Residents respond

By on August 5, 2011

Photo: Protesters stand at the entrance of the Sugar Grove Public Library on Thursday, July 28. A group called Citizens for a Better Sugar Grove organized the rally protesting the recent firing of Library Director Beverly Holmes Hughes by the Board of Trustees.Photo by John DiDonna

Sugar Grove citizens show support for Hughes
by Susan O’Neill
SUGAR GROVE—Sugar Grove Library District patrons told the board on Thursday the new direction they would like to see for the library—one that would include the resignation of the four board members who voted to terminate Library Director Beverly Holmes Hughes.

Approximately 75 residents filled the meeting room for the Library Board’s regularly scheduled meeting last Thursday, and although the comments varied, the message was the same: Board President Joan Roth, Vice President Art Morrical, and trustees Julie Wilson and Bob Bergman should leave, and Library Director Beverly Holmes Hughes should be reinstated.

In a 4-2 vote at the board’s July 14 meeting, Roth, Morrical, Wilson and Bergman voted to terminate Hughes’ employment. Hughes has worked for the Sugar Grove Library for the past 21 years. The board gave no reason for the termination, other than that it wanted to take the library “in a new direction,” Hughes said. Trustees Bill Durrenberger and Daniel Herkes voted against the termination.

During a rally held prior to the meeting outside the library, approximately two dozen supporters of Hughes carried signs that said, among other things, “Library Board fires Citizen of the Year?” and “No comment is not acceptable.”

As members of the Library Board entered the building, several individuals from the crowd shouted to them.

“You can still make it right by leaving,” one said. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” said another.

Many of the comments made by individuals during the public comment portion of the meeting came from long-time patrons of the library, who recounted services that Hughes has provided them through the years.

“Dozens of school projects for my children, assistance for my wife in her work to get her bachelor’s degree and countless questions from, and advice for, me in pursuit of my nonprofit management certificate and master’s coursework have all been facilitated by ‘Miss Beverly,’ as my family refers to her,” Jerry Murphy said.

Murphy’s comments were similar in nature to many of those who stood in front of the board in support of the librarian they said they hold dear.

“The Sugar Grove Library is not just a building with books, computers and DVDs,” Murphy continued. “Libraries are in the service business, and Bev excels at service.”

Some of those who spoke demanded answers as to why the board took the action that it did.

“What are the specific reasons for the firing of Beverly Hughes, former library director?” Lee Erchull asked. “What is the direction that Beverly Hughes was taking the library that was contrary to the board’s wishes?”

But no answers were forthcoming from the four board members.

“I cannot comment,” Roth told the crowd. “We’re here to listen.”

The attorney for the Library Board explained that a time of public comment during a board meeting was not a time for responses from the board, but rather to listen to what the public had to say.

Durrenburger said he thought that the public had a right to receive a statement from the board, and promised that one would be forthcoming. He said that if the entire board did not draft one, he would make one of his own.

However, he said he did not believe that any such statement would satisfy the public’s desire to understand the action taken to terminate Hughes.

“I don’t have anything to tell you, because I don’t think there was a reason,” he said.

Some residents were not only upset by the action taken, but by the manner in which it was done.

“The termination was done as if Ms. Hughes was an accused criminal,” Village Trustee Mari Johnson said. “The board packed her up, and systematically changed the locks.

“If the board was moving in a new direction, Ms. Hughes should have been told exactly what was expected of her in meeting this direction. She could have been given the opportunity to meet the goals of the new direction. Then, if not able to meet these goals, she could have been asked to resign her position and been given a severance package that is due an employee who has held her position for over 20 years.”

Johnson went on to question the procedure that was followed in the June 9 meeting, prior to the July termination.

“The board has acted in their own self-serving manner by the questionable re-appointment of Bob Bergman and Julie Wilson at the June meeting,” Johnson said of the board members who had elected not to run again during the last election. “This was done solely to give a voting advantage to Art Morrical and Joan Roth (in order to terminate Hughes). Ms. Roth has made it well known in her comments and behavior that she had a personal vendetta against Ms. Hughes.”

Johnson said that if there is a valid reason for terminating Hughes, the board has a responsibility to the public to tell them what it is.

“As a taxpayer, I want to know why,” she said. “We’re the ones footing the bill. Either way, we deserve an explanation.”

Johnson and Library Friends President Pat Graceffa both suggested that the personal vendetta stems from Hughes’ decision in 2010 to fire library employee Jan Fallmaier, who is personal friends with Roth and Morrical.

Both Graceffa, who attended Board meetings before and after the 2010 firing of Fallmaier, and Johnson, who listened to recordings of them, said that the atmosphere and the tone of the meetings changed dramatically after Fallmaier’s termination.

Even though circulation numbers were up and the numbers of people who were participating in the library programs had increased, Johnson said that Roth began “nitpicking” with Holmes, questioning her about every single expenditure, as well as the formatting of reports.

“It was a hostile work environment,” Johnson said. “I don’t think she’s made any secret that she wanted to get rid of Beverly.”

“If you go back to the meeting minutes, you will find that that is exactly when that type of harassment began,” Graceffa said.

Roth denied the claim that Hughes’ termination was a result of Hughes’ decision to fire Fallmaier.
“I am a person of integrity,” Roth responded in an interview subsequent to the meeting. “That (Fallmaier’s termination) had nothing to do with it (Hughes’ termination).”

Roth said that she did not intend to resign, and that a statement from the board would be forthcoming, but she could not say when that would be.

“No comment,” Morrical said, in response to the question as to whether or not he would resign.

A number of residents wanted to know how much the board’s action would end up costing the taxpayers. The board is in the process of determining whether or not it will hire a search firm to find a replacement for Hughes, and Erchull wanted to know how much this would cost.

No one who spoke during the meeting said that they were in favor of Hughes’ termination. To a person, they all said they thought the board was making a mistake.

Village Trustee Bob Bohler compared the Library Board’s situation to one in which the Village Board made a decision to cut down some 30-year-old trees. According to Bohler, when the Village Board members heard an outcry against their action from a number of community members, they reversed their decision.

“You have an opportunity this evening to reverse a decision you made a few weeks ago,” he said.

Holmes was named Citizen of the Year at last year’s Sugar Grove Corn Boil, an honor bestowed upon individuals within the community who have contributed significantly to the quality of life within Sugar Grove.

In addition to her duties as director of the Sugar Grove Library, Holmes has served on the board of directors of the Sugar Grove Chamber of Commerce and Industry, been an integral part of the Sugar Grove Corn Boil committee, and volunteered at the Sugar Grove Farmer’s Market, among other things.

According to Hughes, her involvement with these other organizations and activities will not stop with her termination from the Sugar Grove Library.

“I was terminated from the library, but I haven’t quit Sugar Grove,” she said on Thursday night, before the Corn Boil festival began. “I’m on the Corn Boil Committee, and I’m still on the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. I may even be shucking corn on Friday, if the Boy Scouts are not back yet.”

When asked how she felt about the outpouring of support that the members of the community had expressed that evening, her eyes filled with tears.

“I think the show of support from this community is tremendous,” she said.

The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is on Thursday, Aug. 11, at which time board members intend to interview three search firms. The board said it will also accept applications for the open Library Board position until that time. That position has been left vacant following former trustee Sabrina Malano’s recent resignation.

Backlash

July 14
In a 4-2 vote, trustees Joan Roth, Art Morrical, Julie Wilson and Bob Bergman voted to terminate Hughes’ employment. Trustees Bill Durrenberger and Daniel Herkes voted against the termination.

July 28
Approximately 75 residents showed up to support fired Library Director Beverly Holmes Hughes at the Library Board’s regularly scheduled board meeting. In addition, approximately two dozen turned out for a rally an hour before the meeting began.

Explanation sought

“As a taxpayer, I want to know why. We’re the ones footing the bill. Either way, we deserve an explanation.”
Mari Johnson
Village Trustee

“What are the specific reasons for the firing of Beverly Hughes, former library director? What is the direction that Beverly Hughes was taking the library that was contrary to the board’s wishes?”
Lee Erchull
Sugar Grove resident,
addressing the board on July 28

Explanation withheld

“I don’t have anything to tell you, because I don’t think there was a reason.”
Bill Durrenberger
Library Board member

“I cannot comment. We’re here to listen.”
Joan Roth
Library Board President

“No comment.”
Art Morrical
Library Board Vice President,
in response to the question
as to whether or not
he would resign

About Susan ONeill

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