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Basalt library dismisses ex-head’s severance demand

The Basalt Regional Library District will not give the library’s former director a severance payment, the board of trustees announced Tuesday at a special meeting.

Kristen Becker claimed she was owed $26,232.40 in severance pay when she parted ways with the library Dec. 15. Becker and the board of trustees traded counterproposals after the initial demand, but no deal was struck. The district’s earlier offer or offers have been removed.

“We have no negotiations with Ms. Becker’s attorney,” said David Smith, attorney for the library district. “We’re not offering anything.”



“We are very firm in this position,” said Judy Royer, president of the board of trustees. “All severance offers are off the table right now.”

Becker’s departure came after the trustees voted to reduce her housing allowance by $10,000 annually in 2012 and reduce her health-insurance benefits. Becker said she was exercising a provision in her contract that allowed her to consider herself terminated if the board adjusted her compensation by a greater percentage than other employees.



The district didn’t necessarily agree that Becker’s departure was a termination. The official notice of Tuesday’s meeting labeled her departure a “resignation.”

Becker, who headed the library for 21⁄2 years, moved back to her native Kansas. She couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday. She apparently will have to file legal action if she continues to pursue the severance pay.

While a chapter in the Becker saga is closed, the board of trustees and its critics are rewriting the book on small-town political warfare. The critics accused the trustees of bungling their responsibilities of oversight – from Becker’s expenditures to nuts-and-bolts decisions about library operations.

Group members Linda Crossland, Carolyn Kane and Valerie Welch sent a letter to the Pitkin and Eagle county commissioners and Basalt Town Council on Thursday that outline a number of grievances about the library trustees.

“We feel that this Board of Trustees has shown a pattern of disregard for its responsibility, disregard for legal process and concealment of open framework for conducting public business,” the concluding paragraph of the letter states.

The letter was sent to the three political bodies because they will appoint four of the seven positions on the board by March.

A second letter from other concerned residents asked for the resignation of all trustees.

Some of the library trustees retaliated with criticism as fierce as they received. Royer told the critics the board was working hard to resolve issues they helped uncover, such as inadequate recording of expenditures by the former executive director.

“We welcome your constructive suggestions, but we do not welcome your petty interference with the day-to-day running of this building,” Royer told the critics. “We are on it. We understand your frustrations of the past. That was then – this is now. Dealing with the constant interruption by your group is becoming intolerable.”

Crossland, a leader of the Supporters of the Library, responded that the trustees are public officials that should count on scrutiny by the public.

“If you need to develop a thicker skin, so be it,” she said.

At the heart of the critics’ complaints is concern about Becker’s expenditures on library credit cards. The group is poring over her expenses in 2010 and 2011 and compiling a list of questions it wants the district to explore. Crossland said the chore is difficult because receipts were rarely filed and there wasn’t much documentation of how the expenses related to library business.

The trustees have hired an auditor to look over Becker’s spending. The auditor was going over records Tuesday, and the trustees anticipated her services would be needed for half of Wednesday at a cost of $2,000 per day.

The Supporters of the Library have lobbied the trustees not to pay Becker any severance until spending issues were investigated. They demanded Tuesday that the trustees hire an impartial party to perform a “forensic audit” of the library’s finances over the past two years. That detailed audit would go over every transaction, so it would be much more detailed than the audit already commissioned.

Trustee Taylor Liebmann questioned the wisdom of potentially spending $50,000 to $75,000 of taxpayer funds on the forensic study when there is no evidence that Becker improperly used credit cards or other library funds.

The issue of that broader study was unresolved and might be a first critical decision facing a board that will have a new majority by March.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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