At the council meeting in Kalama on the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 15, Mayor Pete Poulsen showed an incredible amount of unprofessionalism by going ballistic on supporters of the Kalama Library when confronted with his plan to fire the entire existing staff of the library and giving the excuse that he wanted to bring the library into the 21st century. As everyone knows, the library had just gone through an exhaustive and extensive rebuilding after the flood of December 2015. So the building has been brought into the 21st century. Is the mayor now insinuating that replacing the well-seasoned library staff with 20-somethings? Is this discrimination because of the age of our library staff?
In my entire 13 years on the City Council, the mayor — for some reason — has had a grudge against the library. On at least three occasions I personally witnessed him publicly state his disdain for the library, resisting increasing the book budget, salaries and threatening to close the library forever. Even as late as April of 2017, he suggested he would close the library when asked if Public Works might add some gravel to holes in the pavement in front of the book mobile to assist the elderly in entering the bookmobile.
In May of this year, he called a secret, unpublished, illegal meeting with the Library Board and swore them to secrecy. At that time he stated he was going to fire the head librarian of 16 years and another part-time librarian of over 30 years. When confronted about that meeting and the firing of those librarians, he stated that people complained about seeing someone different each time they visited the library. He also stated that only half of the citizens of Kalama wanted to see our library rebuilt after the flood.
The librarians and volunteers worked tirelessly after the flood to continue service of the library to the public and the staff endured both freezing temperatures and sweltering heat serving the public out of the bookmobile donated by Fort Vancouver. This donation of the bookmobile was arranged by the head librarian and not by any city staff. Is the firing of the entire library staff the thanks they get for their efforts in serving the public during such difficult times?
This library staff are the most dedicated employees and volunteers to be found anywhere. They were allowed no breaks during their five-hour day, put in extra time on their own without pay and work tirelessly in providing excellent service to the citizens of Kalama. It is interesting that at this time, just before the mayor’s term ends, he chooses to fire the entire staff giving the reason that the library isn’t up to his expectations of service since he has not (not even during the reopening of the new library) found it necessary to even enter the library.
According to the Library Board manual of 2011, the Board is the responsible body for making policy and recommendations to the mayor and staff. The mayor chose to ignore the Board, and along with the city council representative for the library continues a vendetta against the long-time staff. The supporters of the library are both confused and dismayed at this approach and can make no sense of it.
And at that meeting the mayor refused to give any explanation to the packed audience. The last time the council chambers saw a crowd this size was when the council was asking the city attorney for information on sanctuary cities. The patrons of the Kalama Library are very passionate about their love for their library and staff has never has any complaints about their 20-century librarians. Out librarians are constantly keeping up with the latest trends and are among the only ones with college degrees on the entire city staff except for the city manager. So we ask: “Why now, Mr. Mayor, do you want to make these changes to a well-oiled machine?” It is very unfortunate that the Daily News was absent for this meeting. The public needs to be made aware of what the Mayor intends to do before his final days in office.
Dominic F. Ciancibelli
Retired Planning Commission member, City Council member