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Library trustees approve contract for new director

by JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
Daily Inter Lake | January 27, 2022 3:00 PM

With a second-running split vote, the Board of Trustees for ImagineIF Libraries approved Thursday a contract to hire its new system director, also hearing of another executive resignation and yet another blow to system funding.

Trustees voted 3-2 earlier this month to move forward with offering Ashley Cummins the director’s role for the library system, despite likely losing accreditation and about $30,000 in annual funding from the Montana State Library.

The board followed up Thursday with another 3-2 vote to approve Cummins’ contract. Trustees Doug Adams, David Ingram and Heidi Roedel voted in favor of the contract, with Connie Leistiko and Marsha Sultz voting against it.

Sultz said she’s made her objections known. Leistiko was the only other to elaborate on the vote, also wishing Cummins success. She said, however, approving the hire equates to a breach in her fiduciary duties.

“This contract causes damage,” Leistiko said. “Through the loss of accreditation, it damages the reputation of this wonderful library system that has evolved over the years.

“And the loss of state funds just speaks for itself,” she said.

State accreditation and the roughly $30,000 in annual funding could be lost for the system because the Montana State Library requires library directors to hold at least a master’s degree.

The library board could request to defer the requirement but have to prove hardship in hiring qualified candidates.

Cummins will officially start March 7, according to the contract. She is relocating from Alabama, where she was completing a bachelor’s degree with plans to complete a master’s degree.

Cummins — who will get up to $10,000 to relocate, with $7,000 of that guaranteed — could resign at any time with at least 60 days of advance written notice, according to the contract.

She will start at roughly $78,000 annually, which comes to about $37.56 per hour. In her fourth year of employment, Cummins will earn roughly $87,000 annually, subject to annual cost-of-living adjustments.

The system lost its director, Connie Behe, this past summer. That resignation was followed by the loss of the system’s interim director, Martha Furman, late last year.

MEANWHILE, ImagineIF Library Foundation Executive Administrator Vanessa Barrett told trustees Thursday that the nonprofit fundraising leg of the system will be losing its executive director, Charlotte Housel.

Barrett said the resignation is effective March 14, just days after Cummins starts.

Barrett said after the meeting that details are forthcoming on Housel’s departure in a later announcement. Barrett was sitting in for Housel, who was said to be vacationing.

But she had more news. Barrett also told trustees Thursday that the foundation will be scaling down its annual January gift to the system because of the recent leadership issues.

The foundation budgeted a lump $60,000 gift but instead will be providing $38,600, and only on an as-needed basis, Barrett said.

IN OTHER business Thursday, trustees voted unanimously to temporarily reduce library hours on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

On those days, the system will close at 6 p.m., rather than 8 p.m., through May.

Ahead of the vote, Senior Librarian Sean Anderson told the board that a staffing shortage and lower wintertime attendance caused the reduced-hours request.

Anderson said the system will revisit the temporary hours reduction once fully staffed and Cummins is in place.

Reporter John McLaughlin can be reached at 758-4439 or jmclaughlin@dailyinterlake.com