By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Several Sonoma County library commissioners were critical Monday of a scathing grand jury report that called their jobs and
the leadership of library director Sandra Cooper into question.
“There are some things that we should look at, but it was really one-sided,” said Commissioner Tim May, the group’s vice-chair and longest-serving member.
Three commissioners, including May and Chairwoman Julia Freis, said the grand jury did not contact them prior to releasing its findings on June 28.
Freis said she “disagreed” with the report’s basic premise that Cooper rules by fiat with the seven-member commission going along with whatever she wants.
“We certainly do not rubber stamp everything that our director requests or presents to us,” Freis said.
The grand jury report said 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.
County supervisors grilled Cooper during a budget hearing two days before the report’s release, with Supervisor Mike McGuire telling Cooper he believed she has been operating the library “like an island.”
Supervisors are calling for a revision of the library’s operating agreement to give them more oversight of the director’s job, including possibly the power to fire her.
But all three commissioners reached Monday said Cooper has their support and they urged caution about seeking changes to the library’s governance.
Commissioners are appointed by county supervisors and by city councils in Santa Rosa and Petaluma. They meet monthly and have authority over the director’s job.
“Longer term, I don’t know that they (supervisors) want that kind of involvement,” said Commissioner Mary Evelyn Arnold, who represents Sonoma. “I thought the supes were kind of busy enough with other stuff.”
Cooper defended herself after the grand jury released its report, saying that she has been subjected to personal attacks by people who have their own agenda, including from the union representing 138 library employees. She said county supervisors had a “legitimate concern” about her not keeping them informed about what’s happening at the library.
None of the commissioners reached Monday said they have ever felt that Cooper has withheld information from them or edited minutes of meetings to paint herself in a more favorable light. Both criticisms were contained in the grand jury’s report.
Freis said Cooper has “weaknesses,” including, she said, “communication, obviously.”
But Freis said the grand jury failed to point out Cooper’s strengths.
“We’ve not closed a branch. We’ve not laid off any permanent employees. I give Sandy Cooper full credit for navigating us through these difficult financial times,” Freis said.
Cooper is the Sonoma County library’s longest-tenured director outside of David Sabsay, who retired in 1992 after 35 years. The library had three other directors prior to Cooper’s arrival. She is paid a base salary of $150,820, plus an additional $39,829 in benefits.
Freis said the grand jury erred in reporting that the director “does not appear” to be held to any objective standards of performance.
Freis said the commission is conducting an annual review of Cooper’s job. She declined to be specific, saying that as an employee Cooper is legally entitled to confidentiality.
The commission has 90 days to respond to the grand jury report.
All three commissioners reached Monday said they do not support replacing Cooper.
“I think she has done a good job under difficult circumstances,” Arnold said. “I support her.”