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East Lake library director's reprimand remains in limbo

By Piper Castillo

PALM HARBOR — Will she be reprimanded, or won't she?

After two months of discussion at public meetings, Patricia Perez, director of the East Lake Community Library, still doesn't know whether a reprimand will end up in her personnel file.

However, after a special meeting on Wednesday, called between her employer, the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency (PHCSA), and the East Lake Community Library Advisory Board, things are looking a little better for the embattled library director.

Rex Haslam, vice chairman of PHCSA (pronounced FIX-UH), said Wednesday that since there is a chance proper protocol was not followed on the reprimand issue, a decision about what to do about it will be postponed — again.

PHCSA has been considering whether to reprimand Perez since Oct. 19, when agency chairwoman Marguerite Smirlis said in a public meeting that Perez was not showing PHCSA "the levels of cooperation, cohesion and teamwork'' necessary for the two entities to successfully work together.

At the time, Perez, who had just finished overseeing a $500,000 renovation of the East Lake library, said she was caught "completely by surprise.''

Once word got out, dozens of East Lake library patrons, volunteers and library advisory board members rallied on Perez's behalf.

At the next PHCSA meeting held Nov. 30, Smirlis handed Perez a brown envelope presumably containing a copy of the reprimand.

However, after Perez's supporters defended her, Smirlis agreed to hold off on issuing the reprimand for one more month until PHCSA and the East Lake Community Library Advisory Board could hold another meeting to discuss concerns, and she took the unopened envelope back from Perez.

That meeting was held before PHCSA's monthly meeting Wednesday. Haslam led the discussion with about 40 individuals from both the library advisory board and the Friends of East Lake Library.

Smirlis was out of town.

Haslam pointed out that members of PHCSA have been sensitive to an east-west division between the East Lake and Palm Harbor libraries for several years. The East Lake library was built after PHCSA was created to oversee spending of tax dollars for recreation and library services in unincorporated Palm Harbor.

"We have known for quite some time that there have been communication problems with East Lake,'' said Haslam. "And we believe it has to do with how East Lake does not have representation on the (PHCSA) board.''

Tom McKone, a longtime East Lake Community Library Advisory Board member, led the conversation back to Perez. McKone, who helped update the funding agreement between the advisory board and PHCSA three years ago, said PHCSA did not follow proper procedure regarding Perez.

He told the crowd that the 2008 agreement requires that PHCSA gather input from the advisory board "before any personnel action takes place,'' he said.

"It says right in the agreement that salary, performance and discipline action must be done with input from the East Lake Community Library Advisory Board, and this was not done,'' he said.

Haslam acknowledged that's what the agreement says, "but from what I understood, there were two conversations with former chairs of the advisory board about the matter,'' he said.

Phyllis Remolador, who served as board chair from January 2009 through June 2010, disagreed with that.

"I was one of the two prior board chairmen, and there was no conversation with me,'' she said.

At that point, several people encouraged PHCSA to drop the reprimand issue altogether.

"If we discuss that, it would be at the PHCSA board meeting coming up,'' said Haslam.

And indeed, at 7 p.m., when the regularly scheduled PHCSA meeting began, Haslam brought up the reprimand again.

"(The reprimand) was tabled at the last minute last month. I'd like to leave it tabled for right now,'' he said. "And I'll tell you that I'll get with the president of the advisory board for any and all concerns that need to be discussed before making a further decision.''

After the meeting, Perez said she felt the evening ended on a positive note.

"To see the two sides work together is a good sign, but I'd like to see the reprimand be rescinded and I'd like an apology," she said. "I don't think I'm the problem.''

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

East Lake library director's reprimand remains in limbo 12/22/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 22, 2011 7:50pm]

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