Staff members of the Altadena Library District, who say their morale has plummeted since Mindy Kittay took over as district director, have been engaged in a yearlong battle with the district board of trustees for changes in personnel procedures.
Staff members maintain that Kittay, who took over in November 2014, is dismissive and demeaning, refuses to take their views into consideration, and from the first week on the job made rapid-fire changes without getting to know the district culture and fully informing the staff.
Several staff members — who requested anonymity — say Kittay’s leadership style has resulted in the resignations of some of the district’s 32 employees and a member of the district’s volunteer Friends of the Library group.
“We’re dealing with a level of stress we’ve never dealt with before,” said a source. “[Kittay] has a whirlwind in her head and that’s how she runs the library.”
Kittay maintains that the Altadena Library District is no different from other districts throughout the country that have “a tremendous amount of keeping up with changes as libraries evolve. It’s a struggle all over the United States,” she said. “We’re changing our focus from an internal-focused library to be externally and community focused.”
In more traditional libraries, Kittay added, the librarians knew what was best for the patrons. But now the library is reaching out to the community to find out how the facility can work more effectively.
She is backed by the board of trustees, an elected group of five members who run the library. The board feels staff morale problems are being addressed. The board made some changes over the past several months, including outsourcing the district’s human resources functions, requiring Kittay to consult with board members before implementing changes, and obtaining board support for professional development activities to aid the director in leadership and development and the staff in management training
“Change is difficult for a lot of people,” said Trustee Gwendolyn McMullins. Kittay, she added, “has reached out to the community and tried to put changes in place. … This woman is working overtime to ensure the community understands.”
The staff morale problem was addressed last September, when the library’s human resources department hired psychologist Luann Martenson to conduct a survey that measured the staff’s unhappiness with Kittay. After the survey was completed, Martenson was supposed to work with staff to address the problems and undertake a plan of action.
But trustees said the survey was flawed and did not act on it. Instead, staff members conducted their own survey in which Kittay drew low marks. For example, in response to the statement “the director shares information about changes and procedures with staff before they occur,” 88 percent of the respondents said no. Sixty-seven percent of respondents said “the director’s actions, comments and/or form of communication have caused me stress and frustration on many occasions.”
In April the board was scheduled to have a closed-door meeting with staff to discuss the morale problems. About 20 staffers wanted to attend. But about five minutes before the meeting, Trustee Meredith McKenzie cited two government codes that did not require all of the staff to attend and she said the board would meet with only two staff members.
“We felt betrayed by the board,’’ a staff member said.
The staff members attending the meeting suggested Kittay be placed on probation and that the district follow up with Martenson. But the board rejected these proposals.
During the May 23 board meeting, Claire Elaine Newman resigned from the Friends of the Library. “I am here tonight to state that I strongly support the concerns raised by the staff, she said. “Indeed, as a member of the Friends board, I have also experienced and witnessed the same brusque treatment, and the same strange lack of awareness of how reasonable people committed to a common goal come to decisions and prepare for major changes.”
In a letter to staff dated June 1, Trustees John McDonald and McKenzie listed four areas where personnel policies would change. For one thing, the board would review all of the new initiatives Kittay plans to undertake. The board would also support professional development activities to aid the director in leadership and development and the staff in management training. Kittay was to obtain bids to hire an outside human resources third party vendor. This was meant to give staff an avenue outside of the board and library administration to address concerns. The agency HRNETWORK was hired this summer. And finally the board would have at least two follow-up sessions to deal with staff morale.
Trustees McDonald and Adalila Zelada-Garcia were scheduled to meet with staff to clarify these items.
Despite these actions, many staff members are still unhappy. They say that when they take their grievances to HRNETWORK, the agency reports these problems to Kittay, and they fear she will retaliate against them. But Kittay says it is important that she learn about employee grievances. “How do you think you can effect change without telling about it?” she said.