By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
UPDATED, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012:
It appears that Sonoma County Library Director Sandra Cooper will be sticking around.
Cooper, who applied to become director of the East Baton Rouge Parish library system in Louisiana, learned Saturday that she was not a finalist for the job.
Cooper said Monday that her lack of experience with building new library branches hurt her chances.
“Clearly, they were looking for someone that’s built buildings,” she said.
Two branch libraries are either being built or are about to go under construction in East Baton Rouge Parish, while a third is in the design phase, according to The Advocate newspaper.
The paper reported that E. Spencer Watts was chosen Saturday as the lone finalist for the East Baton Rouge Parish position. Watts is the director of the Mobile, Ala., public library system.
Cooper’s job search came as she is fending off criticism for her leadership of the Sonoma County Library.
A county grand jury on June 28 released a report claiming that Cooper is an “unresponsive” leader who “undermines the spirit” of the 1975 joint powers agreement that created the county’s modern library system.
Cooper said she had mixed feelings about not getting the job in Louisiana.
“I’m not eager to leave. It was a rare job that looked interesting,” she said.
Embattled Sonoma County Library Director Sandra Cooper confirmed Wednesday that she is a semi-finalist for a similar job in East Baton Rouge Parish in Louisiana.
Cooper said she applied for the position two weeks ago after the June 28 release of a scathing grand jury report that called her an “unresponsive” leader who “undermines the spirit” of the 1975 joint powers agreement that created the county’s modern library system.
But Cooper on Wednesday insisted that her application had nothing to do with the critical report.
“It’s not the grand jury report because the grand jury report is so inaccurate,” she said.
She said she also doesn’t feel like her job in Sonoma County is in jeopardy as a result of the grand jury’s findings.
“No, because it’s not,” she said.
The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge first reported Wednesday that Cooper is one of five semi-finalists for director of the parish’s library system. A search committee is scheduled to interview her this Saturday via Skype.
Cooper informed Julia Freis, chairwoman of Sonoma County’s Library Commission, of her job application. Cooper then notified the group’s other six members after she was contacted by the media.
Freis said if Cooper were to depart “it would be a loss for Sonoma County.”
“Despite some of the issues that have arisen, she is a very good director,” Freis said.
Asked whether she thought the grand jury report prompted Cooper’s job search, Freis replied, “I would guess that being continually insulted publicly over and over again might have had something to do with it.”
The grand jury report’s basic premise was that Cooper rules by fiat and by micro-managing with the commission going along with whatever she wants.
That view was contested in the commission’s draft response to the grand jury that was posted to the commission’s website on Tuesday. Freis said the 15-page document was written by her and Cooper, with input from Tim May, the commission’s vice-chairman.
The draft response says the commission “regularly” questions Cooper. “While this may not be done in a confrontational tone, it is done,” the authors wrote.
The document also casts Cooper as a competent and receptive leader who “on occasion must recommend or implement unpopular decisions.”
County supervisors grilled of Cooper during a budget hearing two days before the grand jury released its report. Supervisor Mike McGuire told Cooper he believed she has been operating the library “like an island.”
In a June 4 letter to the library commission, Supervisor Efren Carrillo wrote that “Cooper would do well to remember that the library system runs on public dollars.”
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 Cooper. The grand jury also sought that review.
But Cooper and Freis, in their proposed response to the grand jury, raise concerns about altering the agreement, which in their view “has effectively advanced the services provided (by the library) as the community has grown and changed.”
Freis said commissioners will discuss the proposed grand jury response at their meeting on Monday before they finalize the document in September. “It’s just a jumping off point for discussion,” she said.
The document notes a number of inaccuracies in the grand jury report and disagrees “wholly or partially” with all 10 of the grand jury’s findings. It does agree with a conclusion that the commission has no formal training to assist them with their work.
Freis, an attorney, said she doesn’t view the draft document as a rejection of the grand jury report “whole cloth, or even substantially.”
“We looked at this report and tried to be very thoughtful and open to what the grand jury was saying,” she said.
Cooper said she was attracted to the job in Louisiana because she grew up there, attended school at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and still has family in the area.
She noted that East Baton Rouge Parish has about the same population as Sonoma County and that the two library systems are of a similar size.
She said the East Baton Rouge library has a larger budget — $38 million compared to about $14 million in Sonoma County — plus more staff and a bigger circulation.
“Those things make it attractive to me. I don’t apply for jobs every day,” she said.
Cooper said this is the first time she has sought other employment since she was hired as director of the Sonoma County Library in 2005. She is paid a base salary of $150,820, plus an additional $39,829 in benefits.
The job in Baton Rouge pays between $72,388 and $100,202. Cooper said she factored in Louisiana’s cost-of-living when deciding to apply for the job.
Asked what her plans are if she does not get the job, Cooper replied, “to keep on keeping on.”