Muscogee County Library Board starts search for director

While the Muscogee County School Board is in its 10th month of trying to fill its superintendent vacancy, the Muscogee County Library Board officially started its search for the school district's second-highest paid employee during Thursday's monthly meeting.

But the library board's leadership appears to have jumped the gun and violated the state's open meetings law and school board policy as it tries to replace retiring library director Claudya Muller, whose last day in the job will be Feb. 28.

The Muscogee County School District owns and operates the county's public libraries. The library board is a semi-autonomous governing authority appointed by the school board, which approves the library board's major decisions -- such as hiring an executive recruiter to conduct the search for a library director.

As part of its consent agenda during Tuesday's monthly meeting, the school board unanimously approved the library board's request to hire library consultant June Garcia LLC of Denver for $25,000 in fees and expenses. Garcia, however, already had been working on the search -- without a vote by either board.

Library board chairwoman Meridith Jarrell told the board Thursday she met privately with Muller, Chattahoochee Valley Libraries regional board chairwoman Abbie Dillard, then-school board chairwoman Cathy Williams and interim superintendent John Phillips to start the search, and Garcia was hired based on those conversations after considering one other firm.

Jarrell and Muller explained that they didn't wait for either board's approval because Phillips advised them such a hire can be an administrative decision, they wanted a search consultant in time for a prime recruiting opportunity at a national conference, and it would have taken another six weeks to get approval from the library board Thursday and then the school board next month.

The Ledger-Enquirer asked David Hudson, general counsel for the Georgia Press Association, whether that scenario violated state law.

He answered in an email: "Once the funds were authorized to hire a search firm, it depends on the authority given to the board chairman insofar as hiring the search firm. If that authority was delegated to the chairman, then he could do so. If it was not, then the decision should have been made by a public vote of the board at a properly noticed and public meeting."

Asked whether the library board's leadership violated the school board's policy, school board chairman Rob Varner said, "In one sense you would think is it germane, is it fair, is it the proper process to engage someone before the money is approved? In a more realistic perspective, this is like brother-sister over here. We're hand-in-glove with each other. We trust the library board. Even though technically it reports to the school board, I think the trust is so strong, we don't think they would ever overstep their bounds. So I'm really not bothered by it."

Neither were the board's 11 voting members at Thursday's meeting, although two questioned the process: Rick Covington said a called meeting could have been scheduled; Lisa Goodwin asked when the search committee members would be announced after Jarrell disclosed that she, Muller, Dillard and Garcia already came up with a list.

"I think it's important for the board to have some say who they are," Goodwin said.

After the meeting, Covington said he is satisfied with the leadership's explanation.

"I am comfortable that they acted in the best interest of the library and the library board," he said.

Garcia doesn't yet list on her website the Muscogee search among her current recruitments. They include:

Harris County (Texas) Public Library assistant director for collection management

Meridian (Idaho) Library District director

San Jose (Calif.) Public Library director

Toledo-Lucas County (Ohio) Public Library administrator of branch services.

According to the most recent data available, Muller's salary was $150,628, plus $3,339 for travel, in the past fiscal year (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012). Susan Andrews, the last full-time superintendent in Muscogee County, cost the district $190,713 in salary and $9,144 in travel.

In other action, the library board unanimously approved Wanda Edwards as interim director to fill the gap between Muller's departure and the arrival of her successor. Edwards now is head of the popular materials and circulation departments.