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Board votes to fire East Lake library director

EAST LAKE — The board of the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency has voted to terminate with cause the director of the East Lake Community Library.

The agency, a volunteer board that oversees the tax-supported library, held a special meeting on June 4 to discuss Patricia Perez's job performance and concluded that Perez was not meeting its expectations.

Perez had been out on personal leave since mid-April. This week she is in New York due to a death in the family, according to Rex Haslam, the PHCSA chairman.

"We've given her the option to resign,'' said Haslam. "From what I understand, her attorney contacted our attorney and they are in the process of working something up.''

The decision to end Perez's employment was influenced by a recommendation from the East Lake Library Advisory Board. According to minutes of the advisory board's April meeting, Perez had not improved in areas that had concerned the board for more than a year.

"Two areas of great concern were failure to conduct background checks for employees having access to children, and allowing employees to receive paid lunch breaks,'' the minutes stated.

After the April meeting, advisory board president Ron Schultz emailed Haslam, explaining that the board had decided Perez was no longer the right person for the job.

The decision was reached after "reflection (on) the last two (performance reviews), applicable follow-up meetings with the director, PHCSA email correspondence with the director, meetings with the director and advisory board members, and meetings with PHCSA board members and PHCSA Human Resources,'' the email stated.

When asked if any children were put in harm's way because Perez didn't conduct background checks, Haslam stated, "No, not that we are aware of. We know that she did not perform the background checks because they were not turned in to our Human Resources (office).''

Perez could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

The departure of Perez comes at an interesting time for the East Lake Community Library. On May 22, the County Commission approved a new library taxing district for East Lake, making it possible for local tax dollars to directly fund the small library on East Lake Road.

County commissioners, with input from PHCSA, the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative and the East Lake Library Advisory Board, will create a governing structure for the new district within the next several months.

On Monday, library advisory board and the Council of North County Neighborhoods held a joint meeting at the library for the community to discuss the upcoming changes.

One member of the audience mentioned that the library has been through several directors, and that they might have needed business degrees in addition to their library degrees.

Although Schultz nodded in agreement, he stressed that past library directors have been challenged by the governing structure for the library.

Not only would the director need to satisfy the library's patrons and advisory board, but he or she would have to "...go across the lake to the second boss (PHCSA). As a director, you'd always be looking at appeasing both sides,'' he said.

"We need a director that is comfortable in this place, one who understands there is a political climate, at least to some extent, and definitely, one who understands that there is a business climate,'' Schultz said.

Gene Coppola, the director of the Palm Harbor Library, is now serving as interim director for the East Lake Library.

Coppola described Perez as a good colleague. "She worked very, very hard, and she had the library's best interest at heart," he said.

Piper Castillo can be reached at pcastillo@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4163. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Board votes to fire East Lake library director 06/18/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 6:21pm]

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