By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County’s embattled library director defended herself Thursday against criticism by the grand
jury and county supervisors that she has alienated people and made arbitrary decisions to the detriment of the public and her staff.
“There are people who don’t like the way I run the library, but that’s always going to be part of the mix,” Sandra Cooper said Thursday from her second-floor office at the main library branch in Santa Rosa.
Cooper acknowledged room for improvement without offering any specifics on what she would change. She said she has been subjected to personal attacks by people who have their own agenda, including from the union representing 138 library employees.
“I certainly have some of the staff’s support, but part of the problem with this agency is that there is a culture of distrust that was here a long time before I came. That’s been very difficult to get past,” she said.
A county grand jury report released this week claimed that Cooper, who was hired as director in 2005, is an “unresponsive” leader who “undermines the spirit” of the 1975 joint powers agreement that created the county’s modern library system.
Cooper declined to comment in detail on the nine-page report. She said she will work with the library commission, which has authority over her job, to respond to the report’s findings.
She did, however, respond to criticism from county supervisors, who earlier in the week grilled Cooper during a budget hearing. Supervisors are calling for a revision of the library’s operating agreement that could give them more oversight of the director’s job, including possibly the power to fire her.
The commission’s seven members, who currently have sole authority over the position, are appointed by the five county supervisors and by city councils in Santa Rosa and Petaluma.
Cooper said supervisors had a “legitimate concern” about her not keeping them informed on what’s happening at the library. She said she also understands their frustration when they receive complaints about the library from their constituents.
She said the decision to close libraries on Mondays to save money has been a particular “lightning rod” that has prompted people to contact supervisors in the mistaken belief that the library is under county control.
She said supervisors “feel they can’t do anything about it, which is frustrating for them. I understand that.”
Cooper did not outline any immediate efforts to address these concerns, other than to meet with supervisors “to find out what they need for better communications.”
She said she supports revising the library’s operating agreement, so long as it “retains the original spirit” of all county residents benefitting from the services.
Cooper’s position pays a base salary of $150,820, plus an additional $39,829 in benefits.
“I think in spite of what people have said, I’m focused on the stewardship of the library and making sure the people of Sonoma County have the best library they can have,” she said.
Cooper addressed one specific claim in the grand jury report, which is that she failed after three years to order equipment for the Guerneville library that was paid for in donations raised by a library support group.
Cooper said she did not have enough staff to complete the purchase. The money was refunded to the group two weeks ago.
“When we started going down financially, there wasn’t enough people to do the work that needs to be done,” she said. “It’s constant triage and that (the equipment purchase) kept falling through the cracks.”
The library commission’s next monthly meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Sonoma Valley Regional Library. The agenda includes a discussion of how to respond to the grand jury report.