Three of the four trustees – board president Judy Thompson, along with Seth Cagin and Brandt Garber – voted to terminate Brattin. John Wontrobski voted not to terminate Brattin’s employment and Amanda Kotlyar abstained from the vote, saying she was too new to the position to feel comfortable voting. The San Miguel County Commissioners appointed Kotlyar to the board position on Wednesday, just one day before Thursday’s momentous meeting.
Adhering to the Colorado Open Meetings Law and its provisions regarding executive sessions, board members would not comment individually after the meeting about why they terminated Brattin’s employment. The trustees did, however, issue a public statement explaining the decision:
“The San Miguel County Library District Board of Trustees on Thursday voted to terminate the employment of Library Director Barbara Brattin,” the brief statement read. “The board wishes to thank Ms. Brattin for her eight years of service, during which time the library grew enormously and achieved national recognition for it’s many programs and qualities. The board has voted to recruit and retain an interim library director. One of that person’s duties will be to help lead the board and community in a public, transparent and thorough search for the next library director.”
Brattin, who held the executive director position since 2006, oversaw library operations during economic boom years as property tax revenues, the vast majority of the library’s funding, steadily increased. Among the new services Brattin introduced or expanded were programs and materials for children and teenagers, and adult programming. The children’s library drew praise from new trustee Kotlyar, a mother of two young children, during her interview with the commissioners on Wednesday.
Brattin’s tenure then coincided with the Great Recession, when the American housing market crashed and threw many businesses and governments into prolonged budgetary retrenchment. Brattin made several controversial decisions to offset declining revenues that are projected to decline further in 2014. She recommended closing the library on Sundays starting in 2013, to allow the library to operate with two fewer full time employees. The board agreed with the decision, which drew harsh criticism of both Brattin and the board.
The Sunday closure inspired one Telluride resident to print bumper stickers mocking the library’s famed “Came for the Skiing, Stayed for the Library” sticker, with a contrary slogan: “Came For the Skiing, Left Because the Library Closes on Sunday.”
Brattin’s termination was not negotiated with the board, said Daniel Zemke, Brattin’s attorney, adding, “Clearly the board made a decision. Barb’s record speaks for itself. She’s been here since 2005 and brought the library to national prominence and recognition. She stands by her work.”
The interim executive director and the future permanent director will face difficult budgetary challenges. The library’s revenues are projected to remain lower than they were at their height in 2009 and 2010, at least through 2015, even if the local housing market improves.
Assessed property values in Colorado lag behind market values due to state appraisal laws, which require county governments to appraise properties every even numbered year, basing those appraisals on the prior year.
Seth Cagin is a Wilkinson Public Library trustee and a co-publisher of The Watch. He did not contribute to this article.