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Former Hennepin County Library Director Chad Helton fails to win Seattle library job

2 March 2022

The Seattle Public Library Board on Wednesday bypassed former Hennepin County Library Director Chad Helton to lead its library system, selecting instead Seattle’s interim library director to be the system’s next chief.

After coming out of executive session, the Seattle board unanimously chose Tom Fay. Board members spoke over a live stream connection before the vote, most of them in praise of Fay and his leadership as interim director.

“Tom is a competent leader and proved his professionalism and ability to work with,” said Board Member Ron Chew during the discussion.

None of the board members mentioned Helton, who was the only other finalist for the position but had been considered increasingly unlikely in recent weeks to get the job given his controversial 17-month tenure in Hennepin County.

Last week Hennepin County Administrator David Hough announced that Helton had resigned as director of the Hennepin library system. The county disclosed a settlement agreement, signed by Hough and Helton, spelling out payments of $60,000 to Helton for “emotional damages” and $15,000 to his attorneys for legal fees, in exchange for a commitment by Helton not to sue the county. No explanation was given for the reference to “emotional damages.”

Helton had been under fire since last summer for permanently moving to Los Angeles and saying that he could manage the library system remotely from his condo there. Though the majority of county workers at the time were working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the county libraries had reopened and library workers were interacting with the public.

Hough approved Helton’s plan to work from Los Angeles, emphasizing that the county needed to be flexible in its work arrangements to attract and retain top talent. But the decision was denounced by the leaders of two county unions, numerous library staffers and members of the public, who said Helton should be on site with workers and patrons.

The county revised its remote work policy in December, saying that supervisors must live in Minnesota or Wisconsin — especially those whose departments interact with the public — and that any supervisor seeking to live outside the area had to apply for an exemption.

In January, the Seattle library board announced that Helton and Fay were the two finalists for the job of chief librarian. In a public interview with the board on Feb. 10, Helton, who is Black, stressed his work and interest in diverse communities and his commitment to Seattle. In response to a question, he promised that he would move to Seattle if he was appointed chief librarian.

It turned out that Helton by then had already resigned as Hennepin County Library director — on Feb. 1, according to the settlement — even though county officials said only that he had taken a voluntary leave of absence. His resignation wasn’t publicly known until two weeks after he had agreed to the settlement.

The four-page settlement document states that Hennepin County “is entering into this settlement … to prevent possible litigation, to put to rest all possible disputes between the parties, and to allow the parties to move forward with their respective endeavors.” It also states that “Helton and the county agree to not disparage each other.”

Michael Rossman, the county’s human resources director, moved to Palm Springs, Calif., last year. His move was also approved by county officials, but he drew less criticism than Helton because his staff works remotely and doesn’t interact with the public.

The Hennepin County Library system, which includes libraries in Minneapolis, has 528 permanent and temporary employees in 41 branches, and is authorized to have up to 543 full-time equivalents. Helton’s annual salary was $183,174.

The Seattle Public Library has 626 employees with a central library and 26 neighborhood branches. The chief librarian’s salary in 2021 was $216,102.

This post was originally published on this site

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