Sorry, you need to enable JavaScript to visit this website.

Leadership skakeup, Events Center top library headlines

Tuesday, January 3, 2023
Article Image Alt Text

Editor’s Note: There may not have been worldwide pandemics or major natural disasters this year, but 2022 still saw its own share of significant news in Lincoln Parish.  The Ruston Daily Leader is recapping major stories of the year. Today we continue with a wrap-up of headlines featuring the City of Ruston. We also take a look back at some of the top stories from the Lincoln Parish Library.

It was a year of change for the Lincoln Parish Library.

In its first full year after securing continued funding in a secondchance property tax renewal last fall, the library’s Board of Control hired its first full-time library director since 2020, swapped board presidents in the middle of a term, saw a member abruptly resign, and got the ball rolling on eventual changes to the management of the adjacent Events Center.

Bolom becomes director

After longtime library director Vivian McCain retired at the end of 2020, the library operated under an interim director for the next year and a half.

Marcie Nelson, now the children’s department head, was the interim for most of that period. In late May, the board voted 7-1 to hire Jeremy Bolom, the assistant director and a 20-year employee, as the next permanent director, effective July 1.

The director hires and manages the library staff and oversees all operations. It’s the only position the board hires directly.

The hiring process did not come without some disagreement, as members debated whether to re-advertise the position when Bolom was the only applicant.

Back in February the board first set its hiring timeline and job description for the position, after some back-and-forth over the proposed $80,000 maximum salary and the details of how and where to advertise the vacancy.

The plans proposed by then-Vice President Amy Miller were eventually adopted on a 7-2 vote.

By late April, with nine days to go in the application window, no one had applied, prompting some board members to secondguess the advertising options. But no move to expand those options was made.

When applications closed, only Bolom had applied.

But the board’s hiring committee voted 4-1 to recommend that the full board re- advertise the position instead of reviewing Bolom’s application, this time adding an additional advertisement with the American Library Association that then-President Augusta Clark had lobbied.

“Having only one applicant was not ideal for us,” Clark said after the committee vote in early May. “We have to base our decision on options in order to hire the best candidate.

But weeks later, the full board rejected that recommendation unanimously, with some members who had previously voted the other way saying that vote was “rushed” and they hadn’t meant to exclude Bolom and wanted to give him a chance.

So on May 25, Bolom got his interview, an 80-minute session in which he outlined his qualifications, his vision for the library’s future operations and the challenges the institution faces.

He’d been the library’s head of public service since 2002 and assistant director since 2008. He was also an adjunct instructor at Louisiana Tech University from 2010 to 2016.

The board ultimately hired Bolom 7-1, with only Clark standing by her wish to re-advertise the vacancy and seek more applicants.

Since taking the reins, Bolom has worked to strengthen customer service across all departments and blend skills from one department to the next. He’s brought in new features to the library, such as book shopping carts, and spearheaded a switch to a new, more modern catalog software for the first time since 2008.

Clark out as president, resigns

The board reelected Clark as president in February — having not met in January — on a tight 5-4 vote over Miller.

But in May, as the library braced for change on multiple fronts, the Leader discovered that this election had been conducted in violation of the board’s own rules.

A review of the board’s bylaws showed that as of some 2009 amendments, officers were barred from being elected for more than three consecutive one-year terms.

The board’s Jan. 16, 2019 minutes show that’s when Clark was first elected, and she’d been reelected ever since, meaning the 2022 reelection ran past the term limit in the bylaws.

The presidents presides over all meetings, appoints all committees, certifies the payment of all bills and generally acts as head of the board.

When asked about the term limit, Clark said she wasn’t aware of it.

Hours after the Leader published a story about the bylaws, the board’s upcoming meeting agenda was published and included an item to amend those bylaws.

At that meeting, the board voted 3-6 against a motion that would have to change the term limit from three terms to four, allowing Clark to remain at the helm.

Clark, Sandra Dupree and Mary Jo Cooper voted in favor of the bylaw amendment, while Jan Canterbury, Charles Penuell, Richard Durrett, Bill Jones, Diana Humphries and Miller voted it down.

Multiple board members said they were aware of the term limit during February’s election, but they were told Clark had only served two terms.

“I asked her, ‘Can you serve another term?’” Penuell said. “She said yes.”

Jones, who was brought on board during the library’s 2021 tax renewal campaign, said amending its bylaws would “endanger the goodwill” the library had built up during that campaign.

“This motion… would tell the people of Lincoln Parish that we really hadn’t changed,” Jones said. “ We really don’t follow the rules, and we adjust them for particular individuals.”

In June, the board voted 6-1 to elect Miller as the new president.

At the end of that meeting, Clark resigned from the board entirely, accusing other members of a “conspiracy move” to have her removed from the presidency.

She claimed members who backed Miller had tried to convince her not to seek reappointment in February.

“ The same persons who were unsuccessful in preventing me from being president delved into the bylaws,” she said.

Clark’s term on the board was set to expire this summer, and until the June meeting she had been seeking reappointment by the police jury, which owns the library and oversees the board.

After Clark’s resignation and Penuell opting not to seek another term, the jury appointed Eric McCulloch and Deborah Gilliam as new members.

Events Center changes coming

One of the more significant undertakings for the library board this year was the process of studying the management of the adjacent Events Center and concluding that a new structure needed to be implemented that wouldn’t stretch library staff between the two entities.

In March the board established a committee tasked with investigating “who should run the Events Center.”

While in the same building as the library, the event venue is its own separate space, offering a combination of rooms between about 3,000 square feet and 6,765 square feet for event rentals.

Library staff, led by Nelson, currently book, supervise and clean the facility.

“ Running an events center is not within the skillset of running a library,” Jones said. “And I think the library staff running the Events Center is probably hampering us on the library side.”

After researching revenue figures and alternative management structures, the committee presented the full board with four options: provide a separate staff to run and market it, lease it out to another organization for a cash rent, enter into a joint venture with someone else to run it and split the revenue, or turn over management to the police jury.

The board will make any final decisions in consultation and cooperation with the police jury.

As the committee continued to meet, members have preferred the joint venture option if a suitable partner can be found.

In October Jones reported that he had entered preliminary talks with the Ruston Lincoln Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) over the potential that they take over operations of the Events Center in the near future.

“They’ve got an interest, we’ve got an interest,” Jones said. “There’s nothing specific proposed or agreed to.”

CVB President Amanda Carrier said the grou pis studying the viability of taking over operations and gearing the venue more toward becoming a conference space for corporate gatherings.

One of the variables at play is the alcohol sales referendum that has been called for March 2023. The results of that referendum will determine, among other things, if alcoholic beverages can be consumed on premises in the city of Ruston, and if so, what alcoholby- volume level can be consumed.

“ For the CVB to be able to invite the kinds of events that we think are going to be most impactful, that is often a requirement of whatever their opening or close-out reception is going to be,” Carrier said.

While the partnership is far from final, certainly one of the biggest decisions facing the library in 2023 will be the ultimate fate of the Events Center.