A local attorney contends that an element of a settlement offer made by the Altadena Library Board of Trustees to embattled Library District Director Mindy Kittay would bind future boards in choosing a qualified person to run the library.
In a letter to Jeffrey Thompson, lawyer for the Library District, Kittay’s attorney Dale Gronemeier said his client, who is currently on administrative leave, would not agree to a $501,000 settlement offer if it included a clause prohibiting Kittay from accepting future employment at the library.
“Director Kittay does not assert an entitlement to be the next full-time director, but she will not agree to prevent the new board from bringing her back if it chooses to do so,” Gronemeier wrote.
Kittay is willing to not apply for future employment at the Altadena Library, Gronemeier said. However, Gronemeier said she will not accept an offer that prevents future boards from offering her employment.
Kittay has not been at work since January. Originally, she went out on sick leave and was later placed on paid administrative leave.
Kittay came under fire by the board late last year after she began publicly calling out its five members for violating the state’s open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act.
According to Gronemeier, the board has violated the Brown Act 96 times since May 30, 2017 by conducting illegal meetings via email and failing to vote in public. The board, Gronemeier alleges, also attempted to restrict the public’s right to speak during board meetings.
In an Oct. 26 email, board members discussed via email the possibility of limiting public comments to Altadena residents after the public began complaining about the way the library’s business was being conducted.
The Brown Act prohibits a board majority from having any meetings or discussions outside of agendized board meetings where the public can comment.
“The board was trying to manage this complicated situation without adequate guidance as to how to operate within the margins of the Brown Act, and as a result began to take some missteps,” Board President Betsy Kahn wrote in a column in Pasadena Now last month. A story about issues raised in the column appeared in this newspaper that week.
But it may have been bigger than missteps. In emails dated March 20, Kahn expressed concern that her appointment to the board may not have been legitimate because she believed the process violated the Brown Act.
Kahn was appointed to the board after four rounds of votes at the board’s March 7 meeting. The Brown Act requires certain votes by government boards to be conducted in public.
The library district’s lawyers later assured her the vote was legal.
Kahn and seven others will square off in elections on Nov. 6.
Former Board member John McDonald resigned soon after the Brown Act violations were alleged, and Board member Armando Zambrano has opted not to run for another four-year term.
Gronemeier has already informed the candidates of the board’s settlement offer and its demand that Kittay never again apply for a job with the district.
“The current board’s demand that the dead hand of the past control the next board is an unconscionable affront to the right of the Altadena community to choose the library’s elected representatives and to have the board chosen in November determine the next director,” wrote Gronemeier.
Board candidate Jason Capell said he was only aware of the situation because of Gronemeier’s emails. He said he did not support an action that would interfere with future trustees.
“Since this is not a case of termination for cause, I would be opposed to a requirement that she not be allowed to apply for any future openings,” Capell said. “The new board, and all future boards for that matter, should be allowed to consider all qualified candidates.”
When Kittay came to Altadena she was described by the board as “a strong financial and operations manager.”
She had already helped turn around the poorly performing Anythink Libraries in the Rangeview Library District of Colorado in five years. Her leadership helped the library district win the 2010 National Medal for Museum and Library Services. This achievement brought Anythink Libraries cover story recognition in Library Journal and a story in the Los Angeles Times.
Kittay has also held leadership positions within the Garfield County Public Library District in Colorado. Shortly before coming to Altadena, Kittay served as Librarian/Director for Mendocino County, where she oversaw five libraries and a bookmobile.
But when she arrived in Altadena, Kittay immediately began shaking things up, something that did not immediately have a positive impact.
According to an April 19 story by Patricia Cunliffe appearing in PW, staff members labeled Kittay as “dismissive and demeaning.” They claimed she refused 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.
But Kittay carried on. In March 2017, the library closed for six weeks in order to do renovations, paid for with $320,000 in federal grant funds and a $75,000 donation from the Altadena Library Foundation. Kittay and library Facilities Manager Johnathan Arevalo did the majority of oversight, bringing the project in on time and under budget, while keeping the staff working on other items that needed attention.
In addition to the Second Saturday Concerts, which bring artists, vendors and the community together, the library also acquired laptop computers. Kittay also replaced the projection and sound systems in the community room, which had been broken for years, with state-of-the art equipment.
Kittay also implemented Community Conversations, a program aimed at engaging patrons in their neighborhoods. She also started a Seed Library, a county program that allows members to “borrow” seeds and then return those from food produced from the original seeds.
The board stood by her during her crisis with staff, but things took a turn for the worse after Kittay started reminding board members to obey state law.
“I suggest that you remember that you work for us. We do not work for you” wrote Board member Ira Bershatsky after Kittay urged trustees to operate in accordance with the Brown Act.
Barshatsky is running for re-election to his four-year seat.
Kittay went on medical leave in January. In April, Kittay filed a claim with the Library District, alleging that the stress she suffered from was caused by harassment in retaliation for her blowing the whistle on the board’s Brown Act violations.
After Kittay’s doctor authorized her to return to work in May, Board President Kahn ordered that she be placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.
Her contract expired on Sept. 28. According to Gronemeier, on Sept. 26 Kahn instructed Kittay to submit to an interview on five charges. All of the five charges allege that Kittay improperly disclosed confidential attorney-client communications in her April claim alleging Brown Act violations and retaliation because she blew the whistle on those violations.
Along with facing civil legal action, board members could find themselves under investigation by the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury.
The civil grand jury has investigative powers over the operations, accounts and records of local government agencies, including school districts. Altadena is an unincorporated community governed by the county.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s field rep Sussy Nemer confirmed to local activist Rene Amy that Barger would recommend the matter to the civil grand jury.
“Additionally, we will be referring these allegations to the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division,” Nemer wrote too Amy. “They have the ability to investigate Brown Act and other possible violations as well as other issues related to elected individuals or bodies,” Nemer wrote.