Librarian protests termination
By Pat Maurer
Former Surrey Township Assistant Director Summer Clark has charged that her employment with the library ended because Director Jean Gaskill wanted to replace her with her friend.
“That’s not true,” Gaskill said Wednesday.
Gaskill said that the library’s attorney had advised her to make no comment or release any information about the matter other than to verify that Clark’s employment had been terminated.
Clark said that she was fired April 5 and the reason given was because the library was “exercising its right as an at-will employer to terminate your employment,” as stated in a letter to her from Gaskill that day. “I’ve worked at the library for six years. I’ve been an exemplary employee. I had no warnings or write-ups in my file,” she said.
She said she couldn’t even get her personal information off the library provided cell phone before the service was disconnected and that locks were changed at the building.
In a phone interview, Clark said issues she had with Gaskill started when she began questioning the way the library was being run. “It went downhill afterwards,” she said, “I was fired because I asked about the budget.
She charged that money earmarked for the Library’s Summer Reading program funded a “special dinner and questioned why the Library did not receive the Robert C. Reinhardt Grant for rural and isolated libraries to help with building improvements and technology although she had “printed the procedures and form to apply for it.” She said both the Harrison and Pere’ Marquette Libraries received the grant.
Gaskill said Wednesday that they weren’t eligible for the grant because the Surrey Township Public Library is not a “District Library,” and they cannot have an Internal Revenue tax-exempt status, which is one of the grant requirements. There are a lot of grants out there that we might be eligible for but we have to be careful because some call for matching funds and some are tied to special programs. We have to know when we apply if we can fill those requirements, if we have room, for example to implement them or that we will have funds to maintain the equipment purchased by a grant.”
Messages between Gaskill and Clark on April 4th suggest an altercation between the two over Clark taking time off from her job because of a “personal emergency” and a request for documentation from Gaskill, which Clark refused to explain. An April 5th message requested Clark “come and see her.” Clark’s response said she wouldn’t be in because of “personal matters.” Gaskill’s response was to “come to work or resign.”
Gaskill’s response said Clark “walked off the job” April 4, although Clark said she had only went to lunch and “called in” to say she wouldn’t be able to come back. In the messages, Gaskill said Clark didn’t have any personal time left to use. Other messages suggest Clark was being demoted and responded that Clark would be consulting an attorney.
An excerpt from the Surrey Township Public Library Employee Handbook regarding “sick leave” said, in part, “Elective physician and dental appointments should be made after consulting the immediate supervisor…”and, “At any time an employee uses more than their entitled 48 hours of sick/personal leave in a fiscal year, the staff member will be require to furnish satisfactory documentation of the illness or disability.”
An undated written document showed that Charles Rich, Clark’s boyfriend, was at MidMichigan Medical Center for emergency treatment for the “laceration of a finger.”
A subsequent message, hand dated April 10 by Clark, asked Clare to meet with Gaskill to “talk.” It said, “You’ve been an important part of the library and an important person in my life. I hate that we’ve come to this and I’d just like to talk.”
Wednesday Gaskill said, “Summer and I worked together for a long time and I don’t take terminating an employee lightly. I thought of Summer as family. I wanted to talk to her.”
She said Clark did not meet with her.
Clark said she had consulted an attorney and that she had requested a “special meeting” of the library board about her termination. That meeting, which included Clark’s attorney Karyn Tomczyk of Todd Dietrich’s firm, was held April 11. The board upheld Clark’s termination.
“It is a shame that this had to happen,” Gaskill said. “We have all worked very hard to improve the library and services that we offer the community. Our board meetings, held the first Wednesday of each month at 4 p.m., are always open to the public. We welcome comments and suggestions for improvements. One recent improvement is the partnership we formed with several other area libraries to share lending privileges with other libraries and to allow us to upgrade our Integrated Library System (ILS). Now all the libraries in our partnership share the catalog of all of our available books and materials and the catalog is available at all libraries and can be accessed from patron’s home computers as well.”
“We also have joined the MeLCat system (Michigan E-Library Catalog) which offers statewide access to information or borrow from any library in the state,” she said.
She concluded, “This is not my library – it is the community’s library.”
At the regular meeting of the Surrey Library Board Wednesday, Clark questioned why Director Gaskill’s wages were set at $46,000 annually and why employee Gina Hamilton (hired last October) was receiving the same wages as longer-term employees.
Surrey Library Board President Larry Laverty cited experience, a Master’s Degree and studies of salaries at other libraries. “The board sets salaries,” he said.
Clark also asked about where the Book Fair money goes. Gaskill said she had requested to use some of the funds to renovate an office.
Another question related to pay for one employee on sick leave some time ago and none for her maternity leave. She was told that the employee had used accumulated sick time and personal time for her illness and that Gaskill had given some of her own accumulated personal time to Gaskill during her leave. “You have done that for others too,” Clark responded.
Clark’s Uncle Roger DeLoach also spoke saying he had trouble with an at-will firing. “She didn’t get a fair shake,” he said. He also questioned that friends and family of the Director were board members.
Laverty said the board members were elected and unpaid. “The main reason they are here is to serve the public,” he said. He added that he didn’t have any problems with the way Clark performed her job.
Clark’s mother Kim told board members, “You are very immature. There is even a rumor that Gaskill told someone Summer is unstable. If she is unstable, why did you offer her the job back the day before that last meeting?” Gaskill denied that she had said Clark was unstable.
Also speaking during the Public Comment part of the agenda was Clark’s boyfriend Charles Rich, who said “It is reprehensible that you have policies but you can throw away the policy book whenever you want.” He also said a Master’s Degree should not be a reason for Gaskill’s salary.
Following the Director’s report, the Board voted to deny Clark’s demands that were presented during the closed session April 11. Clare asked the board, “Does this mean you won’t ask for more accountability by the library director?” She said that was the only thing she really wanted out of the list of demands.
Laverty replied, “We are always fine tuning…we have no problem with constructive criticism. We have taken some things you said to heart and we will be making changes as time goes on.”
Clark said, “Everybody gets fired, I understand that. I just think I could have been treated with more respect.”
At the end of the meeting Gaskill said that Clark had given written notice to her in March that she would be leaving the library “in April or May” to move to Lansing.