are certain.

In the last Boundary County Library District Trustee election, Ken Blockhan defeated Robert Vicaryous 59-35 for the Zone 1 seat and Wendy McClintock garnered 42 votes to defeat Jacque Tanner, 42, and Kathleen Diddock, 22, for the Zone 2 seat.

That was in 2015.

Since then, no member reaching the end of their term has been challenged in an election or members have resigned and replacements been appointed by the board to fill the remainder of the term.

According to Mac and Dana, library trustee Wendy McClintock will not seek another term due to health concerns. That decision, however, came after the deadline for declarations of candidacy and so there is no library trustee election in Boundary County May 18. Instead, remaining board members; Ken Blockan, Judith Mace, Aaron Bohachek and Bob Blanford, will appoint her replacement, to serve a full term, when she steps down.

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