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East-west battles ensues between Pinellas library boards

PALM HARBOR — East Lake Community Library director Patricia Perez is in some trouble with her bosses at the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency.

At a meeting this week, though, her supporters showed up in force to praise her work and ask the agency board not to reprimand Perez. And the ensuing discussion revealed tensions not just between Perez and her bosses, but also between the East Lake Community Library Advisory Board and PHCSA.

One person described those tensions as an "east-west split" between supporters of the Palm Harbor Library, located on west of Lake Tarpon, and supporters of the East Lake library, located east of Lake Tarpon.

The Palm Harbor Community Services Agency, an appointed board, was established in the 1980s to oversee the Palm Harbor Library and the Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation Department and to make spending decisions about tax dollars collected in unincorporated Palm Harbor for those services. The agency also oversees the small East Lake library.

At the Oct. 19 meeting of the PHCSA board, chairwoman Marguerite Smirlis laid out her complaints about Perez.

She accused Perez of not showing PHCSA "the levels of cooperation, cohesion and teamwork'' necessary for the two entities to successfully work together.

She said Perez has not followed established procedures for check writing and has created "unnecessary work'' for PHCSA when the agency was trying to plan joint meetings with the two libraries.

A specific example Smirlis cited was Perez's resistance to send her library employees to an October meeting at the Palm Harbor Library about life insurance choices for staff.

After Smirlis detailed her concerns, the agency board voted to put a formal reprimand in Perez's personnel file.

After the October meeting, Perez said she was "caught by surprise'' by the possibility of a reprimand. However, she admitted that over time, there has been potential for miscommunication between her library and PHCSA.

"I am the sole communicator to the board from East Lake Community Library,'' she said. "Sometimes emails can be misunderstood.''

When the East Lake Library Advisory Board, made up of eight residents of unincorporated East Lake, heard about the planned reprimand, they swiftly sent a letter to PHCSA.

"We find that the conclusions reached by the agency are based upon a limited understanding of the overall performance of Ms. Perez and without the benefit of first-hand knowledge of the contributions she has made and continues to make at the East Lake library,'' the letter stated.

Advisory board members who showed up at Wednesday's PHCSA meeting praised Perez, who has recently overseen a $500,000 expansion of the East Lake library.

On Wednesday, Smirlis acknowledged the need for more communication between her board and the library. She asked the library advisory board to consider holding a joint workshop with PHCSA on Dec. 21, "so that we can discuss ways to unify and work together toward a common goal.''

Library advisory board member Paul Ferreri agreed that such a workshop could reap positive results. He also asked that PHCSA hold off on giving Perez a reprimand until after the two groups meet.

"Think of the permanency of such things as a reprimand on this woman's record,'' Ferreri said. "In the spirit of understanding, certainly, you guys can hold off on this until we meet.''

After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, the PHCSA board approved member Marcus Harrison's motion to withdraw the reprimand until after the Dec. 21 meeting.

"Basically, I was extending an olive branch between PHCSA and the East Lake Community Library Advisory Board,'' he said later. "It seems that animosity has come in over the years, and I'm not sure why there's that east-west split, but we need to resolve that.''

Piper Castillo can be reached at (727) 445-4163 or pcastillo@tampabay.com.

East-west battles ensues between Pinellas library boards 12/02/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 2, 2011 6:21pm]

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