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Palm Harbor library chief resigns

Published Sep. 26, 2005

The director was criticized in December for firing a 76-year-old employee of the library.

The director of the Palm Harbor Library, who fired a 76-year-old employee in December and had her escorted from the property by sheriff's deputies, has resigned.

Lou Paolilli, 55, handed in a two-sentence resignation letter Thursday citing "personal reasons" for his departure. He declined to comment Friday.

Current and former employees at the library, along with patrons and volunteers, had criticized Paolilli's actions on Dec. 2 when he fired Carol Cannella, a 10-year employee in the children's section.

About a half-dozen employees resigned in protest over Cannella's treatment. Several volunteers stopped working at the library as well. All urged the board that oversees the library to do something about Paolilli.

But the Palm Harbor Community Services Agency board stood behind Paolilli and agreed only to hire a consultant to help improve communication and morale at the library.

The consultant, who was scheduled to meet with Paolilli and other employees this month, will wait until the new director is hired, said Joe Collins, a member of the agency board.

"We basically had asked him (Paolilli) to stay. We didn't want to lose him," Collins said. "He'd had enough, that's all. It was a shame it happened because he's a very qualified individual."

Chris Marszalek, director of the East Lake Library, will also run the Palm Harbor Library until a new director is hired, said Steve Putnam, chairman of the Community Services Agency. The board hopes to hire a new director within 90 days, Putnam said.

Paolilli was hired in November 1998 to replace outgoing library director John Szabo. Paolilli, a retired air traffic controller, had managed three branches of the Orange County Library System before coming to Palm Harbor.

Some employees here bristled at Paolilli's management style and at the physical changes he made to the library. But most kept silent until Cannella's firing Dec. 2.

Cannella was drinking a cup of coffee in the library break room about 8:45 that morning _ 15 minutes before she was due to begin work _ when Paolilli asked her to report to her station.

When Cannella said she wanted to finish her coffee first, Paolilli fired her and ordered her off the property. He called sheriff's deputies and told them that Cannella was a former employee who was trespassing at the library.

Cannella, who had never had so much as a parking ticket, was given a trespass warning and told not to return. She hired an attorney.

"It shouldn't have happened to me," Cannella said Friday. "It shouldn't happen to anybody."

Library employee Maureen Kaufman said colleagues had been fearful that they, too, would be fired. Many thought about quitting, she said.

"It was just a very uncomfortable situation. We were constantly looking over our shoulders," said Kaufman. "I think this is going to be a nice little honeymoon period having (Marszalek) there. Everybody can get back to relaxing. The tension is now gone."

The library will continue with its plans to enlarge its Internet computer room, known as the "virtual library," Putnam said. But Paolilli's plans to wall in some areas to create three literacy rooms and a genealogy room will be put on hold, he said.

Those rooms were going to replace the reference department, which has been moved to an area at the front of the library. Some patrons complained about the relocation of that department and of book shelves.

Collins said he urged Paolilli to advertise the changes so that visitors would see them coming, but Paolilli did not do that.

"Some of the changes were very good. Some were questionable," said volunteer Jane Martin. "Maybe his intentions were good, I don't know. Things weren't handled properly. I feel sorry the whole thing happened."

Cannella said she just wants the library to be a comfortable place for employees, volunteers and customers.

"That library was something to be proud of. The rapport with the patrons, the whole thing," she said. "Every employee who worked there didn't just work there to get a paycheck. They had pride, and all of a sudden it was just destroyed. But I think we'll get it back."